FAYETTEVILLE — Most Arkansas baseball fans have been quick to bring up Dave Van Horn’s preseason comments about the depth of his pitching staff. Many have forgotten the caveat he included.
“Well right now, it’s the best I’ve ever had,” Van Horn said in January. “Is that honest enough for you? That’s the way I feel about it. I mean, we’ve got depth. But what you see on paper, we’ve gotta get it done on the field.”
The veteran head coach and other college baseball experts couldn’t have predicted what has actually unfolded. Struggles by key veterans have been amplified by multiple injuries, the latest of which took Koty Frank out after throwing just two pitches in Sunday’s 6-2 win that completed a sweep of Wright State.
It’s almost as if the baseball gods took offense to Van Horn’s preseason comments and now he is suffering their wrath.
Projected ace Jaxon Wiggins, on the heels of an incredible offseason that had him primed for a potential All-SEC breakout season, went down with a torn UCL that required Tommy John surgery. The announcement came barely a week before Opening Day, which he was likely to start.
Inconsistencies on the mound plagued the first two weeks of the season, with fourth-year pitchers Will McEntire and Zack Morris scuffling out of the gate — the latter of which still hasn’t gotten back on track. Sophomore Austin Ledbetter and JUCO transfer Cody Adcock also got hit hard, and the freshmen mostly wilted under the bright lights.
It got to a point where, after watching his bullpen implode in a 12-3 loss to Eastern Illinois, Van Horn told reporters he might not name starters for Games 2 and 3 of future series because he had only about “four and a half” pitchers he trusted.
Starters Hagen Smith and Hunter Hollan, versatile middle reliever Koty Frank and closer Brady Tygart were solid, with McEntire starting to turn the corner and likely earning the “half” designation.
“We’ve got to find a few more pitchers,” Van Horn said last Sunday.
Well, in the week that followed, the Razorbacks did have some guys step up — but they also saw two of the trusted “four and a half” leave the field with injuries.
Tygart got rocked in the midweek game against Illinois State before calling a trainer to the mound. He’s believed to have a UCL sprain that will keep him out only 5-6 weeks. The preseason All-American is getting another opinion early next week, but Arkansas sounds optimistic that it isn’t another tear that needs Tommy John.
Sophomore Jake Faherty — who has an electric, yet wildly inconsistent arm capable of touching triple digits — left the ninth inning of Saturday’s game. Van Horn isn’t sure what’s wrong with him, other than it isn’t a tear and mentioning it’s an issue with “circulation,” but he likely wasn’t going to factor into the mix this year. The far bigger loss happened in the series finale.
Frank got the ball to start the seventh inning and quickly induced a first-pitch ground out, but after throwing a strike to the next batter, he called for a trainer. After a brief discussion, the right-hander threw a warm up pitch, but immediately doubled over in pain, grasping the right side of his chest under his shoulder.
Beyond the fact that it wasn’t an arm injury, Van Hon didn’t have any further details after the game. Frank would be a huge loss because he’s been the Razorbacks’ top middle reliever, with a 3.09 ERA in 11.2 innings across a team-high six appearances.
“Somebody’s going to have to step up because we need some more arms, or we’re going to have to make some adjustments on how we handle games,” Van Horn said.
Luckily for the Razorbacks, they have several candidates to do just that. Dylan Carter already thrust himself into the mix with back-to-back strong outings earlier in the week, Adcock had a couple of solid appearances and Ledbetter threw three scoreless innings. They tried to get Morris going by giving him a midweek start, but it went poorly.
It’s also possible that one or more true freshmen emerge as contributors, with right-handers Gage Wood, Cooper Dossett and Ben Bybee, and left-handers Parker Coil and Sean Fitzpatrick being the most likely.
“I just think we have an unbelievably talented freshman class,” Hollan said. “Those guys have just got to get comfortable and we’re going to be alright. … They all have unbelievable stuff and when they get on the mound they’ve got to be confident in it and don’t try to do too much. Once they taste a little bit of success, they’re going to be alright.”
Cody Adcock Earns 1st Save
There was already a good chance Cody Adcock would see the mound Sunday afternoon, but when Koty Frank went down two pitches into his outing, he was thrust into action much quicker than expected.
The right-hander quickly got a couple of outs to end the seventh before Wright State jumped on him to start the eighth. He gave up a couple of hard-hit singles on his first two pitches of the inning and allowed a run on a sharp line drive caught in deep left for a sacrifice fly.
Things could have unraveled after he plunked the next batter, but Adcock ended up getting back-to-back double play balls — the first of which resulted in an error that loaded the bases and the second of which was actually turned.
That seemed to fire him up a bit and he retired three straight batters after a leadoff single in the ninth to earn his first career save.
“They were hitting him and he was probably upset about it, so he wasn’t locating where he wanted to or they were hitting good pitches – it might have been a little bit of both,” Van Horn said. “But he did seem to get a little bit extra there in the ninth. It’s a situation where he’s one of the more experienced guys that we have and we really wanted him to face those right-handers in the ninth inning.”
In 2 2/3 innings, Adcock gave up one earned run on three hits with one strikeout. Against Illinois State earlier in the week, he threw two scoreless innings in which he gave up just one hit and one walk while striking out two.
The outings lowered his ERA from 14.73 to 7.56 and were much more in line with what the team saw from him in the preseason, when Van Horn said he was likely fourth in line for a spot in the weekend rotation, than what he showed his first few times out.
“Cody’s super talented and if he gets the ball out front and he’s ripping his four-seam out in front of them, he’s really hard to hit,” teammate Hunter Hollan said. “He’s going to be great for us, and he’s going to keep doing it.”
Happy Birthday, Hunter Hollan
It didn’t look like Hunter Hollan was going to have a good 21st birthday early on, but he once again settled in and gave the Razorbacks a strong start.
After getting ahead of leadoff man Justin Riemer 0-2, the left-hander threw four straight balls — a sign of things to come. All five guys he faced in the first inning saw back-to-back strikes to start their at bats, but one ended in a single and another a sacrifice fly that put Wright State on top 1-0.
It was a 26-pitch inning, which has become a trend for Hollan. The previous week against Eastern Illinois, he needed 30 pitches. In his first start against Oklahoma State, it took 19 pitches to get through the first.
“Hunter’s been around and he needs to go out there and get it going,” Van Horn said. “He goes 0-2 on the leadoff man. Two really nice pitches. Next thing you know he walks him. That was really frustrating.”
Excluding the first inning of his starts, Hollan has numbers worthy of All-America consideration — granted it’s still a small sample size. He has a 1.42 ERA and 0.95 WHIP while holding opponents to a .185 batting average in those 12 2/3 innings. In his three first innings, though, he has a 6.00 ERA, 2.67 WHIP and .333 opponent batting average.
“I think I’ve done that in the first inning since I was 12,” Hollan said. “If I get out of the first, we’re going to have a good outing. I don’t know what it is really.
“I think I just maybe try to do too much in the first. I try to throw strikeout pitches and end up getting behind. But yeah, I’ve got to be better in the first inning. Just attack, let them get themselves out.”
The good news for Arkansas baseball is that Hollan was much better after that. Wright State had at least one base runner in four of the next five innings, but couldn’t do anything with it.
Hollan ended up getting through six innings — the longest start of the young season — on just 90 pitches. That means he averaged just 12.8 pitches the rest of the way, or roughly half of what he threw in the first. His last three innings required just 32 total pitches.
“Felt like he could throw his changeup towards the second half of the game better than he did the first half,” Van Horn said. “It seemed like he threw a few of those in some clutch situations. Some cutters as well. But he was around the plate all day. There really weren’t a lot of bad misses or anything. It’s just they kept fouling pitches off. They were tough to put away.”
Breaking Through Offensively
Pitching duels aren’t particularly common on Sundays, especially in non-conference play, but Arkansas and Wright State found themselves in one in their series finale.
Making his first start for the Raiders, right-hander Luke Stofel was fantastic. He threw four scoreless innings to start the game and didn’t give up an earned run until there were two outs in the sixth.
Although he had starting experience at Western Kentucky, Stofel had thrown just 3 2/3 innings across three relief appearances for Wright State, so it was impressive that he made it through six innings on 96 pitches.
“I think it took us a while to figure out their starter,” Van Horn said. “I felt like he threw the ball extremely well. He was throwing the ball hard, spotting up his breaking ball away from the right-handers. I don’t know if they expected him to go that long.”
For Arkansas to finally score, it required catching a break in the form of a two-base error that put Caleb Cali in scoring position with no outs in the fifth. He hit a ground ball to third and Luke Arnold’s throw sailed over the first baseman’s head. That set the stage for John Bolton’s RBI single that tied the game at 1-1.
“We were just looking for something to happen and we kind of got rewarded there for just a bad play by the third baseman,” Van Horn said. “Gotta give Cali credit — he hustled all the way down the line. He didn’t pout, ‘I got jammed and it’s gonna be a 5-3 and here we go.’ He got down the line, and that gave us the opportunity.”
The Razorbacks wasted another leadoff error in the sixth when Brady Slavens grounded into a double play, but Jace Bohrofen followed with a 381-foot blast into the Hog Pen.
It was his second home run of the season and part of a 3 for 4 day at the plate. He went 5 for 7 with four RBIs over the last two games of the series, raising his batting average to a team-high .424.
“He’s just doing what he does,” Van Horn said. “He doesn’t try to hook balls. He just hits it where it’s pitched and he got a fastball away and hit it into that wind, kind of got it to the side where it could get through it and take off a little bit. That was a big swing for us right there.”
Once it got into Wright State’s bullpen, Arkansas blew the game open with a four-run seventh inning. He started with a 405-foot leadoff home run by Parker Rowland, his first with the Razorbacks, and also included an RBI single by Jared Wegner and two-run single by Bohrofen.
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
The Razorbacks’ 18-game homestand, their longest since 1982, will continue with a single midweek game against Army. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT Tuesday.
The Black Knights are 5-5 this season and were the preseason favorites to win the Patriot League.
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- Both of the double play balls Cody Adcock induced in the eighth inning were hit to Caleb Cali at third. He bobbled the first one, resulting in an error, but scooped up the second, stepped on third and fired a strike to first to get out of the jam. “I appreciate him not shying away from that second one,” Van Horn said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I kicked one, please don’t hit it to me.’ He was probably thinking, ‘Hey, hit it to me, give me another shot at this.’ That’s what I saw.”
- Left-hander Alex Theis had been Wright State’s Game 3 starter, but moved to the bullpen after giving up 13 earned runs in just 2 2/3 innings over the past two weekends. He gave up two earned runs in 2/3 of an inning against Arkansas and, incredibly, that actually helped his season ERA, which went from 43.87 to 40.50.
- Not only is Peyton Stovall riding a four-game hitting streak, but he’s notched multiple hits in each of those games. In the midweek game against Illinois State and weekend series against Wright State, he went 10 for 19 with two doubles, three home runs, seven RBIs and a walk. That stretch improved his batting average from .200 to .359.
- Through 11 games, the Razorbacks are slashing .310/.418/.556 as a team and averaging 9.3 runs. On the mound, though, they have a 5.62 ERA, 1.64 WHIP and .286 opponent batting average as a staff. Defensively, they have a very solid .977 fielding percentage.
Arkansas vs Wright State Highlights (Game 3)
Arkansas vs Wright State Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs Wright State Box Score
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