FAYETTEVILLE — Not one, but two injuries in the outfield forced Hunter Grimes into action Thursday night and all he did was provide arguably the play of the year for Arkansas baseball so far.
In his first career SEC start, the JUCO transfer threw out a runner at the plate to preserve a tie in the top of the eighth and Jace Bohrofen followed it up with a two-run home run in the bottom of the inning that lifted the Razorbacks to a 7-5 victory over Texas A&M at Baum-Walker Stadium.
The win snapped a four-game skid, but looked like it might not happen because Arkansas squandered an early 5-0 lead and was on the brink of trailing for the first time when Grimes pulled off his heroics.
With runners on the corners and one out, Hunter Haas hit a line drive to left-center that hung up in the air long enough for the reserve left fielder to run over and make the catch. Ryan Targac tried to tag up from third on the play, but Grimes fired a strike to catcher Parker Rowland, who made the tag to end the inning.
“He had a lot of momentum moving towards the plate,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “He kind of got around the ball a little bit. He used his former infield skills there to get rid of that ball really fast. And he kind of short-armed, darted it and made a perfect throw. Played the angle a little bit and the ball hit the grass and shot to the catcher.”
It would have been a great play even by a veteran outfielder and more so considering Grimes’ background is primarily as an infielder. He told reporters that he didn’t really start playing in the outfield until midway through last season at McLennan C.C. and he didn’t make the full-time transition until this year at Arkansas.
That lack of experience showed in the third inning, when he nearly botched an inning-ending fly out by initially charging in before sprinting back to catch it. Also, while he had started midweek games against SEMO and Little Rock, plus made a handful of SEC appearances, Thursday marked the first time Grimes’ name was on the lineup card for a conference game and he admitted he was “pretty nervous.”
Neither his newness to the position nor his nerves impacted him on the critical eighth-inning play, though.
“I think the moment wasn’t too big for him and he knew, before the ball was pitched, exactly what he was going to do with it,” Van Horn said. “He came firing in, momentum, caught it, released it as quick as you can.
“I mean, that’s about as good as it gets. Throw was about as nice as it could be. You could go all year and you won’t see a play like that.”
Perhaps no one understands the difficulty of the throw than Jace Bohrofen, the usual starting right fielder who moved to left after Jared Wegner’s injury and then to center after Tavian Josenberger’s injury — injuries that led to Van Horn experimenting with first baseman Brady Slavens in left field in the midweek game against Missouri State before settling on Grimes for Game 1 of the Arkansas vs Texas A&M series.
“I don’t think people realize how tough of a play that is, given that he had to go all the way to his left and he’s a right-handed thrower having to move his body back and square up to the plate,” Bohrofen said. “And putting an absolute dot there, I mean that’s unbelievable.”
Jace Bohrofen’s Big Swing
Arkansas carried the momentum of that play into its eighth-inning at bat. It started with Caleb Cali, who drew a full-count leadoff walk.
That prompted the fourth pitching change of the night for the Aggies. They brought in left-hander Will Johnston to face the left-handed Jace Bohrofen, but it didn’t matter.
After chasing a high fastball, he hammered a breaking ball over the plate for a go-ahead two-run blast. It was his 11th home run of the season, which is one shy of tying Jared Wegner for the team lead.
“I knew when they brought that lefty in that he was probably going to spin,” Bohrofen said. “First pitch was a fastball up. I kind of got outside of my approach, but I stuck with it. I was just going to sit on a slider or something. Luckily he hung one over the plate and I put a good swing on it.”
Even though the ball hit the Hunt Center in right and traveled 371 feet, it had an exit velocity of only 91 mph and launch angle of 28.2 degrees.
“He didn’t hit it on the sweet spot, but he hit it solid and we knew it was gone when it left the bat,” Van Horn said.
It was a massive swing for an Arkansas baseball team struggling to drive in runners when given the opportunity. The Razorbacks went just 2 for 12 (.167) with runners in scoring position and left 15 on base.
As its five-run lead evaporated, Arkansas had five straight innings — from the third through the sixth — in which it put two runners on base, but came up empty each time.
“Well, we weren’t having wine and cheese, I can tell you that,” Van Horn said about the mood in the dugout. “It wasn’t very fun. It was guys talking to each other about staying positive, the coaches were saying, ‘You’ve gotta stay positive.’”
Both of the Razorbacks’ hits with runners in scoring position came in the second inning. The first was a bases-loaded infield single by John Bolton that scored the game’s first run. The second was the polar opposite of that.
With two outs, Peyton Stovall hit a towering grand slam that traveled 375 feet and landed on the Hunt Center. It was his fifth home run of the season and, according to TrackMan, had an exit velocity of 99 mph and launch angle of 31.7 degrees.
“It was a 1-0 count and he swings at a ball in the dirt, and you’re thinking, ‘Wow, left on left,’” Van Horn said. “He fought his way back into the count. He fought off a 3-2 pitch and then got, I think it was a 3-2 slider. The first one was a fastball, then that (HR pitch) was a slider. I mean, he just got extended on it and popped it up there on the roof.”
Considering all of the injuries Arkansas is dealing with and how it blew an 8-4 lead in the ninth inning to get swept by Georgia last weekend, the defensive play by Hunter Grimes and swing by Bohrofen were two of the biggest plays of the year to this point of the season.
“You look at the lineup, there’s a lot of names people don’t recognize too much (because) they haven’t played a lot,” Van Horn said. “It’s hard losing in league, it’s hard losing the way we lost in Game 3 over there with a four-run lead, didn’t get an out, and they beat us. Tonight to have it kind of flip and go our way, it was big for our team.”
Hagen Smith, The Finisher
Once the Razorbacks regained the lead, they had to feel good about hanging on to it because Hagen Smith was on the mound.
It wasn’t without drama, but the sophomore left-hander threw four scoreless innings to close out the game and earn the win, as he entered when it was still 5-5. He gave up two hits and two walks while striking out four.
“Hagen has a lot of experience at the end of games,” Dave Van Horn said. “He’s come in some tough situations and finished games. He’s been a starter, a reliever. I mean, he knows how to wiggle out of it. … There was a couple innings there that it was a little stressful and he has a knack for finishing things up.”
The ninth inning was actually his least stressful of the night, as he went through the heart of Texas A&M’s lineup for his only 1-2-3 frame.
In the sixth, Smith gave up a one-out single to Max Kaufer — who came into the game hitting .103 — before retiring Hunter Haas and Jack Moss, the Aggies’ best two hitters.
That was nothing compared to the next inning, which started with a double and stolen base by Trevor Werner. With his infield playing on the grass, Smith struck out Brett Minnich, induced a shallow fly out by Austin Bost and struck out Jace LaViolette.
Hunter Grimes’ aforementioned play ended an eighth inning that started with back-to-back walks.
“I’m obviously pumped,” Smith said. “But I look back at it, I got behind in the count a lot and I think I walked someone. It’s a little frustrating at the time, but after you get out of it, it’s pretty exhilarating.”
The outing lowered Smith’s season ERA to 2.64 and makes him 6-1 with two saves in 12 appearances — half of which have come out of the bullpen now. Opponents are hitting just .187 and have struck out 71 times in 47 2/3 innings.
Year of the Injury Strikes Again
Starting with projected ace Jaxon Wiggins needing Tommy John surgery before the season, injuries have plagued the Razorbacks all year and may have claimed another player Thursday night.
Dave Van Horn told reporters that redshirt junior Dylan Carter might be injured after initially downplaying the severity of it last week.
“He’s been sore and he’s sore again,” Van Horn said. “So that’s probably not a good sign.”
The right-hander pitched just one inning against Texas A&M, giving up back-to-back singles before allowing a game-tying sacrifice fly and then retiring the next two batters.
Despite throwing only 24 pitches, the Razorbacks turned to Hagen Smith the next inning. At just one inning, it was Carter’s shortest outing since also pitching only one inning against Eastern Illinois on Feb. 25. He had recorded at least four outs in his previous 13 appearances.
Even without knowing the extent of his injury, Van Horn said he was going to pull Carter after the fifth because he could tell he wasn’t pitching as well as usual.
“We were going to go to Hagen anyway, because we didn’t like what we were seeing out there,” Van Horn said. “It wasn’t the normal stuff.”
The injury revelation comes a week after he threw 38 pitches in 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief at Georgia. Arkansas originally planned to use him again that series, but decided against it because of soreness. Carter was then spotted with ice on his right arm before Tuesday’s game at Missouri State.
If it proves to be something that knocks him out for an extended period of time, it’d be quite a disappointing development because Carter has been one of the best stories of the season.
A Bentonville native who redshirted last season after spending two years in JUCO, no one expected him to have a major role on this year’s team, but he evolved into arguably the most reliable bullpen arm on the team — all when the Razorbacks needed it the most, as it happened when Brady Tygart and Koty Frank went down with injuries.
Carter is 6-0 with two saves and owns a 3.65 ERA in 37 innings across a team-high 16 relief appearances. Only Cody Adcock has pitched in more games, but five of his 18 appearances have been starts.
More Struggles by Hunter Hollan
Another pitcher to keep an eye on moving forward is ace Hunter Hollan. The left-hander turned in a second straight rough start and, even more concerning, his velocity was down.
Usually sitting 91-93 mph, his fastball never touched 90 mph Thursday night and dipped into the mid-80s by the end of his outing. In fact, the three-run home run he allowed to Jordan Thompson in the fourth inning came on an 85 mph fastball right down the middle in an 0-2 count. Smith also gave up a solo home run to Hunter Haas in a 1-2 count two batters later.
“He wasn’t super sharp,” Van Horn said. “They were on him pretty good. We were dodging bullets there for a little bit, and then they got us with the three-run homer. I really don’t know what to say, just that he’s been better. I’ll just leave it at that.”
The bullets Arkansas dodged came in the form of Texas A&M stranding a runner on second in the second inning and leaving the bases loaded after back-to-back two-out walks in the third.
Last week, Hollan gave up six runs — five earned — on seven hits and a season-high five walks at Georgia. Prior to the last two starts, he had a 2.81 ERA, but that has since jumped up to 3.79.
Van Horn told reporters that he’s not having any issues with his arm, but seemed to hint that something was going on when asked if the extra day of rest before next Friday’s series opener at Mississippi State could help.
“From the outside looking in, you just see a game being played sometimes,” Van Horn said. “There are guys that are banged up, there are guys that are sick, they’re getting ready for finals. There’s a lot going on, so an extra day can be big. Hopefully it will help him for next week.”
Love From Schlossnagle
This is Jim Schlossnagle’s first time leading Texas A&M into a series at Baum-Walker Stadium, but he has been to Fayetteville before.
In 2019, the Razorbacks eliminated Schlossnagle’s TCU team from the 2019 Fayetteville Regional by beating it 3-1 in the winner’s bracket game and then 6-0 in the final.
Needless to say, Arkansas baseball fans have made quite the impression on the coach.
“If you want to play in the SEC, this is everything that you want to be a part of,” Schlossnagle said. “The reason I left TCU — and I love TCU — but to come to A&M and be a part of building something like this here. (Texas A&M) is already a great school and we already have a great fan base, but we don’t have the ballpark that these guys have and that is what are trying to get to.
“Coach Van Horn, in my opinion — and there are other great atmospheres — but in my mind this is the classiest program in the league. They do it right and the fans are great. They get on you, but that’s alright and part of it. This is the standard in my mind.”
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
The Razorbacks will try to clinch the Arkansas vs Texas A&M series in Game 2, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT Friday. It was originally scheduled to be available via streaming only, but was picked up by ESPNU and will be nationally televised.
Neither team has announced a starting pitcher, but the Aggies will likely go with junior Nathan Dettmer. The right-hander has struggled to a 6.02 ERA this season and has been pretty wild. Not only does he have 29 walks in 46 1/3 innings, but he’s also hit four batters and thrown 10 wild pitches.
It is a bit more of a mystery regarding Arkansas’ starter. Right-hander Will McEntire has been the Game 2 starter for much of the season, but Dave Van Horn indicated earlier in the week that he might not start this weekend.
Considering right-handers Cody Adcock and Ben Bybee pitched in the midweek game, the Razorbacks might go with returning star Brady Tygart. It would be the right-hander’s first career start, but Van Horn has hinted at that being the move for his first action since going down with a UCL sprain on March 1.
“I think he’s pretty excited,” Hagen Smith said about Tygart. “It’s huge for the pitching staff to get a guy like that back. He threw a ton of innings for us in high-leverage situations last year, so I think everyone’s pumped.”
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- Catcher Parker Rowland and shortstop John Bolton came into the game hitting at (.200) or below (.175) the Mendoza Line, but combined to reach base seven times Thursday. Rowland went 2 for 4 with a walk, while Bolton went 1 for 2 with three walks. The latter also notched his 11th RBI of the season.
- Third baseman Caleb Cali has an 11-game hitting streak after going 1 for 2 with three walks out of the 3 hole. That raised his batting average to .306, which is pretty good for someone who was hitless in his first 12 at bats of the year.
- A four-pitch walk to start the fourth inning extended Kendall Diggs’ on-base streak to 33 games. He also walked in the seventh inning, but struck out three times and hit a soft liner to second to go 0 for 4.
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Arkansas vs Texas A&M Box Score (Game 1)
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