Farris, McAfee Strengthen Arkansas Lineup


FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas second baseman Jordan Farris didn’t have lofty expectations for his freshman season with the Razorbacks.

He wanted to help Arkansas win, of course, and was eager to do whatever was asked. But the California native said in no way did he expect to be a regular.

“I was just going to work hard and see where it took me,” Farris said Wednesday. “At the beginning of the year, (Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn) talked to me and said I was going to be more like a role guy, just get in, pinch run here and there.

“But I've just worked my butt off to get to where I am now.”

Farris has become much more than a role guy for the Razorbacks the past two weeks. He’s part of a much-needed dynamic duo — along with shortstop Brett McAfee — that has added some unexpected punch to the lineup and shored up some weaknesses in the field as Arkansas pushes into the second half of SEC play.

The two have started five of the past six games in the middle infield, including all three games in the series win against Texas A&M last weekend. They should be in the lineup again tonight when the 14th-ranked Razorbacks (27-15, 11-7 in SEC) open a three-game series against Georgia (16-26, 4-14 in SEC) in Athens, Ga.

McAfee, who started the season as a starter before being pulled, said he’s happy to be back and working with Farris as the Razorbacks push toward the postseason.

“It feels great to be able to produce like this and help the team win,” McAfee said. “That's the biggest thing to me, is coming out and supporting the team and doing everything we can to win some games.”

McAfee is the team’s surprising leader at the plate in conference games (.385), while Farris is ranked third (.353). They haven’t had the same number of at-bats as some of Arkansas’ regulars, but have lifted up a lineup going through recent struggles.

Farris also has a team-leading two home runs in SEC games, moving him into a tie with Tyler Spoon for the overall team lead (three). He has played in 19 games with 12 starts and has the team’s highest batting average (.320).

“Farris is a guy we felt was going to play here. We didn't know if it would be a lot or a little this year but next year for sure,” Van Horn said. “He can swing the bat and he brings a lot of energy. The players like him a lot, just because he's a fun guy to be around. When he starts swinging the bat the way he has, we just felt like we needed to put him in the lineup.”

McAfee wasn’t expected to leave the lineup after starting 19 of the first 21 games at shortstop. But the first-year player – who hadn’t been on the field much his previous two seasons in high school and at junior college because of injuries — struggled defensively early on. He hurt his cause further by having problems at the plate.

So Van Horn eventually moved Brian Anderson to shortstop and shifted Jacob Mahan to third base. It left McAfee watching several games from the dugout.

“McAfee sitting for two weeks straight basically, I think really got his attention,” Van Horn said. “I think he'd tell say that. He worked harder than I'd ever seen him work in practice. He didn't complain. He never asked one time, 'Why am I not playing?' We'd just kind of tell him off to the side, 'Hey, your time's coming. You're getting ready to get back in there,' and he'd say, 'I'm ready.' And he was ready.”

McAfee and Farris — who are good friends off the field — have worked well together on it. They’ve combined to commit one error in conference games, which has been a big reason the Razorbacks have looked better defensively lately.

“Me and him have real good chemistry,” McAfee said. “We worked a lot together in the fall. We have a lot of communication up the middle, and that's huge for us. We try and bring as much energy as we can up the middle and to the field.”

Farris’ insertion at second base also meant Dominic Ficociello could move back to first, where he earned All-SEC Defensive team honors last season. Anderson and Mahan, meanwhile, have split time at third base to help solidify Arkansas’ defense.

The Hogs haven’t been flawless. Anderson and Mahan committed three of Arkansas’ five errors in the Texas A&M series. But McAfee and Farris have done their jobs.

“They're really solid defensively, both of them, and they're coming around with the bats now,” Arkansas closer Colby Suggs said. “They're getting hot at the right time. We really love them up the middle. They're talking and they communicate well.”

Van Horn said both players have been “big for our team,” which had dropped six of eight games before winning the Texas A&M series.

Farris said he and McAfee will do everything possible to make sure it continues.

“It's a great feeling,” Farris said. “It's a blessing to be able to go out there and help my team get some victories and just keep on working hard. ... I'm loving it.”

SERIES TICKET

No. 14 Arkansas (27-15, 11-7 in SEC) at Georgia (16-26, 4-14 in SEC)

When: Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 11 a.m., Sunday at 1 p.m.

Where: Foley Field in Athens, Ga.

TV: Saturday – Fox Sports Southwest; Sunday – Cox Sports Television

Radio: Razorback Sports Network

Starting Pitchers: Arkansas — RHP Barrett Astin (2-2, 2.34 ERA), RHP Ryne Stanek (5-2, 1.63 ERA); LHP Randall Fant (3-1, 2.23 ERA); Georgia — LHP Patrick Boling (2-5, 4.37 ERA); RHP Sean McLaughlin (4-4, 3.33 ERA); RHP Bryan Benzor (3-2, 4.38 ERA)

Top Hitters: Arkansas —Brian Anderson (.317, 2 HR, 25 RBI),  Joe Serrano (.308, HR, 13 RBI), Tyler Spoon (.306, 3 HR, 38 RBI), Matt Vinson (.301, HR, 19 RBI); Georgia — Curt Powell (.378, 6 2B, 20 RBI), Nelson Ward (.322, 6 2B, 13 RBI), Jared Walsh (.306, 2 HR, 18 RBI), Hunter Cole (.305, 3 HR, 28 RBI)