FAYETTEVILLE — It’s no secret Arkansas sophomore Brian Anderson has had a rough year defensively.
His team-leading 20 errors and .893 fielding percentage — most of which have come on off-target throws from shortstop and third base — are all the proof needed to understand how difficult it has been for Edmond, Okla, native.
But there’s one other truth in Anderson’s struggles.
They haven't altered his production at the plate.
“Brian’s just been consistent all year,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “He’s probably been our most consistent hitter really when you look at it.”
Anderson enters the 2013 SEC Tournament opener against Ole Miss as the most dangerous hitter in the Arkansas lineup. He’s the only Razorback hitting over .300 this season and has become one of the most successful offensive players in the conference thanks to his performance the past several weeks.
The Razorbacks (35-19), who are 11th in the SEC in batting (.261), need Anderson to continue to produce when they play the Rebels (37-20) at 9:30 a.m. Anderson said he’s ready for the responsibility after gaining postseason experience last year.
“I kind of know what to expect now,” Anderson said. “I’m not going in blind. I know what this tournament is all about. As far as the postseason goes, I think I’m going to be a lot more relaxed this year. Last year I was new to everything and kind of wide-eyed. This year, I think I’ll be more relaxed and just focused on baseball.”
The Edmond, Okla., native leads the Razorbacks and ranks 11th in the SEC in batting average (.339) entering the tournament. He’s fourth in the conference in triples (five), fifth in on base percentage (.458), eighth in slugging percentage (.527) and walks (33), and 12th in runs scored (43) during his first season as a full-time starter.
It has counterbalanced the defensive problem. He entered the season as one of Arkansas’ infield starters, but has struggled enough to warrant a return to the outfield where he played in 2012. Van Horn said Anderson has had no problem fielding the ball, but making accurate throws has been the issue.
The Razorbacks first moved Anderson to the outfield around midseason and began dividing his time between third base and left field. He has been a regular in left field lately, though, starting nine straight games at the position.
“I guess being in the outfield might relax me a little more,” Anderson said about moving to the outfield. “I don’t focus on defense as much. But, you know, it’s still crucial out there making the routine plays.
“But as far as my approach at the plate, it really hasn’t affected me that much.”
That’s good news for Arkansas, which has watched Anderson surge recently.
He is 16-for-28 (.571) with 2 home runs, 3 doubles and 3 triples in the past eight games. Anderson also has scored 10 runs and driven in seven during the stretch.
The biggest week was a 7-for-13 series against Tennessee, which has had problems retiring Anderson in six games the past two years. The high point was a 4-for-4 performance during the second game of the series. Anderson fell a double short of the cycle, but drove in three runs and scored four more in a 11-1 win.
Arkansas pitcher Barrett Astin said pitchers recognize Anderson as a threat.
“He’s probably one of the most raw and best hitters I’ve seen in my three years here,” Astin said. “Teams are starting to pitch around him and expand some pitches and try to get him to swing at stuff that he’s sitting on. And then when they have to throw a strike he doesn’t miss it.
“He has hit that well all year. And he’ll continue to do it because he’s a great hitter.”
Van Horn was asked last week if Anderson will continue to do so as an outfielder for the rest of his career. He wasn’t ready to commit to that, saying it depends on which players are on the roster next season.
Anderson could be back in the infield during summer baseball and the Razorbacks plan to work with Anderson during the fall as well. Van Horn said Anderson is capable of playing third base or second base for the program in the future. He could even be could be used as a pitcher next season.
“He can throw 95 miles an hour off the mound, but we didn’t want to do that to him this year,” Van Horn said. “We had a little pitching, so we were OK without him.
“But next year, might want to see. ... I wouldn’t want to hit off of him.”
For now, Van Horn just wants Anderson to continue to lead the Razorbacks at the plate with postseason play beginning this week. Arkansas knows Anderson can’t carry the offense to wins alone, but his consistency remains key.
Anderson plans to keep delivering. Starting with today’s SEC Tournament opener.
“Last year, our offense kind of struggled and putted around a little bit,” Anderson said. “As an offense it would be good to get it rolling in the tournament. That way we just have that confidence and just really swing it well starting off the postseason.”
SEC TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
Tuesday, May 21
Game 1 #6 Ole Miss 4, #11 Kentucky 1
Game 2 #7 Alabama 6, #10 Auburn 3
Game 3 #9 Texas A&M 6, #8 Florida 3
Game 4 #5 Mississippi State 2, #12 Missouri 1 (17 innings)
Wednesday, May 22
Game 5 9:30 a.m. #3 Arkansas vs. #6 Ole Miss [CSS]
Game 6 TBD #2 LSU vs. #7 Alabama [CSS]
Game 7 4:30 p.m. #1 Vanderbilt vs. #9 Texas A&M [CSS]
Game 8 TBD #4 South Carolina vs. #5 Mississippi State [CSS]
Thursday, May 23
Game 9 9:30 a.m. Loser Game 5 vs. Loser Game 6 [SPSO]
Game 10 TBD Loser Game 7 vs. Loser Game 8 [SPSO]
Game 11 4:30 p.m. Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 6 [SPSO]
Game 12 TBD Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8 [SPSO]
Friday, May 24
Game 13 3:00 p.m. Winner Game 9 vs. Loser Game 11 [CSS]
Game 14 TBD Winner Game 10 vs. Loser 12 [CSS]
Saturday, May 25
Game 15 Noon Winner Game 13 vs. Winner Game 11 [ESPNEWS]
Game 16 TBD Winner Game 14 vs. Winner Game 12 [ESPNEWS]
Sunday, May 26
Game 17 3:30 p.m. Winner Game 15 vs. Winner Game 16 [ESPN2]