FAYETTEVILLE — For the second time in as many weeks, a bullpen implosion is what cost Arkansas baseball a perfect weekend.
This time around, veterans Cody Adcock and Zack Morris got rocked for seven total runs in the Razorbacks’ 12-3 loss to Eastern Illinois at Baum-Walker Stadium on Sunday.
After winning the first two games by a combined 18 runs, Arkansas blew a 3-1 lead by allowing 11 unanswered runs, which helped the Panthers salvage the series finale.
“Just some really, really big mistakes made as far as the count, 1-2, 0-2, giving up home run balls on elevated breaking balls that are supposed to be in the dirt, supposed to be chase-type pitches,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “I think most of their runs early happened with two outs. But credit to them. They came out swinging and they got after it.”
Clinging to a 3-2 lead and with runners on second and third in the sixth, Arkansas turned to its bullpen and Adcock got it out of the jam by striking out Jared Evans. The right-hander also retired the first two batters in the seventh, but that’s when things spiraled out of control.
The right-hander gave up four straight hits, the second of which was an RBI double by Chris Worcester that tied the game. That brought up the dangerous Ryan Ignoffo, who hit .395 last year and was 8 for 21 (.381) in his career against the Razorbacks up to that point.
He delivered a two-run blast that put Eastern Illinois on top and opened the floodgates.
“I just know we had the right guy up at the right time,” Eastern Illinois baseball coach Jason Anderson said. “He finally squared one up and got it over the wall.”
What made the long ball particularly frustrating to Van Horn was that it came in an 0-2 count. Making matters worse, Adcock hung his 1-2 pitch right over the middle of the plate to the next batter and Cole Gober also hit it over the wall for what seemed like an important insurance run.
“He’d throw you a good breaking ball and it looked really good, and then when he had two strikes, he hung two,” Van Horn said. “And they were hung from the time they came out of his hand. You could see it from the side. It was just mistakes instead of burying one in the dirt, trying to get a chase, let the catcher work for you and block a pitch.”
Adcock did finally get out of the inning, but that was it for the JUCO transfer. He’s now given up six earned runs in 3 2/3 innings for a 14.73 ERA. Opponents are not only hitting .389 against him, but slugging 1.000.
“You’ve got to be able to finish people,” Van Horn said. “That’s the key. You’ve got to be able to finish people. It doesn’t matter if you can get to two strikes in two pitches or three pitches, you’ve got to be able to put people away.”
Arkansas brought in Morris, a senior and team captain, next and it didn’t go much better for the lefty.
After a leadoff single, the Panthers laid down a sacrifice bunt and Ben Gallaher managed to go first to third on the play because no one covered third when third baseman Reese Robinett charged in to field the bunt.
With a runner on third, Robinett was playing in on the grass and had no shot to get his glove down in time to snag a sharply hit grounder by Robby Taul, which was scored an RBI single. It got worse for Morris, who fielded another sacrifice attempt by Eastern Illinois, only to throw wide to first, allowing the runner to reach on an error.
That was it for Morris. Three of the four batters he faced ended up reaching and scoring, although one was unearned because of his error. He’s given up eight earned runs in 5 1/3 innings for a 13.50 ERA and opponents are hitting .417 against him — a stark contrast to his 2.31 ERA and .230 opponent batting average last season.
“You’re gonna have to talk to him about it,” Van Horn said. “I don’t know what’s going on. I guess from the side, it looks like his location is not very good.”
The man who once said this was the deepest pitching staff he’s ever had as Arkansas baseball coach was clearly frustrated with the unit throughout his postgame press conference.
Van Horn even threw out the idea of only naming a starter for Friday and having everyone else available in the bullpen, rather than naming starters for Saturday and Sunday.
“We’ve got to find a few more pitchers,” Van Horn said. “Right now we’ve got about four guys, maybe four and a half, that we can go to. And after that, it hasn’t gone great.”
He didn’t specify who the “four and a half” pitchers are, but it’s a safe bet that the four are left-handed starters Hagen Smith and Hunter Hollan, right-handed closer Brady Tygart and right-handed reliever Koty Frank. Those four pitchers have a combined 1.44 ERA in 31 1/3 innings, while the rest of the staff has a 12.36 ERA in 27 2/3 innings.
The “half” pitcher is likely right-hander Will McEntire, who really struggled in his first two outings before turning in a solid start Saturday against Eastern Illinois.
Of course, it’s still just seven games into a 55-game regular season and there are still 12 weeks for the Razorbacks to figure things out on the mound. Hollan, who was sharp again Sunday, is confident that some of his teammates will step up.
“We shouldn’t have to rely on four pitchers on a pitching staff that’s unbelievably deep,” Hollan said. “Guys have just got to slow the game down and throw to the glove and trust that their stuff is good.”
Hunter Hollan Settles In
Things got off to a bit of a shaky start, but Hunter Hollan eventually settled in and gave the Razorbacks their longest start of the season.
The left-hander allowed a leadoff single before running into some two-out trouble in the first inning. Cole Gober drove in a run with a double and then Hollan issued back-to-back walks to load the bases — the first of which was on four pitches and the second of which came after he threw four straight balls in an 0-2 count.
Luckily for Arkansas, Eastern Illinois managed to scratch across only one run because Dylan Drumke flied out to shallow right to strand the bases loaded.
“They’re one big hit away from busting in three, four runs in that first inning, which would have been tough for us to come back today, especially with the wind blowing in the way it is from right, but he got out of it,” Van Horn said. “It seemed like that got him a little momentum and then he kind of cruised there for about three or four innings.”
Those command issues were unusual because Van Horn said the coaching staff hadn’t seen that kind of wildness from him since he arrived in Fayetteville over the summer.
Hollan got into a groove after that, though, retiring 14 of the next 15 batters he faced, starting with Drumke’s fly out. The lone runner he allowed during that stretch ended up being wiped out when he left too early trying to tag up on another fly out to the right field corner.
In fact, after needing 30 pitches to get through the first inning, Hollan threw only 27 total over the next three innings, getting his pitch count back down to a manageable range.
“I didn’t know where anything was going,” Hollan said. “Had to slow down and just work to the glove. Really the biggest thing, I just told the catcher ‘Hey, just set up middle, and we’re going to get ahead.’ Once I started doing that, I got a feel for some pitches. The changeup was really the difference-maker, just starting out first-pitch changeup to get them off the fastball, and then just getting ahead in the count later in the game.”
By working into the sixth inning, it was the longest outing of the season by an Arkansas starter. He nearly got through it, too, but Gober hit a two-out home run and the next two batters followed with hard-hit singles.
Hollan knocked down the second of those hits, but made the bad decision to try to throw to first even though he didn’t have a play and the ball bounced into the stands. The error put the tying run on third and go-ahead run on second, at which point Van Horn turned things over to the bullpen.
He was charged with two earned runs on six hits and two walks while striking out four in 5 2/3 innings.
EIU Tosses a Gem
As impressive as Hunter Hollan was for Arkansas baseball, Eastern Illinois starter Ky Matthews-Hampton was even better. The right-handed super senior gave up three runs in seven innings to earn the win.
For the fist four innings, the Razorbacks’ only hit was a towering solo home run by Jace Bohrofen in the second inning. The only other base runner over that span reached on an error.
He ran into some trouble in the fifth, needing a spectacular catch at the wall by center fielder Lincoln Riley to rob Reese Robinett of a leadoff extra-base hit and then giving up a couple of runs later in the inning on an RBI double by John Bolton and RBI single by Tavian Josenberger.
Of course, both of those hits came after what should have been an inning-ending double play, but the Panthers only got the out at second because shortstop Ja’Lil Akbar’s throw to first was off line.
“Unbelievable,” head coach Jason Anderson said about the performance. “Senior leader, just goes out and pitches and competes. … It might have been the best pitched game in the history of the program.”
Perhaps the most incredible aspect of Matthews-Hampton’s outing was that he got through seven innings on only 73 pitches. That fifth inning was the most Arkansas made him work, but he still threw only 17 pitches against six hitters.
He bounced back from that with back-to-back eight-pitch innings, his third and four frames that required 10 or fewer pitches.
“I guess looking back on it, you can talk about it all you want,” Van Horn said. “We swung early and we didn’t get hits. Now we did hit a lot of balls hard, even hard ground balls to short or to center or wherever it was, it just really kept his pitch count down. We never could string anything together.”
Further Bullpen Implosion
It wasn’t just the veterans who struggled out of the bullpen Sunday, as three different freshmen combined to throw the final 1 2/3 innings.
Right-hander Gage Wood walked the only two batters he faced, throwing seven balls before finding the strike zone. It was the continuation of what has been a roller coaster year or the Batesville native.
Since a disastrous debut against TCU, Wood had bounced back with two really solid outings, only to revert back to the guy who wouldn’t throw strikes in the series finale this weekend.
“He’s going to run out of opportunities if he can’t throw the ball over the plate,” Van Horn said. “We saw a guy throwing 94, 95 against us. We put him out against the other team — what was he throwing today, 91, 92?
“We were in bad shape when he came in, it wasn’t like the bases were loaded and it was tied. Just go out there and do your thing, and he throws first pitch to the backstop. So he’s going to have to get over that, or he won’t get to pitch much.”
Left-hander Parker Coil followed him and promptly gave up back-to-back RBI singles in 0-2 counts before issuing a bases-loaded walk. Another run scored on a passed ball before he showed of the leather to finally end what was a six-run eighth inning.
He snagged a chopper hit up the middle for one out and then came off the mound to field another ground ball and ended up taking it the rest of the way to first unassisted for the final out.
On the bright side, right-hander Cooper Dossett threw a scoreless ninth inning, but it’s worth noting that he issued a one-out walk and one of the outs was a sharply hit line drive caught on the warning track.
Pair of Freshmen Make First Starts
With the series already in hand, Dave Van Horn gave a couple of freshmen the first starts of their career. Reese Robinett played third and hit sixth, while Mason Neville served as the designated hitter in the 8-hole.
Neither of them got a hit, but Robinette came close a couple of times in his 0-for-4 day. There was the aforementioned robbery at the wall to start the fifth inning and he also hit a hard line drive right to the left fielder to start the seventh.
“Robinett did great, in my opinion,” Van Horn said. “He played fearless. Just went up there and had a good approach at the plate. I just think that he’s earned some more time whether it’s Wednesday or next weekend or whenever, I’ll have confidence putting him in there.”
Despite being the more heralded prospect of the two, Neville wasn’t as successful in his first start. He went 0 for 3 with a couple of ground balls. He reached via a fielder’s choice on one of them and eventually came around to score.
“Neville, he got himself out on some good changeups,” Van Horn said. “Went down, swung at some low pitches and didn’t have really good at-bats.”
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
The Razorbacks’ 18-game homestand, their longest since 1982, continues with a single midweek matchup with Illinois State on Wednesday. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT and the game will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.
The Redbirds — who handed Arkansas its first season-opening loss since 1994 last season — are off to a 4-3 start this year after dropping their series finale against Arkansas State on Sunday.
Interestingly enough, it will be the fourth of seven straight games Illinois State will play in the Natural State, as it has road series at Arkansas State and Central Arkansas sandwiched around the midweek game in Fayetteville.
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- Eastern Illinois left fielder Cole Gober had himself a day at the plate, going 4 for 5 with a double, two home runs and four RBIs. He would have had five hits had Peyton Stovall not made a leaping grab of his third-inning line drive. “Gober is a man,” Jason Anderson said. “This guy is just physical and just had great game today. But we expect big things out of him. We are just learning him. It was a big game.”
- Both starting pitchers were cruising early on, highlighted by the fact that the second, third and fourth innings took a grand total of 55 pitches — an average of 3.1 pitches per out. None of the half innings required more than 13 pitches and the fourth inning — the top and bottom half combined — lasted only 11 pitches.
- It was a rough weekend for Eastern Illinois infielder Ja’Lil Akbar, who first played as a defensive replacement in Friday’s game and committed two errors that sparked the Razorbacks’ six-run inning. He started at shortstop Sunday and promptly threw wildly to first for an error in just the second inning. It wasn’t scored an error because you can’t assume a double play, but he also botched the double play that led to Arkansas scoring two runs. Through six games, he’s committed four errors in 22 chances, giving him an .818 fielding percentage.
- Arkansas catcher Hudson Polk didn’t have a great day behind the plate, either, as he allowed two passed balls. He’s now allowed three through seven games season. Last year, the Razorbacks’ catchers — Michael Turner and Dylan Leach — allowed 13 passed balls in 67 games.
- After collecting hits in each of the first six games, left fielder Jared Wegner and first baseman Brady Slavens were held hitless Sunday. They both went 0 for 4.
- For the first time this weekend, backup shortstop Harold Coll went through pregame warmups and appeared to be available to play. He has been dealing with back tightness, according to Dave Van Horn.
Arkansas vs Eastern Illinois Postgame Interviews
(NOTE: The first 18 seconds of Dave Van Horn’s interview were muted due to an error by the University of Arkansas.)
Arkansas vs Eastern Illinois Box Score – Game 3
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