By Nate Allen
Special to News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - Aside from forging beyond utility infielder into Arkansas Razorbacks regular third baseman, Lonoke’s Casey Martin now is recognized by the SEC.
On Monday the SEC Office in Birmingham, Ala. named Martin its SEC Freshman of the Week.
Hitting .414 for in 11 games for Coach Dave Van Horn’s 9-3 Razorbacks, Martin has 12 hits in 29 at bats including three home runs and two doubles and 12 RBI, just behind team RBI leader freshman left fielder Heston Kjerstad’s 13 achieved in 40 at bats.
Martin also has stolen three bases in three attempts.
In last week’s five games at Baum Stadium with Arkansas sweeping Dayton twice and winning 2 out of 3 against the Southern California Trojans, Martin hit .444, 8 for 18, including two home runs in a game against Dayton to become Arkansas’ first multiple home run hitter in a game since Chad Spanberger during last May’s SEC Tournament. His two stolen bases in a game against Dayton made Martin Arkansas’ first multiple base-stealer in a game since 2016.
“Well, he's really done a good job of just being a spark for us offensively,” Van Horn said when asked about Martin at Monday’s Swatters Club luncheon attended by Razorbacks baseball boosters. “He's got some power, obviously he hit two home runs in a ball game. He's also hit some doubles, stole some bases, done a pretty good job in the field. He can be a real force when he gets on base. He's a guy I feel like in the future will be a 20-plus stolen base guy a year. If he stays healthy and gets on base a lot, even more. Very versatile, can play two to three infield positions and all the outfield positions. He's come along a little quicker than we might have thought coming out of fall practice. Just proud of him for working and hanging in there.”
Third base was a wide open position at this season’s outset, particularly with senior first baseman/third baseman Jared Gates now the regular first baseman.
“He’s our third baseman for now,” Van Horn said when asked about Martin during the Dayton series.
But if an injury or a slump affects another position, Martin can move anywhere and fill it except presumably pitcher or catcher.
“Casey Martin can play second or third, and he played shortstop in high school. And he could be a great outfielder because he can really run.”
Martin said playing shortstop at Lonoke makes it easier adapting to the other positions that Van Horn has put him.
“It feels pretty natural,” Martin said back on Arkansas’ Jan.27 Preseason Media Day of being moved around
Just so long as the moving keeps him in Arkansas for awhile.
“This was always my dream to come to school here and come and play,” Martin said.
Martin was asked back in January what’s been the biggest adjustment to college ball.
“Hitting off speed has been the biggest adjustment,” Martin said. “It’s completely different than high school. Everything is harder, sharper, faster so I have to make a few adjustments. The off pitch honestly is the hardest thing to hit. You have to adjust and work really hard.”
By his hitting since the competition switched from intrasquad scrimmages to real game, he’s adjusted.
Of course given the Razorbacks’ pitching staff earned run average, maybe it would take more adjusting to Arkansas scrimmage pitching than some pitchers in real games.
“Our earned run average is 1.78 and that’s why we’ve been able to win nine games,” Van Horn said Monday.
Junior right-handed Friday starter Blaine Knight of Bryant, 2-0 in three starts leads sports a 0.53 ERA. And when it comes Knight’s best stuff, Van Horn believes you ain’t seen nothing yet.
“Honestly he hasn’t had his best stuff yet,” Van Horn said. “But he has an ERA under 1.00. That’s from keeping his composure and knowing how to pitch.”
Four freshmen pitchers Caleb Bolden and Bryce Bonnin, victorious against Dayton, 6-8 closer Jackson Rutledge, a win and a save against Southern California, and left-hander Hunter Milligan of Greenbrier all individually have 0.00 earned run averages while in a combined 25 innings combined to strike out 24 against seven walks and 15 hits.
Milligan, coming off shoulder surgery, only pitched two innings against Dayton and was slated for some weekend innings against Southern California but was banished from the ballpark and sent home upon stricken by contagious strep throat.
Having played five games in five days last Wednesday through Sunday, the Razorbacks given both Monday an today off, Van Horn said.
They’ll start practice Wednesday as this long homestand resumes with 6-1 Kent State invading Baum Friday, Saturday and Sunday followed by Tuesday and Wednesday visits from the Texas Longhorns preceding the following Friday through Sunday SEC season opening three games against Kentucky.