Taccolini To Emerge as Hogs Sunday Starter?

Senior right-handed pitcher Dominic Taccolini has just about done it all in his four years on the Hill for Dave Van Horn's Razorbacks. As a freshman Taccolini appeared in 17 games with three starts while posting a 2-0 record.

He entered the starting rotation as a sophomore and claimed six wins but his season was cut short due to a blood clot in his right arm.

Taccolini came back as the Hogs' Friday night guy his junior season, making 13 starts in 15 appearances which included a complete 10-inning, five-hit shutout over Kentucky.  It was the longest outing by any NCAA pitcher in  2016.

After Arkansas had suffered its first losing season of the Dave Van Horn era Taccolini returned for his senior year and offered to come out of the bullpen to help the team. He pitched in relief on Friday or Saturday early on but also mixed in some work as a mid-week starter. However, by the time Van Horn penciled in Taccolini as the Hogs' Sunday starter against Vanderbilt in Arkansas' last regular season home game, he had been on the shelf for almost a month with a sore arm.

"He threw a really good bullpen on Tuesday and long tossed on Monday," Van Horn said of his decision to put his veteran hurler back on the mound. (That's when) "We started talking about starting him on Sunday if we had that luxury."

Against the Commodores, in a game the Hogs had to win to keep their SEC West title hopes alive, Taccolini looked comfortable, giving up just three hits and one run in 4 2/3 innings of work.

After surrendering a lead off double in the fifth Taccolini recorded a pair of outs but was pulled by Van Horn after issuing a walk with a runner on 3rd.

"I felt good early," Taccolini observed. "I was pounding the zone with my fastball. Later on I kind of--once I got a runner on it took me a while to get used to it and that's where you saw me in the fifth. I was missing too much with my fastball and it showed when I walked the nine-hole."

Catcher Grant Koch was impressed with his batterymate's return to the mound telling reporters, "Dom, coming out, hadn't thrown in a while and I had a hundred percent confidence in him in every pitch. You know what I mean? In every pitch and every count that stuff's there and it's going to get swings and misses. He did an unreal job."

Van Horn was also impressed for an additional reason: "We're trying to find that third starter and maybe he can be the guy. He's got experience. He's been a Friday starter, Saturday starter and now he got a Sunday start and it went pretty good. So he's old and been around. It's time for him to step it up and he really did today." 

Taccolini's replacement in the game was a puzzler to some of the fans on hand. Eight days earlier sophomore right-hander Jake Reindl had entered the 6th inning in game one against Tennessee in relief of Blaine Knight with the Hogs up 4-3. He got Vols right fielder Luc Lipcuis to ground out to short but then gave up a double, a walk and a single. After an error at first brought two runs in to score Van Horn gave Reindl the hook.

The following Friday against Vanderbilt Reindl took over for Trevor Stephan to start the 8th in a 3-3 ballgame. This time he was yanked after throwing six straight balls.

But it was bounce back time on Sunday. The former Shiloh Christian Saint proceeded to blank the Commodores over the remaining 4 1/3 innings after Taccolini had exited, giving up just three hits in the process with six strikeouts and no walks. So what was his mindset entering the game?

"Get the bad taste out of my mouth,"  Reindl shrugged. "Just try to do as well as possible for as long as possible so I don't have to think about throwing six balls in a row anymore. You know?"

"When I took the ball from him on Friday I didn't say anything except, 'Get ready for tomorrow,' " Van Horn recalled. "Well tomorrow ended up being today (Sunday) and he did a super job. He ended up throwing fifty pitches in four and a third. That's being real conservative out there and I like that."

Both Arkansas pitchers benefited from a lineup that provided plenty of run support. Koch started it off in the bottom of the 1st with a two-run homer run that cleared the permanent seats behind the Hogs' bullpen. Two more longballs would follow after Arkansas added single runs in the 4th and 5th. Both Dominic Fletcher and Jake Spanberger banged shots off the right field foul poll as the Hogs' lead jumped to 7-1 with Spanberger's two-run shot.

Two home runs off the foul pole in the same inning? When has that happened before?

"I've never seen two balls hit the pole in the same inning, maybe even in the same game," Van Horn marveled. "Kind of amazing."

 "I got asked that earlier by a couple of people actually," Koch added. "Never. Never. That was insane."

Sunday's win ran Arkansas' SEC record to 16-10. The path to an SEC West title is still there but just barely. A Razorback sweep at College Station and a 2-1 series win by Mississippi State over LSU in the final week of the regular season would leave the Hogs, 'Dogs and Tigers with 19 wins but Mississippi State and LSU would finish up with 11 losses. The title would go to Arkansas with the best conference winning percentage in the West but that is the only scenario that would do it for the Hogs.

"Whose to say what's going to happen?" Van Horn said of the tight race in the West going into the final weekend. "LSU's awfully hot right now. The only thing we can do is just play A&M on Thursday and see what happens and kind of go from there. If we have a shot we'll keep firing away."




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