Going into a second midweek game against UNLV, Dave Van Horn admitted on the UA’s pregame radio show that he’d be happy if his starter lasted just three innings. Ben Bybee blew past that for Arkansas baseball.
The freshman right-hander nearly tripled his career innings by throwing five scoreless in the Razorbacks’ 5-2 win over the Hustlin’ Rebels on Wednesday, helping extend their winning streak to 10 in their final tune-up game before SEC play this weekend.
Getting his first extended work since a two-inning start against Grambling three weeks earlier, Bybee actually worked into the sixth, but didn’t record an out. He scattered six hits and one walk while striking out three on 63 pitches.
“For the most part he made them swing,” Van Horn said. “Threw some good change-ups to some lefties. Got a few swings and misses there. I thought he spotted his fastball well to both sides of the plate.
“There was a couple of times we asked him to throw the fastball in and he did it. Got a strike or a strikeout and a jam shot there, too. He was throwing to his glove-side well, dropping that breaking ball in there pretty regularly it looked like to me.”
Bybee got into some trouble in the first inning, with a two-out double by Edarian Williams in an 0-2 count putting runners on second and third. Austin Kryszczuk made solid contact, but it was a line drive that Jared Wegner easily tracked down in left to end the threat.
The big 6-foot-6, 235-pound right-hander seemed to settle in after that. He needed less than 10 pitches in the second, third and fifth innings. The only exception was the fourth.
In that inning, Bybee gave up a leadoff single to Williams, who then stole second during the next at bat. Despite having a runner in scoring position with no outs, he didn’t flinch. After a couple of ground outs, he plunked Alex Pimentel, which prompted a mound visit by pitching coach Matt Hobbs.
On his very next pitch, Bybee got Paul Myro, a pinch hitter, to ground out and end the threat.
Considering he got through the fifth inning on just six pitches, he went back out in the sixth and promptly gave up a leadoff single to Jacob Sharp and a double to Williams — the latter of which chased him from the game. Luckily for him, neither of those runners scored, thanks to a solid outing from the bullpen.
“Just felt really good out there, felt really connected,” Bybee said. “All three pitches were in the zone, which obviously helps. Just had a good game plan and scouting report going into it. … I felt like I executed pitches and was able to have some quick innings there.”
Gage Wood Escapes Jam
Inheriting runners on second and third with no outs in the sixth inning, freshman Gage Wood was put in a tough spot right out of the bullpen. He responded by getting the Razorbacks out of the jam without allowing either them to score.
It started when he jammed Austin Kryszczuk, who hit a soft blooper right to John Bolton at shortstop, and he followed it up with a strikeout of Braden Murphy. He walked Alex Pimentel to load the bases, but then struck out Paul Myro to leave them loaded.
“That was a big leverage inning right there,” Van Horn said. “As a coach, you’re over there just thinking, ‘Man, if he can get out of this just giving up one, that’s a great job.’ He gets a jam shot on a breaking ball and then two strikeouts. I woulda been fired up, too.”
The right-hander also threw a scoreless ninth inning to finish off a 13-7 win the night before, but that was a very low-stress outing. He also had scoreless innings in blowout wins over Oklahoma State, Eastern Illinois and Louisiana Tech.
However, the Batesville native struggled mightily in the Razorbacks’ only two losses this year — against TCU and Eastern Illinois.
“He’s come in a couple of times when the game was over and he’s done really well,” Van Horn said. “And he’s come in maybe a couple times when there was a little bit going on and it didn’t go so good for him.
“Last night I thought he did a great job and today, that was huge. … Hopefully he gained a lot of confidence there and can take that confidence with him going forward.”
Another Homer for Jared Wegner
Despite going 1 for 3, Jared Wegner’s batting average actually dropped three points. The good news is that he’s still hitting .387 through 17 games and his lone hit was a big one.
With the Razorbacks clinging to a 1-0 lead, he crushed the first pitch he saw in the fifth inning. It left the bat with a 23.6 degree launch angle and 103 mph, resulting in a 396-foot blast that cleared the wall in left-center.
It was his team-leading eighth home run of the season and gave him a team-high 29 RBIs, but more importantly, it extended Arkansas’ lead to 3-0 after what had been four otherwise solid innings by UNLV freshman Jordan Hanson.
“I think he was getting us to chase some pitches that were lower in the zone,” Wegner said. “The goal is to hunt them high, get pitches over the middle that you can drive and maybe we expanded that a little bit. On my home run, it was an 0-0 count. Just kind of left a fastball or a sinker up over the dish, was able to put a good swing on it and backspin it through the wind.”
Not even a third of the way through the season, Wegner is quickly approaching his home run from last year at Creighton, when he hit 11 in 49 games.
The swing also extended his hitting streak to 10 games. He’s actually hit safely in 16 of 17 games, with his only blemish being an 0-for-4 performance in the final game of the Eastern Illinois series on Feb. 26.
Defensive Changes Giveth, Taketh
Dave Van Horn has been known to use midweek games as an opportunity to rest his starters, give younger players a chance to play and experiment with guys at different positions.
That was the case again Wednesday and it nearly came back to bite him. With two outs in the seventh, Zack Morris seemed to get out of a jam with a fly out to right, but Kendall Diggs dropped the ball. It bounced off his glove and the error allowed a couple of unearned runs to score.
A natural infielder, Diggs projects as a corner outfielder at the next level and the Razorbacks have moved him there full-time. However, he hadn’t played in the field yet this year, instead serving as their usual designated hitter. There’s a good chance that usual right fielder Jace Bohrofen — who started at DH on Wednesday — would have easily made the play.
The error also put the tying run just 90 feet away, but he was stranded there when third baseman Harold Coll made a diving stop on Austin Kryszczuk’s sharp grounder and fired to first to end the inning.
Coll is the Razorbacks’ backup shortstop, but hasn’t played much this year. In fact, after starting at second base on Tuesday before moving to third late in the game, the JUCO transfer told reporters it was his first time playing the hot corner. He showed off his shortstop skills with the diving play.
Another change Van Horn made was putting freshman Jayson Jones at second base. A high school shortstop, the heralded prospect projects as a third baseman at this level and has played there some, but Wednesday marked his first action at second. He made a nice play in the third inning when he fielded a slow roller, tagged a runner and flipped the ball to first to complete a double play.
“He’s a big kid, he’s continued to get bigger and stronger, but he still moves pretty good when you get him out there,” Van Horn said. “He probably moves better at second than over at third, as far as just seeing the ball and ranging.”
Of course, Jones is known more for what he brings to the table offensively — which is elite power. That was on display with a double that had a 113 mph exit velocity. What impressed Van Horn the most about that at bat, though, was the fact that he laid off some borderline breaking balls before crushing what he knew would be a fastball in a full count.
Zack Morris Returns to the Mound
It wasn’t the prettiest of outings, as only 31 of his 56 pitches were strikes, but left-hander Zack Morris closed out the game and earned a three-inning save.
He was charged with the aforementioned two runs, but both were unearned. He also allowed four base runners, but two were via errors, with the other two being on a hit and walk.
All things considered, including the fact that UNLV came into the game hitting .308 with an .845 OPS against lefties, it was a solid outing for the struggling senior.
Morris hadn’t pitched since lasting only one inning in a start against Illinois State and entered the day with a 14.21 ERA.
“It definitely boosts the confidence, especially after not really getting any action the past two weeks,” Morris said. “I feel like that’s something that I was due for with the luck that I had the previous outings.”
However, it nearly went much worse for Morris. With one out in the seventh, Jacob Sharp nearly hit a three-run home run that would have tied the game, but Jared Wegner caught it with his back against the wall.
“We kind of thought that it would get up in the wind and push out of here, but it just wasn’t meant to be,” UNLV baseball coach Stan Stolte said. “That could have changed the game a little bit there.”
The key to Morris’ improved outing was a tweak in his mechanics, in which he returned to what he did well last year, when he was a vital bullpen arm with a 2.31 ERA in 35 innings across 22 outings.
“All last year, I kind of would come set with my shoulders kind of open toward a right-handed batter,” Morris said. “I closed that off to where it’s more even, I guess. So I went back to opening that shoulder up to help really get back on top of the ball, and it’s helped.”
Arkansas Baseball Injury Report
Dave Van Horn mentioned that several of his players were dealing with minor injuries, which led to some of the lineup shuffling.
Most notably, starting second baseman Peyton Stovall was held out of both midweek games with a “sore arm” for rest. He was available to play designated hitter or pinch hit, but was held out all together.
Peyton Holt, who had seen more playing time of late, is dealing with a hamstring issue, but should be available this weekend.
Caleb Cali, who has spent time as Arkansas’ starting third baseman, is experiencing some elbow issues, but it doesn’t sound serious because he took ground balls and threw before Wednesday’s game.
“We’ll get back a little bit,” Van Horn said. “We’re not full force but we’ll be in a lot better shape come Friday I hope.”
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
SEC play has arrived for the Razorbacks, who host Auburn for a three-game series beginning Friday. Game 1 is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT, followed by two games that start at 2 p.m. CT on Saturday and Sunday. All three will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.
The Tigers are 13-3-1 this season and coming off a dramatic comeback win over Georgia Tech on Tuesday, rallying from an early 7-0 deficit to force extras before winning in walk-off fashion in the 12th inning.
Last weekend, Auburn dropped two of three to Southeastern Louisiana. Despite dropping those games, it is still ranked in a pair of polls — No. 18 by Perfect Game and No. 24 by Collegiate Baseball.
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- Jace Bohrofen extended his on-base streak to 15 games with a first-inning walk and then extended his hitting streak to eight games with a third-inning single on a 109 mph scorcher that just got under the diving second baseman’s glove. He was also robbed of a hit in the fifth inning thanks to a nice running grab by the left fielder. The 1-for-3 performance lowered his batting average to .436.
- Despite hitting just .226, shortstop John Bolton has managed to reach base at least once in all 16 games he’s appeared. That includes a leadoff walk in the fifth inning Wednesday.
- UNLV second baseman Edarian Williams was a tough out for the Razorbacks in both games. He went a combined 5 for 7 with three doubles, two RBIs, one walk and a sacrifice fly.
Arkansas vs UNLV Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs UNLV Box Score (Game 2)
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