FAYETTEVILLE — After watching his bullpen implode a few days ago, Dave Van Horn said he was looking for a few more pitchers he could count on. He might have found one in Dylan Carter.
The right-hander gave Arkansas baseball another 2 1/3 solid innings in a series-opening 12-2 run-rule win over Wright State on Friday.
While not quite as dominant, it was the same length as his heroic outing in Wednesday’s 11-inning win over Illinois State. Carter gave up four hits and a walk, but limited the damage to only one run.
“He’s got a good slider going,” Van Horn said. “He spotted his fastball to the glove side pretty good as well. Throwing strikes, competing, keeping the ball down and for the most part working ahead in the count. That’s always big.”
Entering the game with two outs in a 5-1 game, Carter stranded his inherited runner on second by striking out Sammy Sass, D1Baseball’s pick for Preseason Horizon League Player of the Year.
The Raiders used a walk, single and sacrifice fly to scratch across a run, but Carter did an excellent job of covering third base when Luke Arnold tried going first to third on a bunt — something the Razorbacks failed to do in Sunday’s game.
In the seventh, Carter allowed a pair of two-out base runners, but ended his day by striking out Andrew Patrick, who entered the day leading Wright State with a .471 batting average, on his 43rd pitch of the game.
“He was maxed out on pitches,” Van Horn said. “We just about got him the hitter previously and let him finish the inning and that was really big to see because that was one of their better hitters.”
It was the third straight solid outing for Carter after a disastrous debut against TCU in the first weekend of the season. Excluding the three runs he gave up in 1 1/3 innings that game, he’s allowed only one run in 5 2/3 innings for a respectable 1.59 ERA.
Even though Carter redshirted as a junior college transfer last season, Van Horn said he wasn’t surprised by the way he’s pitched so far this year. He knew the Bentonville native had a good arm, but just needed to put it all together — a process that started last summer, when he made the Northwoods League All-Star Game by posting a 2.97 ERA in 57 2/3 innings.
“The command wasn’t quite there his first year here, especially in the fall, and we had a little pitching depth, so we figured he’s not going to get to pitch quite enough,” Van Horn said. “He went up to the Northwoods League and got an early start while we were still playing and had a really good summer.
“(He) came back and had a pretty good fall. We knew he was going to get an opportunity and if he did well he would get more and that’s kind of what’s going on.”
Teammate Brady Slavens, who squared off with him in intrasquad scrimmages, said the toughest thing about facing Carter is the fact that he challenges you by pounding the strike zone — an assessment that Peyton Stovall agreed with.
“I think if you go back and look at my stats against Dylan Carter in the fall and the spring, I don’t think I did very good off of him — I think I maybe had one hit,” Stovall said. “He just pounded the zone. I think his breaking ball has developed a lot more since the fall and the spring. He’s always had a good changeup. Just to see him go out there and compete has been awesome for us.”
Hagen Smith Battles the Elements
The conditions at Baum-Walker Stadium were not exactly ideal for baseball, especially pitchers who rely on feel. It was 42 degrees at first pitch, but the windchill was 36 with strong gusts.
Arkansas starter Hagen Smith seemed to struggle with that, as he matched his career high five walks, but he still made it through 4 2/3 innings while allowing only one run. Even though he had the built in excuse, the left-hander didn’t take it.
“I don’t think the weather had an effect on anything,” Smith said. “I think it was on me. I had my mechanics off a little bit. Kind of got in bad counts at times. Had to battle back. Threw a lot of pitches.”
After walking the bases loaded in the second, Smith got Wright State leadoff man Justin Riemer to ground out after falling behind 3-1. He also issued a four-pitch walk to start the third, but worked around it.
His 13 2/3 scoreless inning streak to start the season ended when he gave up a leadoff home run to Riemer in the fifth, after which he issued his fifth walk of the game. Smith nearly got out of the inning with a double play, but a replay review showed Peyton Stovall’s tag missed the runner before throwing to first. That came on Smith’s 105th and final pitch of the game.
“He competes with anybody in the country,” Van Horn said. “When he’s got the ball in his hand, he thinks he can get you out, whether he’s thrown eight balls in a row or whatever.
“I think that he’ll tell you that he just didn’t feel it tonight, being able to command that zone like normal. It’s still early. You can tell his arm, he’s throwing the ball well. It looks good coming out of his hand. Teams have to be ready to go when he’s on the mound, that’s for sure.”
Caleb Cali is Back
It would be difficult to draw up a worse start to the season than the one Caleb Cali experienced in Arlington, Texas.
Despite being the Razorbacks’ best hitter throughout the offseason, he went 0 for 8 with seven strikeouts against Texas and TCU. The only time he put the ball in play resulted in a double play.
His hitless streak reached 0 for 12 before he finally broke through with a solo home run in Wednesday’s win over Illinois State. It was only a matter of time, though, as Cali lined out to left on a ball he hit 110 mph his previous at bat.
In his first time up Friday, Cali crushed another home run — this time a towering 438-foot blast to center that had a 108 mph exit velocity. He was robbed of a hit in his second at bat, thanks to the Wright State center fielder making a diving catch, and added an RBI double in the seventh inning.
“Cali, he’s back, his confidence is back,” Van Horn said. “He’s doing what we’ve seen him do with the bat. It sure is nice having the lineup the way it’s going. I can leave him down there. If I need to bring him up and break up a couple of left-handed hitters, I can do that as well. It’s just nice to have a bat that can drive the ball.”
Arkansas Baseball Injury Report
Ever since he left Wednesday’s game with an apparent elbow injury, Arkansas baseball fans have been waiting with bated breath for an update on Brady Tygart.
The star closer is still awaiting one more opinion, which he’ll get early next week, but for now, the prognosis is about as good as the Razorbacks could have hoped.
“He’s got a sprain, which is good news for now,” Van Horn said. “I think he’s gonna get looked at one more time and then it’ll be 100%, but that’s what the doctors feel, that’s what he felt, and if that’s the case, then he’ll be out probably five or six weeks at least.”
A five-week absence would put Tygart returning to action just in time for a trip to his home state and a matchup with Ole Miss. The following week is the highly anticipated home series against Tennessee.
In other injury news, JUCO transfer Ben McLaughlin — who was injured after hitting an RBI single in Saturday’s win over Eastern Illinois — underwent surgery Thursday and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks.
“It went really good,” Van Horn said. “I guess there are two ways it could go, and it went the better of the two as far as what was going on when they got in there and just had to do a little shaving down.”
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
The Razorbacks can clinch the Arkansas vs Wright State series with a win in Game 2, which is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT and will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.
Right-hander Will McEntire will get the nod for Arkansas. He is coming off a solid start against Eastern Illinois, which followed a couple of rough outings to start the season.
Wright State will counter with Horizon League Preseason Pitcher of the Year Sebastian Gongora, a left-hander who has a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings this season. He’s also limiting opponents to a .147 batting average. Multiple outlets consider him that conference’s top prospect for the 2023 MLB Draft.
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- For the third time in nine games this season, an Arkansas baseball game ended in walk-off fashion — but none have occurred in the ninth inning. Jared Wegner’s two-out home run in the eighth inning invoked the run rule Friday night, similar to Kendall Diggs’ three-run homer in the seventh inning of the series-opener against Eastern Illinois a week earlier. The only true walk-off was Diggs’ RBI double in the 11th inning against Illinois State on Wednesday.
- This was actually the Razorbacks’ third run-rule victory of the season. In addition to the seven-inning win over Eastern Illinois, they also beat Oklahoma State in seven innings at the College Baseball Showdown. Asked if he’s a fan of the mercy rule, which must be agreed upon between the coaches in non-conference games, Van Horn smiled and said, “Well, if the temperature’s cold like this, I’m okay with it.”
- In two games since moving into the 5-hole, Peyton Stovall is 6 for 10 with two doubles, two home runs and five RBIs. He had been 0 for 8 with four strikeouts in the previous two games, which were his first since returning from a thumb injury that caused him to miss a game. “I think my thumb’s finally starting to not bother me anymore,” Stovall said. “Just missing that game kind of gets your mind spinning a little bit.”
- The first seven runs Arkansas scored Friday night, as well as the final one, came with two outs. That gives the Razorbacks 38 two-out RBIs this season, which is nearly half of their 79 total RBIs through nine games. “I think guys are just relaxing, not putting a lot of pressure on themselves,” Stovall said. “I think guys are just stepping into the box, and they’re not worried about striking out or doing the wrong thing.”
- Wright State leadoff man Justin Riemer entered the game with only 13 career strikeouts in 164 at bats, an impressive rate of just 7.9%. However, he struck out to start the game.
- Arkansas first baseman Brady Slavens hit an opposite-field three-run home run in the third inning. It was the 31st long ball of his career. He needs just three more to tie Jake Dugger for 10th on the UA career list.
- Starting shortstop John Bolton got the day off for rest, giving Harold Coll his first career start. He went 1 for 3 and scored a run while playing solid defense. “I thought he had a nice day,” Van Horn said. “He got that first rally going with that base hit. … He made a couple of nice plays. The key for me when you play in the infield, just make the routine play and that’s what he did.”
Arkansas vs Wright State Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs Wright State Box Score
More coverage of Arkansas baseball from BoAS…