Arms aplenty for Diamond Hogs, but questions linger about rotation
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FAYETTEVILLE — The biggest question mark facing the 2021 Arkansas baseball team surrounds its pitching.
The concern isn't whether or not the Razorbacks have enough arms, but rather what roles each pitcher will have - particularly who will emerge as starters.
Speaking to the local media just before the start of preseason practice last Friday, head coach Dave Van Horn said six to eight different pitchers were still under consideration for the weekend rotation, with several more likely believing they should be candidates, too.
“We've got to figure it out and it may take some time,” Van Horn said. “It may take four weeks into the regular season before we get it figured out. Hopefully we'll have it figured out before we open with Alabama here in SEC play.”
The Razorbacks have three weeks to determine their rotation before heading to Arlington, Texas, on Feb. 19 to open the season in the State Farm College Baseball Showdown at Globe Life Field. That SEC-opening series against Alabama isn’t until March 19-21.
Van Horn certainly has plenty of options, with 30 pitchers - 22 right-handers and eight left-handers - on his 46-man roster.
“It's a good issue - a good problem, I guess - to have because guys that aren't starting, they have starter stuff or better,” Van Horn said. “Maybe they're a guy that can only go a couple innings or an inning here or there, but their stuff is closer-type stuff.”
It is somewhat surprising that all three spots in the weekend rotation are up for grabs considering Arkansas returned every pitcher who made a start last season, including two who have been starters since they were freshmen in 2019.
Connor Noland was the Razorbacks’ Friday night guy last season and posted a 2.00 ERA with 19 strikeouts and only four walks in 18 innings across three starts. Back in October, Van Horn told the media that he was throwing well and would likely be in the rotation if the season started that weekend.
Three months later and even Noland is in a precarious position. The right-hander from Greenwood had a disastrous final two appearances in the fall, allowing nine earned runs in five total innings (16.20 ERA) in the Fall World Series.
Van Horn said in November that the coaching staff was concerned with the performance because his velocity was down and his breaking ball was hit and miss, leading to his teammates hitting .519 off him. They are hopeful he’ll get back on track in the next couple of weeks.
“He had a pretty good start last fall and then the last couple outings didn't go great for him,” Van Horn said Friday. “We're hoping that he'll bounce back and really eat up a lot of innings, possibly as a starter. We'll see how that goes.”
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