No Easy Answer for Potential Diggs Replacement + Pitching Updates

Kendall Diggs, Arkansas baseball
photo credit: Baumology

FAYETTEVILLE — Heading into Arkansas’ penultimate weekend of the regular season, the status of Kendall Diggs is once again up in the air.

The slumping slugger has dealt with a nagging shoulder injury for most of the year and it may keep him out of the lineup for the No. 5 Razorbacks’ series opener against No. 14 Mississippi State, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT Friday and will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.

Diggs did not swing the bat in Wednesday’s practice, but Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said the plan was for him to give it a shot Thursday because he said it was feeling better.

“I just want him to be up front with me and tell me that he’s pain-free, or I don’t want to play him,” Van Horn said. “That’s my thing. I just want him to not have anything mental, something lurking in there thinking, ‘I can’t swing at that pitch, I can’t hit that pitch, and that’s why I’m not hitting that pitch.’ I’d rather play somebody else.”

The injury was reaggravated when Diggs crashed into the wall trying to rob a home run in the first inning of Sunday’s loss at Kentucky. It was unfortunate timing for the Olathe, Kan., native because he was just starting to get healthy and showing signs of breaking out of a lengthy slump.

In Game 1 of the series in Lexington, Diggs went 2 for 5 with four RBIs. The first of those hits was a two-run double that broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth and then he helped put the game away with a clutch two-out, two-run single in the seventh.

Those hits snapped an 0-for-15 stretch, but his slump has lasted much longer than that. In fact, even after notching another hit in the next two games against the Wildcats, Diggs is hitting just .247 this season. He’s barely above the Mendoza Line in SEC play, checking in at .208.

Considering his was a preseason All-SEC selection, those are pretty disappointing numbers — but, similar to Peyton Stovall’s slump before being shelved, the shoulder injury is likely to blame. 

Prior to the injury, Diggs was hitting well over .300, but then he got hurt sliding into second base in the second game of the McNeese State series. The infield dirt was still pretty wet, making it an awkward slide that hurt his left, non-throwing shoulder.

It’s not quite as severe, but Van Horn compared it to similar injuries suffered by Danny Hamblin early in his tenure in Fayetteville and more recently by Matt Goodheart.

“He didn’t really say a whole lot about it, although we were really worried about him when it happened,” Van Horn said. “Because I have seen that a dozen times. Usually something happens. Usually a tear, and it pops out, pops in.”

No Easy Solution for Arkansas Baseball

Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, they don’t exactly have a ton of great options to replace Kendall Diggs in the outfield.

Peyton Holt has been in the outfield for about a month, but he’s the only one consistently producing at the plate. He has started games at all three outfield spots, with most coming in center and left field.

The best defensive outfielder on the team is Missouri transfer Ty Wilmsmeyer, but he’s hitting just .186 this season, including .158 in conference play. The best offensive option outside of Holt has been another Missouri transfer, Ross Lovich (.265), but he’s made a couple of costly defensive mistakes.

Will Edmunson has a better glove than Lovich, but has been only slightly better offensively than Wilmsmeyer, hitting .235 overall and .158 in SEC play. Jayson Jones — another converted infielder — likely has the highest ceiling of the group, but has struggled to put the ball in play with a .211 batting average and 18 strikeouts in 57 at bats — with only six at bats coming against conference foes.

Together, the quartet of Wilmsmeyer, Lovich, Edmunson and Jones is slashing a combined .228/.351/.341 this season.

No Changes to Arkansas’ Rotation

Despite teasing a change multiple times, Dave Van Horn is sticking with the same starting rotation for this weekend’s series against Mississippi State.

There was never a question about left-hander Hagen Smith starting the opener, but after they each turned in duds against Kentucky — and with Gage Wood pitching well — right-hander Brady Tygart and left-hander Mason Molina were at risk of losing their spots.

Instead, they will still start Game 2 and 3, respectively, against the Bulldogs.

“After yesterday’s workout we’re going to stick with the same rotation,” Van Horn said. “They both feel good, healthy. No one has a sore arm. No complaints. Ready to go.”

Tygart had turned in back-to-back quality starts before lasting only three innings in arguably the worst outing of his career at Kentucky. He was charged with five earned runs on six hits and three walks while striking out only two.

Molina’s numbers against the Wildcats weren’t quite as bad, as he allowed only three earned runs on three hits and three walks with three strikeouts, but he also lasted only three innings and it was his second straight subpar outing. Before missing the Florida series with a twisted ankle, Molina issued seven walks in 3 1/3 innings at South Carolina.

“He’s just got to go out and pitch,” Van Horn said about Molina. “I mean, he’s an older guy. He’s got a lot of weekend experience at this level. Hopefully he’ll go out and have a good outing for us. I expect him just to be a lot better.”

Role for Gage Wood

The reason there were questions surrounding Arkansas’ starting rotation is because Dave Van Horn made it a point to say right-hander Gage Wood was threatening to “take somebody’s job” following a solid week on the mound.

He said it after the Razorbacks’ Game 2 loss at Kentucky and reiterated it during the Swatter’s Club meeting Monday.

That didn’t come to fruition, but Wood will still factor into the pitching plans this weekend — it’s just unclear what exactly that will look like.

“We’ll kind of let the game tell us what to do for the most part,” Van Horn said. “He can either be early out of the pen if it doesn’t go well or he could finish a game for us, as well. He’s thrown the ball as good as anybody and he deserves to be out there.”

The Batesville native three three scoreless innings against Missouri State in his first career start last Tuesday and followed it up with a career-high 4 1/3 innings in relief of Tygart on Saturday. He was charged with three earned runs against the Wildcats, but pitched much better than those stats indicate, at one point retiring 11 of 13 hitters.

In 17 appearances this season, Wood has a 2.81 ERA with 40 strikeouts and only six walks in 25 2/3 innings, plus opponents are hitting just .219 against him.

Encouraging Update on Fisher

One pitcher Arkansas baseball fans definitely won’t see again this year is left-hander Colin Fisher.

During the Swatter’s Club meeting Monday afternoon, Dave Van Horn announced that the promising freshman was undergoing season-ending elbow surgery, but the exact nature of the surgery was still up in the air.

The Razorbacks were hopeful that he’d be able to avoid Tommy John surgery and instead get the newer internal brace procedure that significantly reduces the recovery time. Sure enough, that’s what happened.

“It’s on the good side,” Van Horn said. “He should be ready for next season. Didn’t have to do full Tommy John. Just a little bit of action in there and they fixed it, and he should be able to go next January. He’ll rehab. He should be good to go, like full bore, when the season starts if everything stays the way it is.”

Fisher opened the season as Arkansas’ four starter and ultimately made seven starts and three relief appearances. The Noble, Okla., native finished the year with a 2.81 ERA and 27 strikeouts with only eight walks in 27 innings.

Those numbers are even more impressive considering he wasn’t fully healthy, as Van Horn revealed that the doctor said it looked like an old injury.

“It’s been bothering him, I guess, a little bit,” Van Horn said Monday. “We didn’t really know. Kind of had some soreness and then we gave him some time off. And then we’d pitch him and he was sore again and you’re kind of like okay, we’ve got to see if there is something going on in there.”

Dave Van Horn Previews Arkansas vs Mississippi State

Check out Dave Van Horn’s full press conference previewing this weekend’s Arkansas vs Mississippi State series:

YouTube video


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