Arkansas freshman pitcher Keaton Mc Kinney and sophomore Dominic Taccolini were on their way to an impressive 2015 season before injuries struck both as post season play began. McKinney had surgery to repair a hip muscle when the season was over. Taccolini was diagnosed with a blood clot in the shoulder of his pitching arm and was not able to finish the season.
After extensive rehab both were back on the field in 2016 but they could not come close to matching their 2015 numbers. McKinney went from a 3.21 ERA and a 6-2 record to 6.66 and 1-5 respectively. Taccolini fared somewhat better, from 4.32 and 6-2 in 2015 to 5.75 and 5-5 last season.
Both return for the 2017 season and getting them back to form is a priority according to head coach Dave Van Horn.
“That would be a key for our pitching staff if those older guys bounce back,” Van Horn observed as the team began preseason practices last week, “McKinney, Taccolini, with their experience if those guys have a good season. Their stuff, when they’re good they’re good. If you throw in a couple of guys that got some experience last year and a few of the new guys, young guys, all of a sudden we’ve got a pitching staff.”
The “couple of guys who got experience last year” are sophomores Blaine Knight and Isaiah Campbell who, as of now, are penciled in as weekend starters. McKinney could become the third.
“He threw a couple of good innings here and there towards the end of fall ball,” Van Horn said of McKinney, “but where I really saw him throw well was in his first couple of bullpens here (in the preseason). There were hitters in the box taking some swings so I’m thinking he’s going to bounce back.”
Taccolini was so upset with his regression in 2015 that he decided to return for his senior season rather than test himself in profession baseball. Van Horn said he came back with a completely flexible, “use me where you need me” attitude.
“He’s gonna be the wild card,” Van Horn noted. “He could start for us. He could be a long reliever. I’d have confidence in him closing games. If he’s throwing well he could do it all.”
Van Horn also indicated that the entire pitching staff is benefiting from its new position coach. Arkansas native Wes Johnson was added to the coaching staff following the retirement of Dave Jorn. Johnson, a 19-year coaching veteran, is nationally known for player development and the ability to the increase ball velocity of his pitchers. He came to Arkansas after helping lead Mississippi State to an SEC title last season.
Before that Johnson spent four years at Dallas Baptist University helping build the Patriots into a perennial national baseball power.
“They’ve responded to coach Johnson about as good as you can,” Van Horn gushed. “They’re taking everything he gives them. They’ve learned a lot. They work extremely hard. It’s a little different structure the way he runs his pitchers as far as conditioning and training them and it’s been fun to watch.”
The Razorbacks are coming off Van Horn’s only season at Arkansas to miss the NCAA tournament and will be out to snap a 13 game losing streak when they take on Miami of Ohio on Friday February 17th in the season opener. Van Horn believes his 2017 bunch has had a sense of urgency to get the season started going all the way back to the fall of 2016, telling reporters, “Whenever you finish like we did last year it can’t get here quick enough. They’re ready to play somebody else and move on to ’17, get ’16 out of their minds.”