Why DVH Was Right to Pull Hagen Smith After 6 IP + More From Oregon State Win

Hagen Smith, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Oregon State
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

Making his second start of the season for Arkansas, Hagen Smith had something to prove Friday night.

After lasting just one inning on Opening Day, the left-hander turned in one of the most dominant performances in school history and the No. 2 Razorbacks beat No. 7 Oregon State 5-4 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

In the two schools’ first meeting since the dramatic 2018 College World Series final, Smith helped Arkansas exact some revenge by limiting the Beavers’ dangerous offense to only three hits and one walk while tying a school record with 17 strikeouts in six shutout innings.

“I just felt good,” Smith said on the FloSports broadcast afterward. “After my first outing, obviously that’s not who I am, so I wanted to go out there and prove I could do it.”

He did just that.

As a team, Oregon State came in hitting .331 and averaging 10.4 runs, not to mention owning the fifth-best slugging percentage in the country at .675.

Smith, meanwhile, needed 42 pitches to get through a disastrous first inning that saw him give up a three-run home run before recording an out against James Madison a week earlier — an outing Dave Van Horn has since blamed on him pitching in frigid conditions.

“We knew he was going to pitch good tonight,” Van Horn said. “We didn’t know if he was going to win the game or what, we just knew he’d pitch well. He’s really good. That’s the way he pitched in the fall, his bullpens looked like that, he holds his stuff and we play with a lot of confidence when he’s on the mound.”

Even though he admitted to pitching with a chip on his shoulder during his interview on FloSports, Smith told reporters that he didn’t really think about his first performance much after a couple of days. Instead, he kept to himself throughout the week and was “probably the most locked in I’ve ever been.”

That was apparent from the jump. His first pitch was a 99 mph strike to All-American second baseman Travis Bazzana, who he finished off two pitches later with a slider he watched for strike three. It was the first of three times he struck out Bazzana, who is the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2024 MLB Draft according to MLB Pipeline.

Ranked 12 spots behind him is Smith, whose fastball averaged 96.7 mph Friday night. It was his mid-80s slider that was most impressive, though. Pitching two hours west of his hometown of Bullard, Texas, he used that pitch to finish off 15 of his 17 strikeouts and it was the key to him getting 25 swings and misses out of his 78 total pitches.

“His fastball was good, but the slider he’d go to any time, behind in the count,” Van Horn said. “He had them thinking they were going to get a fastball and it was a slider again. … Whenever he felt like he was in a little bit of trouble, he went to a couple of those secondary pitches and got them out front and got them out.”

Even the three hits Oregon State got were a bit deceiving. The first was a perfectly placed bunt by Micah McDowell in the first inning. In the second, Brady Kasper reached on an infield single when his grounder deflected off of Peyton Holt’s glove on a sliding effort.

(Holt made up for it with a web gem to start the sixth inning, making the only non-strikeout out of Smith’s outing.)

The most trouble Smith was in all night came in the fourth. He issued a leadoff four-pitch walk to Mason Guerra — the only three-ball count of his outing — and gave up a two-out single up the middle to Trent Caraway — the only ball that left the infield against him. The other three batters in the inning, though, struck out on 10 total pitches. Even his teammates were impressed with his “elite” composure on the mound.

“That’s just one of those games that you sit back and admire it,” Holt said. “You don’t see many performances like that, ever. So it was pretty fun to watch.”

It also garnered plenty of national attention. D1Baseball co-editor Aaron Fitt said the dominance was “shades of” Stephen Strasburg at San Diego State and Paul Skenes at LSU — eventual No. 1 overall picks widely considered generational talents — before eventually comparing him to North Carolina State’s Carlos Rodon, now an MLB All-Star.

MLB Draft analysts were also buzzing about the outing:

The Razorbacks are hopeful this is just the start of something special for Smith, as it was the second of what could be as many as 19 starts this year, but even Van Horn acknowledged just how incredible Friday’s performance was.

“We’ll see how he does next week, but it’ll be hard to ever top that one,” Van Horn said.

Defending DVH’s Decision to Pull Hagen Smith

Hagen Smith’s 17 strikeouts are the most by any Division I pitcher this season and matched the high from last year, set by LSU’s Ty Floyd and Charlotte’s Wyatt Hudepohl. They also tied the UA single-game record, matching Jess Todd’s eight-inning total against South Carolina at the 2007 SEC Tournament.

The only thing that kept Smith from breaking that record and making a run at the SEC record of 24 by LSU’s Butch Mixon in 1959 — or even the Division I record of 26 by Buddy Schultz for Miami (OH) in 1971 — was a pitch count.

Despite throwing only 78 pitches through six innings, Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said there was no thought about sending him back out in the seventh.

“Oh no, he was done,” Van Horn said. “That was plenty. We almost got him after five, but we said, ‘You know, his pitch count’s low.’ When you strike out 17 guys and you only throw 80 pitches, that’s incredible. You strike out 17 guys, you could be at 110, you know? So that was pretty amazing.”

Being the team-first guy he is, Smith gave a very diplomatic answer when asked about being pulled after the sixth inning — which, considering the emotion he showed coming off the mound following his 17th and final strikeout, was something he probably saw coming.

“I mean, I wanted to go back out, but I know we had guys who could get it done,” Smith said.

Not surprisingly, this decision was met with quite a bit of criticism from Arkansas baseball fans, especially after Oregon State managed to tie it up with four runs off the Razorbacks’ bullpen.

However, it was part of the plan all along. In fact, speaking to the Swatter’s Club earlier this month, Van Horn joked that Smith would get mad at him early in the season — and even told his ace that — because of when he’d get pulled from games in an effort to preserve his arm for later in the season.

“Hagen is a great teammate and he’s never going to say much, (but) I know what he’s thinking when it happens, because it’s going to happen,” Van Horn said on Feb. 5. “Now is important, but later is more important. So if we can save an inning here or there, it might save us down the road.”

As frustrating as it might have been to watch Arkansas blow a 4-0 lead with Smith sitting on the bench, it was the right call by Van Horn — especially considering he didn’t get a full ramp-up game last week.

While a win over Oregon State is huge for fans and will help some when the RPI comes out, Friday’s game ultimately isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things. Van Horn has won multiple SEC titles and made it to Omaha seven times as the head coach of his alma mater — both as a national seed and by going on the road in the postseason.

The only thing missing from the trophy case is a national title. If taking Smith out of a game a couple innings early on Feb. 23 helps him pitch a couple extra innings on June 23, it’s 100% worth it.

Big Two-Out Hits

Just as they did last year when thrust into the lineup because of injuries, Ben McLaughlin and Peyton Holt delivered when the Razorbacks needed it Friday night. The two seniors drove in four of Arkansas’ five runs, with both of their hits coming with two outs.

With the bases loaded and the game still scoreless in the fifth inning, Hudson White — Arkansas’ most dangerous hitter on opening weekend — just needed to get the ball in the air to convert a runner-on-third, less-than-two-outs situation. Instead, he struck out looking.

That left it up to McLaughlin, who smacked a deep line drive to center that bounced on the warning track and off the wall for a bases-clearing double that made it 3-0.

Sophomore Jayson Jones tacked on an RBI single following a two-base error by the Beavers in the sixth, but Oregon State rallied to tie it up in the eighth.

In the bottom half of the inning, Holt stepped to the plate with a runner on third and two outs. Despite having grounded into a double play twice already, the Greenwood product crushed a fastball to dead center that hit off the base of the wall for an RBI triple.

“We had guys that are good hitters (who) did not hit tonight, but some guys picked them up,” Van Horn said. “That’s what I told them. You’re not going to be great every night. When you get a chance to help the team, help the team, and that’s what they did.”

The Razorbacks have already shown an ability to come from behind and win, as they were down 3-0 three batters into the season before winning 6-4 on Opening Day, but Friday felt much different.

Even though it never trailed, Arkansas took Oregon State’s best punch and immediately answered to win the top-10 matchup.

“You’re up 4-0 and you take out your guy, and then the next two innings they punch in four runs and tie it up,” Van Horn said. “It could be demoralizing, but we just said, ‘Hey, we get the last at-bat. Let’s get through this inning and score a run somehow.’ We did and we won the game. It was good to see the way we responded.”

Faherty Closes it Out

Dave Van Horn likely hoped sophomore Gage Wood would get the final five outs of the game and notch his second save of the season when he called on the right-hander in the eighth inning. After all, he was the Razorbacks’ closer for a good chunk of 2023.

However, he didn’t have his best stuff and Van Horn recognized the need for someone who could generate some swing-and-miss. That meant bringing in right-hander Jake Faherty, who was making his fourth career appearance in three seasons.

The junior took over with one out and the tying run on second in the ninth inning. A wild pitch eventually moved the runner to third, but he was stranded 90 feet away because Faherty struck out Tanner Smith and Levi Jones to end the game.

“I thought he did an incredible job,” Van Horn said. “He didn’t seem sped up. He looked normal to me. The runner on third was working him a little bit and he didn’t let it bother him.”

Both of the strikeouts came on a fastball, the pitch Faherty has been known for since high school. Despite an ability to touch triple digits, his opportunities have been limited because of his inability to throw it over the plate.

After a summer in the Cape Cod League and a productive fall and preseason, the Georgetown, Ky., native appears primed for a breakout season as a key member of the Razorbacks’ bullpen — and Friday may have been the catalyst to get him going.

“He threw the ball 96 mph with some serious sink and run on it,” Van Horn said. “He’s got an outstanding slider that’s 90 mph or more. We said, ‘To heck with that, we’re going with that fastball. That thing is dipping and diving.’ And he got them out.”

Perhaps no one was more excited about Faherty’s outing than the man who will receive national headlines for his performance Friday night.

There were probably hundreds, if not thousands, of tweets circulating about him, but Hagen Smith’s three retweets/quote tweets after the game each involved Faherty and he spoke highly of him in his interview on FloSports.

“That was huge, especially for him and for the team,” Smith said. “It was awesome to see him go out there and compete. We all saw him the whole fall, spring scrimmages that he can do it. It was good to see that he did it.”

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks have the late game again Saturday at the Kubota College Baseball Series. First pitch against Oklahoma State is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and the game will be streamed on FloSports.

After beating Michigan 9-4 in the earlier game at Globe Life Field, the Cowboys have won three straight since losing their first two games of the season.

Right-hander Brady Tygart will start for Arkansas, while Oklahoma State is sending right-hander Brian Holiday to the mound first.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • With the win, Arkansas baseball now leads the all-time series against Oregon State 4-3. In addition to the 2018 College World Series, the Razorbacks and Beavers split a pair of games in the 1986 Midwest Regional and Arkansas came out on top in a single matchup early in the 1995 season. Four of the games have been decided by one run.
  • The announced attendance at Globe Life Field was 13,038. “I knew there was going to be a lot of people here,” Van Horn said. “I figured more on Saturday, but I guess they took half a day off or something and got here. … It looked like more and sounded like more. They were loud.”
  • Arkansas’ pitchers combined for 23 strikeouts, which shattered the previous UA single-game record of 18. The Razorbacks had reached that mark five times, most recently against UAPB on April 13, 2021.
  • Freshman catcher Ryder Helfrick got his first start at designated hitter and went 0 for 3, but reached on an error, scored a run and laid down a sacrifice bunt. “He’s probably going to catch tomorrow,” Van Horn said. “He’s good, that’s why he’s playing. That dude is a dude. He can hit, he can run, he’s strong, he can throw.”
  • Oregon State’s first two runs were charged to right-hander Will McEntire, who pitched the seventh inning as the first guy out of the bullpen. He gave up an RBI double in a 1-2 count on a pitch that appeared to be up and out of the zone, but Dallas Macias managed to get a bat on it. A wild pitch then set up a sacrifice fly by Tanner Smith.
  • The other two runs scored with right-hander Gage Wood on the mound. Called upon for a five-out save, the Batesville native hung a slider that Mason Guerra hit 113 mph off the bat and into the second deck at the MLB ballpark. “He didn’t have great secondary pitches, and that’s what I saw,” Van Horn said. “Gage Wood is a lot better than you saw him tonight.”

Arkansas vs Oregon State Postgame Interviews

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Arkansas vs Oregon State Box Score


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