FAYETTEVILLE — Starting pitchers Jalen Beeks and Chris Oliver led Arkansas to an important series win against South Carolina last weekend, holding the Gamecocks to one run in back-to-back victories.
The Southeastern Conference recognized both pitchers Monday. Beeks and Oliver joined LSU’s Aaron Nola in sharing the SEC Pitcher of the Week award.
Beeks (5-2, 1.05 ERA) was recognized after throwing his second complete game in Arkansas’ 4-1 win on Friday night. He allowed four hits, walked one and recorded a career-high nine strikeouts as Arkansas split a doubleheader with the Gamecocks. The complete game was the fourth from an Arkansas pitcher this season.
Oliver (3-3, 1.99 ERA) helped Arkansas record its seventh shutout in Saturday’s series-clinching 7-0 victory. The junior allowed four hits, issued two walks and had a career-high 10 strikeouts in eight shutout innings.
“I don’t ever remember it,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of three players being named SEC Pitcher of the Week. “Usually if you get co-players you get two big-time offensive players or you had a pitcher pitch an incredible game and then a hitter that went off and they gave it to two guys like that, but never to two pitchers. I mean that’s very rare. They just did a tremendous job.”
The two have teamed with Trey Killian (1-5, 2.70 ERA) to give Arkansas a strong starting rotation. Van Horn said the amount of success has been surprising, too, considering the Razorbacks had to replace their entire 2013 rotation.
“It’s hard to envision the way they’ve thrown the past few weeks,” Van Horn said about the performance of the starters. “Because they were back of the bullpen guys. We were so good finishing games the last couple of reasons and some of the reasons were because of them, especially Jalen. He was like our setup man/closer, kind of a little bit of everything. We would bring him early, late and try to get it to (Colby) Suggs last year. And then Chris has always had great stuff. And now that he has turned that corner mentally his confidence is high and now his secondary pitches are really starting to come on. His curve ball was really good this past weekend.”
Killian — who also has thrown two complete games this season — was named SEC Pitcher of the Week after Arkansas’ 2-1 win against Alabama on March 22. The Razorbacks have only scored eight runs in Killian’s six starts this season.
But Van Horn said it hasn’t overshadowed Killian’s efforts.
He also credited pitching coach Dave Jorn for his work with Arkansas’ staff.
“I feel like Coach Jorn has done a great job developing our guys,” Van Horn said. “Everybody was worried about our pitching, as we were. We knew we had good pitching. We just didn’t know what roles to put them in. We put them in a role early and we haven’t changed it because they’ve done such a good job with it and made it easier on us. Because we’re talking guys that were closing games last year, now starting them. And sometimes they’re finishing them.”
The weekend starters won’t be available to help Arkansas the next two nights, when the Razorbacks play another intriguing midweek series. UNLV (22-9) will be in town to play Arkansas tonight at 6:35 and Wednesday at 6:05.
UNLV was 12th in the NCAA’s Rating Percentage Index (RPI) entering last week.
“Their numbers remind me of a SEC team with dominating pitching, pretty good defense and just enough offense,” Van Horn said. “They are a team that has played a very good schedule. That’s why their RPI is so high. A lot of teams come to Las Vegas to play. I mean why would anybody want to come to Las Vegas to play right?
“But they have handled everybody. Everybody they’ve played they’ve done a great job. They’re winning their league and I know this is a big series for them.”
Van Horn said Arkansas will start left-hander Colin Poche (2-0, 1.27 ERA) tonight, while right-hander Alex Phillips (2-0, 2.25 ERA) is on the mound Wednesday.
It’s the first meeting between the programs since 1994, when UNLV swept Arkansas during a three-game series in Las Vegas.
McAfee’s Back Troubling
Arkansas shortstop Brett McAfee will be sidelined even long because of back issues.
Van Horn said the junior, who played one game against Nebraska last week, continues to have trouble with his back and may not travel to LSU this weekend.
“I don’t think the doctors know exactly what’s wrong with him,” Van Horn said. “But he’s got some lower back issues that kind of keep blowing up. So it’s probably a situation, if you’ve had a back injury, you know, they don’t heal overnight. He probably is going to have to rest for awhile and try to get him going maybe in a couple of weeks. So we’ll see how that goes.”
McAfee is hitting .277 with 9 RBIs in 14 games. He has played once in Arkansas’ last 16 games. Michael Bernal has started 14 of the past 16 games at shortstop.
Van Horn knows which three starting pitchers will be on the mound for this weekend’s series at LSU: Killian, Beeks and Oliver. He’s not ready to announce the order, though.
Killian started the opener against South Carolina last Friday, moving into the role after both he and Beeks pitched on short rest after a doubleheader at Mississippi State the previous Saturday. Beeks was given more time after throwing more pitchers, but had been Arkansas’ game one starter for seven straight weeks.
Van Horn is “almost to the point” where he wants Killian to stay in the series-opening role. He and Jorn discussed their options Monday afternoon.
“It’s not set yet,” Van Horn said. “It probably would have been without the crazy weekend of having to play two on Saturday (at Mississippi State).”