FAYETTEVILLE — It seems the more Arkansas becomes all hands on deck with its middle infield for this Fayetteville Regional that the Razorbacks host starting Friday at Baum Stadium.
Given four days rest since Arkansas last played in its 2-1 semifinal loss to LSU in Saturday's semifinal of the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama, the ailing hand that senior second baseman Carson Shaddy deeply bruised and nearly broke on March 21 during a SEC game at Mississippi State, should be better healed, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said, for Arkansas' 2 p.m. Fayetteville Regional opener against the Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles than when Van Horn said it bothered him during his hitless three games (0 for 12) in the SEC Tournament as the Razorbacks defeated South Carolina and NCAA Tournament No. 1 overall seed/SEC regular-season champion Florida at Hoover before losing to LSU.
Meanwhile junior starting shortstop Jax Biggers, out since May 11 with a broken finger, returned to the starting lineup at Hoover against Florida and went 2-for-3 with a walk and run scored and went 1-for-3 against LSU.
"Well, I think it's big" Van Horn said when asked about Biggers' return. "It's big getting that experience out there. It was really good to see him swing the bat well. I think he had six official ABs [at bats] in the tournament. He had three hits, a couple of walks, something like that. He did a really nice job. Didn't get a lot of (defensive) action. That first game he played, he didn't even get a ground ball. A couple this last game. It's good. it gives us some options and it also gives us a guy who's been in the middle of it."
Having both those top infield options, junior Jack Kenley who started the six games that Biggers missed, and Hunter Wilson, the junior from Spiro, Oklahoma, who has played all over the infield, and stunned Florida with an eighth-inning grand slam in Hoover after initially entering the game as a pinch-runner, coming off the bench makes Arkansas the team whose depth was a prime reason so many preseason polls picked the Hogs so high.
"It's huge," Shaddy said of Preseason All-SEC shortstop Biggers returning and the depth it creates. "It's back to where we started at. He's grinding through some pain right now, but he brings a lot to the table. You saw his first game back he he had two hits with that finger no even on the bat so that's pretty impressive. And, his speed for sure is a plus."
And the depth…
"Just talking about Kenley and Wilson coming off the bench…" Shaddy mused. “Obviously, you've seen they can come in big situations and compete and can help. Wilson's grand slam and also Kenley filling in for Jax and doing a really good job and being a really good glue guy for us. We're really excited about the depth that we have for sure."
All helped the Hogs to their national seed, says Casey Martin, the third baseman from Lonoke doing more than his share, hitting a team-leading .343 with a team-leading 13 home runs and the lone Razorback voted to the All-SEC Tournament team.
"I'm glad to have Jax back for sure," Martin said. “Kenley did an amazing job coming in for Jax when he got hurt. And, having Hunter and them … anybody can come off the bench on our team and play just as good as anybody. So, we have a lot of faith in everybody."
Incidentally, while acknowledging the hand "is still barking at me," Shaddy said he's been bitten harder in previous years by injuries, especially an elbow one, he recalled, and played through them.
"I'm not even blaming it on the hand," Shaddy said of his 0-for at Hoover. "I squared up a lot of balls I took good swings on. I had two games I had two strikeouts each but the last game against LSU, I felt like I had two hits in the bag if (LSU pitcher Zack) Hess didn't get lucky on the play he made and the obviously, the shift they made in the last inning (positioning second baseman Brandt Broussard perfectly to take away what would have been a key hit). My swing was fine. My approach was good. Just one of those things. The baseball gods weren't with me in my back pocket like they usually are."
Something he's pocketed sure seems blossoming. Even after the 0-for-12, Shaddy's batting average dipped only to .327. The Fayetteville High grad has hit 10 home runs and knocked in 27.