FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said the Razorbacks would consider a few changes after the series loss to Ole Miss.
One of them includes getting more experience in the starting pitching rotation for this week’s series at No. 5 South Carolina.
Arkansas hitting coach Todd Butler, who filled in for Van Horn during Wednesday’s press conference, said the 21st-ranked Razorbacks (14-7, 1-2 in SEC) will move junior Barrett Astin back into the weekend rotation in place of Trey Killian. Astin will start Friday night against the Gamecocks (18-3, 2-1), while Ryne Stanek is scheduled to start Saturday and Randall Fant will throw Sunday.
“We are going to put Astin on Friday night with that experience,” Butler said. “He knows South Carolina and hopefully it will be to our advantage.”
Astin (1-1, 1.90 ERA) moved out of the rotation two weeks ago to make room for Killian, who turned in an impressive start to the season. The freshman had enjoyed so much success, in fact, Van Horn put him on the mound for the Razorbacks’ conference opener against Ole Miss last Friday. But Killian struggled in a 7-1 loss.
So Astin will get the first opportunity against South Carolina, who has two national titles (2010 and 2011) and a runners-up finish (2012) in the past three seasons.
The Gamecocks were 4-2 against the Razorbacks last season, which included a 2-1 mark in the College World Series. All six games between the teams were decided by three runs or less. So Astin knows strong pitching will be key at South Carolina.
“I think (the change) has to do with getting some experience back in the rotation with Stanek, Fant and myself,” Astin said. “We’ve been there and we know how to pitch in pressure situations, especially on the road.”
He is “excited” to get the opportunity to set the tone for the series with his pitching performance on Friday. But Astin realizes he may not hold down the Friday night role long after bouncing between starter and reliever his entire career.
“Going on the road we need some experience starting this weekend,” said Astin, who threw 2 2/3 innings in relief of Stanek on Sunday. “We come back home the next weekend and I may be back in the pen. Who knows?”
Butler said Arkansas does intend to move Stanek back into the Friday night role as soon as possible. He held the job through most of the pre-conference season, but was pushed back to a Sunday start for the Ole Miss series after some struggles.
Stanek wasn’t ready to return this week because there wasn’t enough recovery time in between starts. He could be back in the Friday night spot as early as next week.
Butler also said the Razorbacks haven’t given up on Killian as a weekend starter, either, although he’ll be available out of the bullpen this week. Butler said Arkansas wanted to make sure it had enough experienced starters on the mound.
“I wouldn't be surprised if he came back out to start maybe during the year,” Butler said. “Could be an SEC weekend. … I mean, he's done everything asked of him. He's been fantastic. I think we're just going to go with an experienced guy on Friday, because Stanek cannot go on Friday night.”
There rotation probably won’t be the only place for change after Arkansas turned in a season-high five errors in Sunday’s extra-innings loss to Ole Miss.
Butler said the starting lineup would be Van Horn’s decision. But he referenced some infield changes with Brian Anderson sliding from third base to shortstop for practice work this week. Jacob Mahan also was manning third base.
“I feel pretty good there,” Anderson said about playing shortstop. “I played high school there. The other day in the game I felt pretty comfortable out there. I mean, I’m comfortable out there. If that’s where they want to put me then I’m fine.”
Arkansas is hoping the changes will help shore up a defense that has committed 33 errors through 21 games and make room for Dominic Ficociello to return at second base. The junior has been limited to right-handed at bats against left-handed pitching because of a strained muscle. But Butler said the Razorbacks believe Ficociello is ready to start at second base and bat right handed whether South Carolina starts right- or left-handed pitchers this weekend.
“I think we really have missed him,” Butler said. “Not talking about production or how many hits he gets or how many RBIs. His energy to play the game. We really need him in the lineup this weekend. If he has to bat right on right this weekend, so be it. If he can't hit from the left side because it bothers him, let's just hit right on right and right on left. But hopefully you will see him playing this weekend.”