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No. 1 Hogs nearing season opener

Arkansas will open its baseball season one week from today, but this Friday was reserved for Media Day.

Dominic Ficociello makes a good play at first to get the batter out, but will be at second base this season.

The Razorbacks enter the season No. 1 in a few different polls. Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn addressed several different topics on Friday.

“So far preseason practice has gone very well,” Van Horn said. “The weather has been outstanding for this time of year.”

One thing that hasn't gone as well as maybe it could have is avoiding the injury bug. A couple of key pitchers, starter Randall Fant and reliever Colby Suggs, are battling injuries.

Randall Fant has a pulled hamstring,” Van Horn said. “He got that throwing in the bullpen and then kind of aggravated it. He won't be starting this coming weekend. Suggs has a little bit of a pull on his rib cage. We haven't pitched him in about 10 days and we're not going to throw him again this weekend in our scrimmages. I don't know if he's going to be available opening weekend.”

The Razorbacks will open the season next Friday at 3:05 at Baum Stadium. Despite not having Fant, Van Horn knows what he plans to do in the three-game series.

“We will go with (Ryan) Stanek on Friday,” Van Horn said. “(Barrett) Astin on Saturday and (Trent) Daniel on Sunday. We will go with the older guys. Daniel has been throwing the ball well.”

Van Horn said he hopes Fant is able to go by the time the Razorbacks take on Arizona State (Feb. 28).

“I don't want to aggravate it,” Van Horn said. “I feel the same way with Suggs. We're not going to rush him either. We have got a lot of pitchers, this might be a blessing in disguise. Get a lot of guys experience. Get some young guys out there who might not normally pitch as much and see what they can do.”

With Astin in the starting rotation and Suggs out with an injury Van Horn was asked about who would be the closer to start the season.

“A little bit of everybody,” Van Horn said. “I don't know if it will be a true closer. Jalen Beeks jumps out at me. We like him. In the middle to the end of the game I think we could go with Landon Simpson. He's a redshirt freshman. Thomas Altimont is a junior college transfer with a big breaking ball. We've got more.”

As far as Astin is concerned, Van Horn wants to look at him as a starter before deciding on his permanent role.

“That was the plan all along,” Van Horn said. “We did the same thing last year. We will let some other guys get some starts in midweek. (Trey) Killian and probably (Colin) Poche against New Orleans.”

Poche is working his way back into the good graces of Van Horn and the staff after an incident that happened a few week's ago. Poche and a teammate Adam Meyer, were arrested for shop lifting and both will serve a three-game suspension. Van Horn said as far as Poche is concerned he has handled it extremely well.

“He made a big mistake,” Van Horn said. “He feels bad about it, they both do. He came back early, he didn't hardly go home for Christmas. He stayed here and worked out and not too many freshmen do that. His fall was okay so I thought he was on the right track. He made a mistake and I think mentally it might have advanced him a year or two. He has always been a hard worker, but I think he has taken it to the next level. He wants to pitch this year and help this team this year.”

As far as the infield, Van Horn knows he will have a completely new infield this season. The only returning starter is Dominic Ficociello who has moved from first base to second base. Eric Fisher has replaced Ficociello at first base.

“I really like (Brett) McAfee and (Brian) Anderson at short,” Van Horn said. “Anderson, we're playing him at short as well, but right now he's our third basemen, but he can play there as well. We've got good infielders and got some good backups.”

In the outfield, Van Horn has worked both Matt Vinson and Jacob Morris in center field. Morris will be the starter there. Vinson is competing with Tyler Spoon and Joe Serrano for the two corner outfield spots.

“We have four guys for three spots,” Van Horn said. “It has been a battle out there between Vinson, Morris, Spoon and Serrano. I don't know how I'm going to work it yet. We'll see how this weekend goes we've got three scrimmages.”

Jake Wise returns at catcher and Van Horn hopes he hits at a good pace like he did to start last season. Blake Baxendale had Tommy John Surgery and is out for the season. Jean Ramirez is the backup catcher.

“Jake did a good job,” Van Horn said. “That was his first year to be our catcher. If he's healthy and feels good he will catch most of the games.”

Van Horn knows the Razorbacks will have a bulls eye on them this season, but has confidence in his team. On Friday, he was asked if the team was ready to play a game.

“They will be by the end of next week,” Van Horn said. “I like the way it's shaping up so far. I'm just excited to get started again.”

In addition to next Friday's game, Arkansas will host Western Illinois on Saturday at 12:05 and then finish the series on Sunday at 1:05.

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