Van Horn Believes Team ‘Got Better’ Despite Rough Road Trip

FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas baseball team has played 12 games in Arizona dating back to its early-season series against Arizona State in 2008.

The Razorbacks’ success rate – two wins – hasn’t been good. So one day after Arkansas went 0-4 during the Coca-Cola Classic in Surprise, Ariz., coach Dave Van Horn finally said enough was enough.

“I don’t want to go back to Arizona,” Van Horn said. “I’ll admit it.”

Van Horn looked back at his program’s most recent struggles during the monthly Swatter’s Club meeting in Fayetteville on Monday. The Razorbacks returned home late Sunday night after four straight losses to Arizona State, Gonzaga and Pacific during their first road trip of the season.

The final stumble was, perhaps, the most painful. Arkansas led 3-1 going into the ninth inning and appeared to be on the verge of salvaging part of the week with a win against Pacific. But the Razorbacks allowed three runs to complete a winless trip that saw them fall from No. 3 to No. 16 in this week’s Baseball America poll.

But Van Horn wasn’t completely discouraged by the experience. He still believes Arkansas (7-5) grew as it prepares for this week’s four-game series against San Diego State (7-5), which begins Thursday night in Baum Stadium.

“I do believe we got better,” Van Horn said. “We learned a lot about ourselves — especially the young guys. We learned about them and what they need to work on. We got to see some really good pitching and a couple of tough environments.”

Arkansas’ biggest problem during the trip came at the plate. The Razorbacks collected 31 hits in four games, but managed to score just six runs.

Van Horn was particularly disappointed in Arkansas’ performance with runners in scoring position. The Razorbacks stranded 30 base runners during its trip.

“That was frustrating,” Van Horn said. “You just need to make contact a couple times and you get a base hit we break that game open. We win. … On the weekend, we were either 1-for-20 or 2-for-20 with runners in scoring position. And that will turn around. It will start happening. I guess in our mind better days are in front of us.”

Defensive mistakes also proved to be problems. The Razorbacks committed 10 errors during the four-game trip after posting eight in its first eight games.

The key error Sunday came from shortstop Brett McAfee, who had trouble with a ground ball that could’ve helped the Hogs end the game. Pacific, instead, won 4-3 with a two-out single in the ninth inning to cap Arkansas’ winless trip.

“The defensive problem is we had two pitchers throw balls away and the shortstop didn’t field the ball when we could’ve gotten the game over,” Van Horn said. “In his defense, like I said, that’s a tough play. It was to his right, concrete-hard field at the time. That ball jumped up on him hard. He still almost made the play.”

The four-game losing streak caused Arkansas, which was regarded as a favorite to return to the College World Series, to plummet in polls. But a lengthy skid isn’t exactly unusual for the Razorbacks the past several seasons.

Arkansas has endured losing streaks of four games or more in each of the previous four seasons. It included a four-game SEC slide last spring. But the Razorbacks have reached the College World Series twice in those four years (2009 and 2012).

So Van Horn wasn’t panicking despite the rough road trip Monday.

“I think more than anything what I take away from it is that we’re going to get better,” Van Horn said. “And I think it might keep us from making mistakes down the road. We’ll put the right people in the right place at the right time hopefully.”

Astin Moves Back To Bullpen

Van Horn said junior Barrett Astin will go back to his familiar role in the Arkansas bullpen after starting three games to open the season.

The move has nothing to do with Astin’s performance as a starter. Van Horn said he wants to have Astin (1-1, 1.65 ERA) available more than once a week.

“Really, more than anything, just having him at the end of the game,” Van Horn said. “We might beat somebody bad three times where we don’t use him. If that’s the case, we might start him on a Tuesday and give him three innings. But it’s about being able to finish games off and just having another guy out in the bullpen with experience with great stuff.”

Van Horn said his starting rotation for the San Diego State series, for now, will consist of Ryne Stanek (1-1, 2.84 ERA), Trey Killian (1-1, 1.29 ERA) and Randall Fant (0-0, 2.25 ERA). He said Sunday’s game is to be determined, but mentioned freshman Colin Poche (1-0, 0.00 ERA) as a likely candidate.

Hunter Pledges $100K For Facility

Detroit outfielder Torii Hunter has pledged $100,000 toward the construction of Arkansas’ indoor baseball and track facility.

Norm DeBriyn, the associate director of the Razorback Foundation, announced Hunter’s donation during the Swatter’s Club meeting. Hunter - a Pine Bluff native — spent his first 11 seasons in Major League Baseball with the Minnesota Twins and the past five with the Los Angeles Angels. The 37-year-old Hunter signed a two-year contract worth $26 million with the Tigers in the offseason.

Hunter’s donation will be part of a facility with an estimated price tag of $9.625 million. Arkansas associate athletic director Matt Trantham said last month the goal is to begin construction later this year and have it completed in time for the 2014 baseball season. Trantham said the speed of the project depends on donations.

Hunter was an Arkansas signee out of high school. But he never attended school after being drafted in the first round of the 1993 MLB Draft.