Diamond Hogs 5 Keys to Success in Conference Play - The Arkansas Traveler: Sports

Diamond Hogs 5 Keys to Success in Conference Play

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Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 8:00 am

1. Find a definitive pitching rotation

A major factor in why the Arkansas team of a season ago experienced so much success was because of its dynamic pitching staff. The Razorbacks don’t have the luxury of having that talent return for another year, but several pieces from that staff will return.

Jalen Beeks, who has pitched wonderfully this season, will likely be Arkansas’ Friday night starter. Chris Oliver is the odds-on favorite to be the Saturday guy, but after Beeks and Oliver, the rotation is unclear.

Colin Poché, Trey Killian and Alex Phillips have all started games this year. Finding a definitive rotation will be key for the pitching staff. Baseball players are creatures of habit, and having a set pitching rotation would help them find a groove and not worry about what their role with the team is.

2. Get production outside of Anderson and Spoon

Brian Anderson and Tyler Spoon have shouldered their fair share of the load on offense so far this season. The Razorbacks will need a more balanced lineup if they hope to do more than just survive the brutal Southeastern Conference.

Joe Serrano has shown the ability to be a reliable hitter, leading the team in RBIs early on. Brett McAfee has also displayed some power in the bottom third of the order. Junior college transfer Krisjon Wilkerson could also be the bat Arkansas needs to solidify its lineup and aid the young pitching staff.

Freshman Andrew Benintendi has eight runs batted in as the leadoff man, also. If Benintendi can get on base in front of the heart of the order, Arkansas will be a tough team to beat in conference play.

3. Solidify the bullpen

Arkansas has used nine pitchers in its bullpen to this point in the season. While it’s great to have depth in the bullpen, it is expected Arkansas will not continue to pitch all nine as the season progresses.

Poché may bounce back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen, and so might Killian, but Jacob Stone, Michael Gunn and Zach Jackson appear to be staples in the pen.

Much like the starting rotation, pitchers in the bullpen can focus solely on pitching once their roles are defined. The nonconference portion of the schedule gave head coach Dave Van Horn an opportunity to evaluate his arms. He knows who his guys are moving forward.

4. Get Krisjon Wilkerson’s bat in the lineup

Wilkerson has major pop in his bat, the kind of pop Arkansas’ lineup has been missing the last couple of seasons. Arkansas needs to find a way to have his bat in the lineup every game.

Wilkerson has missed three games early on this season due to a minor hamstring injury, but should be back to full strength and able to contribute.

The junior college transfer is hitting a solid .424 in 10 games in the lineup with a pair of doubles and a home run to the opposite field. The Razorbacks could benefit from another bat with power to surround Spoon and Anderson.

5. Cut down on fielding errors

After a 2013 campaign in which it seemed Arkansas kicked the baseball around defensively, the Razorback defense has experienced a little more trouble as this year began.

Brian Anderson, who transitioned to second base, leads the team with seven errors. Shortstop Brett McAfee also has four errors. As a team, the Razorbacks have 18.

If the Razorback offense struggles, minimizing miscues on defense will be paramount. But cutting down on the errors is already a primary focus with such a young, inexperienced pitching staff.

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