FAYETTEVILLE — His sheer dominance hasn’t made it easy, but Arkansas baseball has not deviated from its plan for Brady Tygart in his return from injury.
The right-hander’s slow climb back continued with an extra inning of work Saturday night, as he threw three scoreless innings to open what proved to be a 3-1 loss to South Carolina at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Even though the Razorbacks had their seven-game SEC winning streak snapped, Tygart was fantastic in his longest outing of the season. He threw just 37 pitches, though, which left some fans clamoring for more.
“Obviously it’s tempting,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “We’d have liked to pitch him five innings tonight if we could, but we just didn’t feel like that was the safe thing to do.”
Tygart missed nearly two months of the season with a UCL strain suffered on March 1 before throwing one inning against Texas A&M in his return to action two weeks ago. He then threw two innings last weekend at Mississippi State. Both of those starts lasted exactly 20 pitches — a number the Razorbacks planned to double Saturday.
That’s why, despite cruising through three innings and striking out Dylan Brewer on his 37th pitch, Tygart was already in the bullpen in the bottom of the third inning. As disappointing as it was to come out at that point, though, Tygart hasn’t lost sight of the ultimate goal.
“It’s definitely not fun, especially when I felt like I was in control,” Tygart said. “But these games, they don’t matter compared to the postseason, and that’s what we’re building towards, so can’t be too mad about it.”
Van Horn previously said Tygart’s second outing would be 35-40 pitches and that his pitch count would be about 60 in his third straight, but he has obviously opted to take a more cautious route.
The intent is to build him up so he’s ready to roll at full strength in the postseason.
“He throws well, limited pitches, but at the same time you’re thinking about down the road — and down the road is getting here,” Van Horn said. “It’s going to be here before we know it. So hopefully we can build him up and next week he can go 50 or who knows what. We’ve got a short week like everybody in the league, so we didn’t want to pitch him too much.”
When he was on the mound Saturday, Tygart was electric. He spotted his fastball in and out, while also mixing in his breaking ball and changeup.
The Gamecocks did notch the first hit he’s allowed since moving into the starting rotation, getting a leadoff single in the third, but he was stranded when the next three batters were retired in order. The only other blemish on his performance was a hit by pitch in the second inning.
Tygart will likely remain in the starting rotation next week at Vanderbilt, the final series of the regular season. The Razorbacks are building up his pitch count before unleashing him in the NCAA Tournament.
“He throws well (in) limited pitches, but at the same time you’re thinking about down the road — and down the road is getting here,” Van Horn said. “It’s going to be here before we know it. So hopefully we can build him up and next week he can go 50 or who knows what. We’ve got a short week like everybody in the league, so we didn’t want to pitch him too much.”
Still, it’s hard not to think about what Tygart could have done if he was given more opportunity his last few times out.
Across his three starts, he has thrown six scoreless innings and allowed only four base runners with five strikeouts. He’s needed just 77 total pitches to do it. That has lowered his ERA to 2.92 in 12 1/3 innings and opponents are hitting just .159 against him this season.
The process isn’t entirely unfamiliar to Tygart, who is treating the comeback as if it was the preseason.
“It’s kind of like it was in the early spring and the fall — you’re building up for something and I think it helps me focus on my goal, really,” Tygart said. “I knew tonight I was only going to go 40 pitches, so I knew I had to execute and get it done, go as long as I can, help (Will McEntire) out as much as I can with 40 pitches.”
The Razorbacks had their chances Saturday night, but never got the big hit they’ve been used to getting this season. They went just 2 for 14 (.143) with runners on base, including 1 for 8 (.125) with runners in scoring position.
It started early, as Arkansas failed to capitalize on John Bolton’s leadoff double in the third inning. Tavian Josenberger promptly moved him to third with one out, but Kendall Diggs struck out and Jace Bohrofen flied out to left to strand him 90 feet away from breaking a scoreless tie.
“That was rough, especially in that type of game,” Van Horn said. “You could kind of see what was going on. Teams were kind of feeling each other, trying to figure it out.”
Sure enough, the Razorbacks ended up stranding a runner on second in the fifth inning and then didn’t score despite getting back-to-back singles to start the seventh. The latter of those situations was hindered by a double play by pinch hitter and freshman Jayson Jones.
Diggs himself ended up going 0 for 3 with runners on scoring position, which was surprising because of just how clutch he has been this year. He easily leads the team with 55 RBIs and had driven in at least one run in six straight SEC games, including 12 total over the previous three.
“You can’t get on the guy for not driving people in because he’s been the best at it for us, especially since Wegner went down,” Van Horn said. “He’s been an RBI guy for the most part. It’s moved around a little bit, but he’s been very consistent, so I imagine he’ll bounce back tomorrow.”
McEntire Finishes Strong
Just as he has since Brady Tygart became a starter, Will McEntire was first out of the bullpen and eventually settled in with a really nice outing — but not until after a disastrous start to his day.
The right-hander plunked Ethan Petry with his third pitch of the day and then gave up three straight singles. The last two of those hits resulted in RBIs for Gavin Casas and Braylen Wimmer. Evan Stone chipped in an RBI single of his own with two outs, making it 3-0.
“My stuff didn’t really have downward movement in the first inning,” McEntire said. “I’ve just got to learn to come into games better. (Rowland) was saying I wasn’t in my legs enough, so I started getting in my legs more and had more downward depth in my stuff, and I started getting more soft contact.”
After the game, Dave Van Horn commended McEntire for “hanging in there” and turning in a productive performance.
Sure enough, the Gamecocks managed just a handful of base runners the rest of the way and one of them reached when catcher Hudson Polk kicked a dropped third strike that would have ended the eighth inning.
Take out the first four batters he faced and McEntire essentially threw six scoreless innings while notching a career-high nine strikeouts on 98 total pitches.
He seems to have taken nicely to coming out of the bullpen, as he’s pitched at least five innings each time and done well. Including the three runs he allowed in Saturday’s loss, but not his one inning in the midweek game against Lipscomb, McEntire has a 4.32 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings in that role.
That may not sound great, but is significantly better than his 5.88 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 49 innings prior to that stretch.
“I think he likes coming out of the pen a little bit,” Van Horn said. “He probably likes starting an inning, the way it’s worked out so far, but I think he’s thrown the ball really well. We stretched him out tonight, almost 100 pitches…and he still had the same velocity at the end of the game that he started with for the most part — upper 80s, 90 mph. He spotted up some good cutters and he pitched well.”
Mahoney Rises to the Occasion
Three runs isn’t usually enough to beat this Arkansas baseball team, but it was on Saturday because of how well Jack Mahoney pitched for the Gamecocks.
The junior held the Razorbacks scoreless in seven innings, during which he allowed only five hits and two walks while striking out six.
“He was incredible,” South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston said. “Probably one of the best pitching performances we have had here in a long time under the circumstances — on the road, in a great ball park, great crowd, team we are playing.
“For him to come through like that after a heartbreaker yesterday just tells you every thing that you need to know about him — his talent, but also his competitiveness.”
The most trouble he was in came in the aforementioned seventh inning when Brady Slavens and Peyton Holt started the frame with back-to-back hits.
That got the Baum-Walker Stadium crowd on its feet, but Jayson Jones grounded into a double play and Bolton struck out swinging on Mahoney’s 90th and final pitch. It was a moment he’ll likely remember for the rest of his life, based on his postgame comments — which gave Arkansas baseball fans one heck of a complement.
“Arkansas is the one place in the SEC that I have always wanted to pitch and this place did not let me down,” Mahoney said. “In that seventh inning, I kind of had to remind myself that I have a job to do.
“That kid kind of hit the nubber over Talmadge (LeCroy) and I get the ball back and I am looking around and it was the one of — no, it was the loudest thing that I have ever heard in my life. I just kind of stop and taking a breath I knew that I had a righty coming up instead of that lefty and I knew I just had to get in on him and execute. This place is different here.”
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
The Razorbacks and Gamecocks will conclude their series with a Mother’s Day rubber match, with first pitch scheduled for 2 p.m. CT Sunday. Like the first two games, it will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.
Junior left-hander Hunter Hollan will start for Arkansas. He’s struggled his last three outings, posting a 9.24 ERA and 2.13 WHIP in 12 2/3 innings, but some of that can be attributed to a leg injury he’s pitched through. The hope is that he’ll be as close to healthy as he’s been in a while and pitch more like the guy who had a 2.81 ERA over his first nine starts.
“Always feel good when Hunter Hollan’s on the mound, man,” teammate Brady Tygart said. “He’s a dude. He’s really, really good, and he’s always confident, so I feel just as confident as he does.”
South Carolina will counter with sophomore left-hander Matthew Becker, whose 4.46 ERA might be a little deceiving. He averages 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings and is holding opponents to a .219 batting average. His issue has been command, with 28 free passes (21 walks, 7 HBP) in 38 1/3 innings.
It’s also worth noting that Becker hasn’t gone more than five innings this season. The Gamecocks will have right-hander James Hicks available as the first arm out of the bullpen. A native of Conway, he has a 3.88 ERA in 46 1/3 innings across 20 appearances, which is the second most on the team.
For the Razorbacks, it will be their first rubber match in more than a month. In that game, they beat Ole Miss 6-4 to claim a road series on April 8.
“You’ve got two teams that score runs by hitting the ball out of the park a little bit and the wind’s going to change directions a little bit tomorrow, unless that’s changed,” Van Horn said. “It could be crazy tomorrow. It might be 2-1. You never know with this game.”
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- Despite the loss, Arkansas maintained its half-game lead over LSU in the SEC West and one-game lead over Vanderbilt in the overall standings because they also lost on Saturday. The Tigers lost to Mississippi State 9-4, while the Commodores lost to Florida 6-2.
- The start of Saturday’s game was delayed by about 45 minutes because of lightning in the area.
- Designated hitter Ben McLaughlin saw his 7-game hitting streak and 18-game on-base streak both snapped with an 0-for-4 performance. He’s the fourth player to have an on-base streak snapped after exactly 18 games this season, joining Caleb Cali, John Bolton and Jared Wegner.
- The longest active streaks now belong to Brady Slavens, who went 2 for 4 to extend his hitting streak to six games and on-base streak to 16 games.
- With the SEC softball tournament concluding just down the road at Bogle Park earlier in the day, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was in town and made his way over to Baum-Walker Stadium for the baseball game. He watched the matchup from athletics director Hunter Yurachek’s box.
- John Bolton, Brady Slavens and Jared Wegner were recognized before the game as part of Senior Night festivities. They are the only Razorbacks with no remaining eligibility. Zack Morris and Koty Frank are also listed as seniors on the roster, but could return next year — Morris as a super senior and Frank with a medical redshirt.
Arkansas vs South Carolina Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs South Carolina Box Score (Game 2)
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