HOUSTON, TX- Coming into the season, we knew quite a bit about the Arkansas pitching staff. We knew that Dominic Taccolini and Keaton McKinney were going to be two pieces of the weekend rotation, and while James Teague not being in the rotation to start the season has been a bit of a surprise, he still figures to be a big part of the staff throughout the season. We also knew that Zach Jackson would hold down the closer’s role.
We knew significantly less about the Razorbacks’ offense, what with leaders like Andrew Benintendi, Tyler Spoon, Bobby Wernes, and Joe Serrano gone.
You had to figure that some new blood was going to emerge to fill in the gaps, but they were also going to need some familiar faces to step into bigger roles for the team.
Enter Michael Bernal and Carson Shaddy.
Both made their mark in different ways during the 2015 season. Bernal was the team’s starting shortstop, hitting .269 with a .398 on-base percentage and 30 RBI. Shaddy played a supporting role, appearing in 44 games with 14 starts. He made the most of his time, though, hitting .337/.427/.517.
If Saturday night’s 12-3 blowout win over Houston is any indication, the Arkansas offense is going to be in good shape in 2016 with those two leading the way.
Bernal went 2-for-4 with two home runs and five RBI. It doesn’t do the second home run justice to just call it a home run, however. It was a towering shot that hit about 80% of the way up the left field foul pole.
Not to be outdone, Shaddy had a 3-for-5 day with a home run of his own and two RBI. Like Bernal’s second homer, this was a titanic blast, rattling up against the train tracks beyond left field.
In this young season, both guys have stepped up in a big way. Bernal is now hitting .357 on the year with three home runs and 11 RBI. Shaddy, with his big game, saw his average move to .533 with two homers and eight RBI.
But neither seem to have felt any pressure to take on more this season, and furthermore, Bernal, Shaddy, and head coach Dave Van Horn were all quick to credit a deep, cohesive offensive unit for their success.
“I think we’re all pretty comfortable with each other and trust in each other to get the job done, so I didn’t really feel any pressure at all,” Bernal said.
Shaddy more or less echoed those sentiments.
“We all know that this lineup is really, really strong,” he said. “We all have a really good attitude and we’re all real scrappy hitters. I wouldn’t say that we have tried to pick up any leadership or anything like that. We’re all leaders.”
Van Horn put it another way, suggesting that their lineup would be more competitive from top to bottom.
“We just told our guys that we just need to pass it around a little bit. Last year it was really a few guys. We’ve tried to have a deeper lineup,” he added.
Certainly the Razorbacks would love to have someone like Benintendi, with his power, in their lineup again this year, but so far in this young season, the current crew has done their best to make us forget about him.
Emptying the Notebook for Arkansas/Houston
- Houston’s Joe Davis has proven to be largely unstoppable so far this season. On Saturday, he went 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles, raising his average to .692. Houston knew they were getting a good one when he chose to come to campus rather than begin his pro career, but I’m not sure anyone knew he would be this good coming out of the gate.
- Arkansas starter Blaine Knight lasted just two-plus innings, giving up four hits and one run with one walk and three strikeouts, and his early departure was not by design. After the game, Dave Van Horn said that his staff realized early on that he didn’t have his best stuff and that they really would have preferred to get four of five innings from him.
- Van Horn also mentioned that James Teague, the reliever who entered the game for Knight in the third inning, could have thrown more than the two innings that he did, but that Teague was dealing with some soreness last weekend and they didn’t want to push him. It will be interesting to see if Teague works his way into the weekend rotation as the season rolls on.
- It was a night to forget for Houston starter John King. One week after throwing six shutout innings against Villanova, he lasted just 2.1 innings against the Hogs, giving up seven hits and six earned runs. None of the Arkansas scoring off of him was cheap, either. They were squaring him up the entire time he was in the game. He’ll look to return to form in the coming weeks, as the starting rotation competition for Houston unfolds with the possibility of Seth Romero returning at some point in the near future.
- Lost in the performances of Bernal and Shaddy was Austin Catron’s big night off the bench. After entering the game as a pinch-hitter in the third inning for Jack Benninghoff, he went 3-for-3 with three RBI.