FAYETTEVILLE – It’s truly a left-handed compliment to the baseball Razorbacks that they forged to the College World Series with no regular pitcher throwing south of his right hand.
Freshman Kyle Pate of Fayetteville was the staff’s only left-hander period, and coach Dave Van Horn and pitching coach Dave Jorn didn’t deem him ready for the CWS mix in Omaha or the Regional and Super Regional beforehand — even with No. 2 starter Keaton McKinney and prime starters-relievers Dominic Taccolini and James Teague all ailing physically.
His team’s remarkable 40-25 season ended two games in Omaha among the Elite Eight after an 11-12 start. Van Horn marveled so much went right with no help from the left.
“How did we make it to the World Series without a left-handed pitcher?” Van Horn asked.
The Hogs have signed four southpaws: Jacob Schlesener of Rogersville, Mo., also pondering a 12th-round draft choice offer from the St. Louis Cardinals; Tyler Harris and Kacey Murphey, both of Rogers Heritage; and Weston Rogers of Springdale Har-Ber.
He expressed faith in Pate vastly bettering his inflated 8.64 earned run average from 81/3 innings in 12 games.
“Kyle just didn’t throw very well all year,” Van Horn said Thursday. “I think he’ll tell you that. I had a good talk with him yesterday. His velocity was down. He finally started getting it going a little bit later in the spring. He’s going to California to play in the college league out there. Hopefully he’ll come back in next fall and make a big jump. Because that’s what he needs to do.”
Of the returning core pitching staff — given that junior No. 1 starter Trey Killian of Norfork intends to sign as a ninth-round draft choice of the Colorado Rockies — junior-to-be All-SEC closer Zach Jackson will get the chance to start, while McKinney, (hip), Teague (elbow) and Taccolini (an undisclosed condition that briefly hospitalized him) currently rehab.
“We have got to get some guys healthy,” Van Horn said. “We have to get Taccolini healthy. We have to get James Teague healthy, McKinney has got to get healthy.”
Taccolini’s season ended before the Razorbacks played in the Stillwater Regional. Teague’s elbow gave out in his four-inning start of Arkansas defeating Missouri State in the Super Regional final at Baum Stadium, McKinney, 6-2 and on the Louisville Slugger All-Freshman team, was limited his final four starts by his hip injury but gutted it out to pitch into the fifth inning at Omaha in his start against Miami.
Van Horn would love to see Jackson make the closer to starter conversion that Forrest City native Barrett Astin did his junior Arkansas season of 2013, but said he must throw with better control to keep his pitch count down.
Jackson’s combination of a blistering fast ball and wicked curve netted him a 5-1 record with nine saves and 2.10 ERA and upcoming closer’s role this summer for Team USA, but he wants to start starting in 2016.
“Pretty much every kid wants to start,” Van Horn said. “If you’ve got three pitches, you’ve got a chance to start. He’s gotten that change-up going a little bit. He’s going to go close for team Team USA this summer for three or four weeks. Then he’s going to shut it down and just work on long tossing. When he comes back in the fall, we’re going to give him the opportunity to start. The key is, we don’t want him to be at 100 pitches after five innings.”
For that leaves too many middle men between Jackson and whoever begins 2016 closing in his place.
“If you do that two and three times and just keep doing it, it gets into the bullpen too much,” Van Horn said. “He’s got to conserve some pitches and he’s got to locate his fastball. If he does that, he’ll be a starter.”
With left fielder Joe Serrano graduated — and center fielder Andrew Benintendi and fourth-year junior (but UA graduated) right fielder Tyler Spoon both drafted and expected to turn pro — sophomore-to-be catcher-outfielder Carson Shaddy likely will be more of an outfielder in 2016.
“He is probably going to play summer ball up north and he is going to play outfield and catch,” Van Horn said. “I think in his mind he sees the outfield as wide open and I do, too, and there is a better chance for him to play every day there. He can hit a little bit, obviously.”
Redshirt freshman Fayetteville High graduate Shaddy hit .337 with three home runs and 19 RBI as a pinch-hitter, spare outfielder and part of a catchers triumvirate with Tucker Pennell and Alex Gosser.