FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas first baseman Eric Fisher didn’t want to get overly excited about one performance, but it was hard not to notice the smile Wednesday.
The start of the 2013 season hasn’t been exactly what the junior envisioned. There was reason for optimism the struggles had ended after Fisher collected a career-high four hits to lead the Razorbacks to an 8-0 win against Grambling State.
"It just makes me more excited to go to the weekend and get back up there at the plate and keep stringing some hits together," Fisher said.
Arkansas (11-7 1-2 in Southeastern Conference) is diving back into league play when it hosts Alabama (14-6, 2-1) in a three-game series at Baum Stadium, which begins at 6:35 tonight. The Razorbacks know they’ll have to produce a better performance at the plate after struggling to score runs throughout much of the past three weeks and Fisher’s midweek success against Grambling was a good start.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn has said several times this season the Razorbacks’ successes rely on veterans like Fisher, who is one of the few left-handed regulars in the lineup. So even though Grambling State didn’t trot out SEC-caliber pitching during Wednesday’s game, Van Horn said Fisher’s performance was important.
"He got four hits and more than anything just for his confidence," Van Horn said Wednesday night. "I think really the two best swings he took were the line drives he hit the other way. That’s what we need to see him do.
"In our league, everybody will be throwing the ball 92 miles per hour away and then they’ll bust you in, so you’ve got to be able to go the other way. It’s good to see."
The four hits were a career high for Fisher, who was selected by the Miami Marlins in the 30th round of the Major League Baseball Draft last summer. He elected to return to school for his redshirt junior season and Arkansas believed his experience would be key for an offense trying to bounce back from its 2013 struggles.
Fisher — who hit .238 with 2 home runs and 13 RBIs as a sophomore — said he worked to gain strength in the summer and resume his role in the middle of Arkansas’ batting order after starting 30 games last season. He recorded Arkansas’ first home run this season and leads the team with two so far, but was batting just .190 with seven RBIs entering the midweek finale against the Tigers.
Fisher has credited Van Horn for allowing him to work through the struggles.
"He’s done a good job of not pressing," Fisher said. "It’s obvious what’s going on. He’s not sitting here and putting pressure on me or make me feel bad or anything. He’s done a good job of keeping his trust and staying with me and allowing me to continue to go out there and play and work on it."
The 4-for-4 effort against Grambling State was Fisher’s first multi-hit game since going 2-for-4 against Eastern Illinois on Feb. 23. It also helped Fisher raise his average to .244 entering the weekend series against Alabama, which will start right-handed pitcher Spencer Turnbull (2-1, 0.31 ERA).
Arkansas second baseman Brian Anderson said the Razorbacks need Fisher’s mid-week success to carry into the three-game series.
"It’s crucial," Anderson said. "He’s got a great swing and he can be a force for us in the middle of the lineup driving in runs. Seeing him go the other way like he has been the last few games, it’s definitely a good sign.
"If you are left-handed and able to put the ball in left-center that swing is going to cover a lot of different pitches. That will work in the SEC. That is definitely a great sign for us and will give us some confidence going into the week."
Arkansas also is expected a lift with outfielder Joe Serrano back in the lineup. Serrano, who is hitting .283 with 13 RBIs, has missed five straight starts because of an ankle injury he suffered in practice a week ago.
Van Horn said Arkansas knows it must be more consistent at the plate after scoring just 14 runs during a 1-7 stretch. But the Razorbacks have won three straight entering the Alabama series, gaining some confidence at the plate.
It includes Fisher, who is hoping his four-hit performance is just the beginning.
"When you are hitting the ball the other way it means you are waiting back and staying through it and any time you can do that you are going to hit the ball well," Fisher said. "It’s always nice getting hits and building confidence and it carries over to the next at bat and allows you to feel better at the plate."