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Benintendi blasting off for Arkansas

May 6, 2015 at 4:00 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Last year coming to Arkansas from Cincinnati as the national high school player of the year, Razorbacks center fielder Andrew Benintendi hit an OK .276 without power, one home run and 27 RBI, and stole 17 stolen bases.

This year, with seven regular-season games to play and a Southeastern Conference tournament and an NCAA regional at the minimum thereafter, sophomore center fielder Benintendi hits an SEC-leading .386, has clouted a nation-leading 15 home runs, knocked in 46 runs, just three off the SEC RBI lead, and stolen 20 bases in 23 attempts.

While Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn admits he's amazed with the 15 home runs, Benintendi's transformation is no accident.

Right from devoting last summer to lifting weights instead of playing summer ball to changing some things that made him the greatest high college player but an ordinary college Joe named Andrew, Benintendi was a work in constant progress.

"Well, we saw some stuff last year that he needed to change," Van Horn told media after addressing Monday's meeting of the Swatters Club. "He had a wide-open stance. We didn't like it. He made some adjustments on that, and toward the end of the season, he started hitting the ball better. Went and lifted weights, swung the bats, kept that same approach."

It always seems a gamble, a ballplayer not playing ball when he can, but the summer devoted to weights and changing his stance obviously was worth more than all the summer games Benintendi could have played.

"He came back in the fall and we knew we had a lot better player," Van Horn said. "To me, his approach is good."

Left-handed hitting Benintendi tends to pull his home runs over right, but his game-winning singles and key extra-base hits abound with hitting the outside pitch into left.

"He goes the other way," Van Horn said. "For a while there, they wouldn't throw him in."

Pitchers tended so much to avoid challenging Benintendi by throwing outside that it indeed briefly became a challenge for him when they did pitch inside.

"Well, Alabama decides they're going to pitch him in and they got him out a little bit early," Van Horn said of last weekend's SEC West three-game set that Arkansas swept in Hoover, Ala. "And then it didn't work the last couple of times. He hit a home run, hit a ball to the right side."

From Benintendi's summer with the weights and "hitting one three-quarters up the scoreboard" in a preseason practice, Van Horn knew Benintendi was going to hit way more than one home run this season.

But 15?

"I couldn't have projected that he was going to hit 15 home runs," Van Horn said. "I thought he'd hit eight to 10. He's got a good swing and when everything's working, and you make contact right, the ball will jump. I guess to answer your question, I didn't think he'd hit 15 home runs. I didn't think anybody would hit 15 runs. But it happened."

The home runs happen because Benintendi insists he is not a home run hitter even after belting two in an April 10 SEC game against Kentucky.

"Nope," Benintendi replied after that game if he is a home run hitter now. "My approach is the same. I'm going up there trying to hit the ball hard and good things are happening."

Good things in all facets.

"We all love home runs," Van Horn said after that Kentucky series. "But I just want him to hit for an average. Don't try to hit home runs. He's adjusted with the pitches. He's take what they give him."

Benintendi was hitting an impressive .359 when Van Horn mentioned, "I just want him to hit for an average."

Now he's soaring at .386 in large part because he is the only Razorback who has walked (34) more than he struck out (25).

"You've got to take your walks if you're going to hit for average," Van Horn said. "That's what advanced him as a hitter. He's just a good hitter coming of age."

Since turning 21 makes him eligible for this summer's Major League draft, the last chance to experience the age of Benintendi at Baum Stadium may well be this weekend against Tennessee. Game times are 6:30 p.m. Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday.

Sports on 05/06/2015

Print Headline: Benintendi blasting off for Arkansas


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