FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has gotten off to a solid start in Southeastern Conference play. But as Arkansas (21-8, 6-3 in Southeastern Conference) prepares for its next test at Alabama (18-11, 7-2) beginning Thursday night, coach Dave Van Horn said the Razorbacks have plenty of room for improvement in a variety of areas.
Van Horn, speaking after the monthly Swatter’s Club meeting, pointed particularly to the bottom half of his lineup. The group — which has typically included second baseman Dominic Ficociello, catcher Jake Wise, center fielder Jacob Morris, first basemen Willie Schwanke and Eric Fisher — have struggled to produce.
The five are hitting between .228 and .196 so far this season.
“I guess the way I look at it, they pretty much have nowhere to go but up,” Van Horn said. “They’re frustrated and they’re working hard.
“They really want to help and they want to contribute.”
Van Horn remains optimistic they will turn it around. Until then, Van Horn said the bottom of the order can contribute in other ways. Being tough outs, moving runners with sacrifices or even grounding out with a runner on third will all help a team that ranks eighth in the conference in team batting average (.276).
“The team knows if you’re helping the team,” Van Horn said. “We’re getting some of that, but I know those batting averages are going to climb. There’s going to be a game where we go, ‘Wow,’ six through nine, your last four hitters just got nine hits of your teams 12 hits and drove in eight runs.’ That’s coming.”
Van Horn believes Wise, in particular, is more than capable of hitting better than his current average of .228. He also pointed to Morris during his Swatter’s Club speech, saying the senior has had a few key moments the past two weeks.
Van Horn said Ficociello should be back to normal soon, too, after being limited to hitting right-handed because of an oblique injury. The switch hitter — who is hitting .224 in 14 games — batted left-handed twice against Mississippi State. Ficociello was hit by a pitch Friday and striking out on three pitches to end Saturday’s game.
“He swung at three changeups. He didn’t look very good like he hadn’t seen them,” said Van Horn, who added he hoped Ficociello could get some work in from the left side of the plate in practice. “I’m going to keep him in the lineup because he brings energy and helps us win. When he starts hitting, a couple of the other guys start hitting, it’s going to take a little pressure off the top of the order.
“We just need to be a little more balanced.”
Spoon Earns SEC Honor
Arkansas outfielder Tyler Spoon was named SEC Freshman of the Week for his performance against Mississippi Valley State and Mississippi State.
Spoon went 6-for-19 with three doubles, two RBIs and three runs scored in five games. He went 5-for-12 with an RBI and three runs scored against the Bulldogs.
“He’s struggled a little bit in league play,” Van Horn said. “Kind of a hard luck hitter. A couple of times hit some balls hard. He did a good job (last) weekend. (Mississippi State) can pitch. They have good arms, really good location, and a lot of movement and experience. He handled it pretty well.”
Spoon is hitting .325 with a team-leading three home runs and 34 RBI.
Arkansas moved up one spot from No. 15 to No. 14 in this week’s Baseball America poll after the series win against the Bulldogs. The Razorbacks also moved from No. 13 to No. 12 in this week’s USA Today Coaches’ poll.
Alabama – Arkansas’ next opponent — isn’t ranked in either poll.