Pitching Collapse vs TCU Overshadows Potential Battle Brewing in Infield

Hudson Polk, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs TCU, College Baseball Showdown
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

Dave Van Horn threw several of his freshman arms to the wolves Saturday night and it couldn’t have gone worse for Arkansas baseball.

The No. 6 Razorbacks used nine total pitchers, including five freshmen, and each of them was either charged with multiple runs or allowed inherited runners to come around in an 18-6 shellacking at the hands of No. 15 TCU at Globe Life Field.

What was a tight 4-4 game through four innings quickly blew up and got out of hand. When the dust settled, Arkansas had matched last year’s regular-season finale at Alabama for the most runs it has allowed since losing to Texas 19-8 in the 2005 Austin Regional.

Most of the freshmen pitched well after the result was no longer in doubt, but right-hander Gage Wood was called on with the Razorbacks and Horned Frogs still locked in a tie.

The Batesville native inherited a first-and-third, two-out jam and — in what became the theme of the night — gave up an opposite-field RBI single to Cole Fontenelle on the first pitch of his collegiate career. He then walked the next two batters, with the second coming with the bases loaded to bring in another run.

Although neither of them were charged to Wood, he failed to record an out and was on the mound when TCU went up for good.

“He’d been pitching great for us and I think it was, at the time, just a little too nervous,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “I think you’ll see a lot better pitcher down the road.”

The Razorbacks were still within striking distance in the sixth when left-hander Parker Coil made his collegiate debut, but he walked the first two batters he faced — once again, the second of those came with the bases loaded to bring in a run. Even when the Oklahoma native finally recorded an out, it came via a sacrifice fly. In fact, his first two outs brought in runs on sacrifice flies.

It was already a blowout by the time left-hander Sean Fitzpatrick and right-handers Cooper Dossett and Ben Bybee made their first appearances.

Fitzpatrick’s first pitch was wild, allowing a runner to take third base, and he eventually gave up a couple of hits. Dossett notched a couple of strikeouts, but allowed the other six batters he faced to reach — the last of which did so on a bases-loaded walk. Bybee was the last pitcher out of the bullpen and his first pitch plunked Kurtis Byrne with bases loaded before he finally ended the top of the ninth with a strikeout.

A Total Pitching Meltdown

Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to pin everything on those freshmen. The other four pitchers who got on the mound Saturday didn’t have much success, either.

The most effective of the bunch was senior Zack Morris, who was first out of the bullpen. Tasked with calming things down, the left-hander limited TCU to just one run in the second with some help from his defense and then threw a couple of scoreless innings before running into trouble in the fifth.

He nearly got through it unscathed, but Caleb Cali couldn’t get the ball out of his glove quick enough for the Razorbacks to turn an inning-ending double play. The aforementioned inherited runners Gage Wood allowed to score were ultimately charged to Morris, so he was tagged with the loss despite giving Arkansas a solid 3 1/3 innings.

“Going out there with that type of a situation, I just tried to limit the damage as much as I can,” Morris said. “We just needed someone to go in there, put up zeroes (and) try to give our offense a chance. I feel I did a pretty decent job of that.”

The other two non-freshmen out of the bullpen were right-handers Austin Ledbetter and Dylan Carter.

Ledbetter, who had a couple of scoreless outings at last year’s College World Series, got Arkansas out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth, but then allowed the first three batters in the sixth to reach and all eventually came around to score.

Carter, a JUCO transfer who redshirted with the Razorbacks last season, made his Division I debut and retired the first three batters he faced before running into trouble. He plunked Fontenelle and gave up a hit to Tre Richardson before a two-out double by Austin Davis brought them home.

Starters Chased Early

After getting a gem from Hagen Smith on Friday, Arkansas baseball had to turn to its bullpen early against TCU because starter Will McEntire turned in one of the worst outings of his career.

Opponents hit just .198 against the right-hander last season, but the Horned Frogs jumped all over him. He gave up four earned runs on five hits and one walk in just 1 1/3 innings. The reason behind those struggles was simple, as Van Horn said he couldn’t locate.

“He was throwing the ball belt high,” Van Horn said. “Everything was right around the waist. It wasn’t down around the knees or a little below. He was leaving the ball up where they can see it.

“His thing is to start it out about belt hit and it ends up a lot lower, running and sinking, and then locating that fastball when they’re looking for that cutter. He just didn’t do it. Even when he got ahead 0-2, he gave up some hits.”

To be honest, though, the Bryant native was extremely close to getting out of the first inning without allowing a single run. He got beat to the first base bag on a grounder fielded by Brady Slavens and then his infield couldn’t quite turn an inning-ending double play. It was right after that second play that TCU struck with a two-run double.

Luckily for McEntire, his teammates had his back early on and managed to answer the Horned Frogs run-for-run in the first two innings.

That came at the expense of TCU starter Cam Brown, who was also chased in the second inning. He also gave up four earned runs on five hits and a walk, but did so while recording one more out, lasting 1 2/3 innings.

“I thought we did a good job of getting his pitch count up again, just like we did yesterday, fouling off a lot of pitches,” Van Horn said. “His stuff’s pretty good, but when he made a mistake, for the most part we hit it and rattled him a little bit.”

The difference was that the Horned Frogs’ freshmen pitched much better out of the bullpen. Kole Klecker, Ben Abeldt and Justin Hackett each made their collegiate debuts and combined for 7 1/3 innings in which they allowed only two earned runs on four hits and one walk while striking out 10.

Klecker was particularly dominant, as he followed Brown and struck out six in 4 1/3 innings to earn the win.

Battle Looming at 3B?

One of the more surprising developments in the first two games of the season has been just how much Caleb Cali has struggled offensively.

He was easily the Razorbacks most prolific hitter in the public scrimmages attended by the media this fall and preseason, slashing .437/.500/.845 in 71 at bats. However, after notching the dreaded golden sombrero in the opener, Cali struck out in his three at bats against TCU.

That makes him 0 for 8 with seven strikeouts, and the only time he put the ball in play was when he grounded into a double play against the Longhorns.

“His batting average against out pitching has been pretty good, but he’s had some bad days. He struck out four times in one (scrimmage) last week, didn’t have a hit for two or three days, then he’ll go 4 for 4. We need him to hit. He’s not hitting. … He needs to pick it up a little bit for us to really have a tough lineup.”

With Cali scuffling and the game out of hand, Van Horn substituted heralded freshman Jayson Jones into the lineup as a pinch hitter in the seventh. Although he flied out in that at bat, he made up for it by launching a solo home run in the ninth.

It will be interesting to see if Van Horn makes a change to his lineup after using the same order from the day before on Saturday.

Arkansas Baseball Long Ball Metrics

The Razorbacks hit four home runs against the Horned Frogs. Here are the exit velocities and distances for each one:

  • Jared Wegner (1): 1st inning | 3-run | 111.9 mph, 442 feet
  • Hudson Polk (1): 2nd inning | solo | 103.7 mph, 385 feet
  • Kendall Diggs (1): 6th inning | solo | 108.4 mph, 370 feet
  • Jayson Jones (1): 9th inning | solo | 113.9 mph, 408 feet

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks will have a chance to finish the weekend with a winning record, but it won’t be easy because they will conclude the College Baseball Showdown with another top-15 matchup.

It should be a fun finale because it’s a rematch with No. 11 Oklahoma State, which Arkansas beat in the Stillwater Regional last season. Dave Van Horn has called it the “most intense” regional he’s ever been a part of.

The Cowboys will enter the day with a 1-1 record, as well, after beating Missouri 5-3 on Friday and losing to Vanderbilt 11-9 earlier in the day Saturday.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • Kendall Diggs reached on a catcher’s interference in the third inning. It’s a relatively rare play, as Arkansas reached on it just once in each of the last two seasons. However, in 2017, Luke Bonfield reached on a catcher’s interference seven times.
  • TCU had six stolen bases as a team Saturday night, with Luke Boyers having two of them. The Razorbacks caught only one potential base stealer and that came on a pick-off.
  • After notching one hit in his Arkansas debut, Jared Wegner finished a triple shy of the cycle on Saturday. He smacked the game-tying three-run homer in the first, plus added a single in the third and a double in the fifth before grounding out in his final at bat.
  • In addition to the pitchers and Jayson Jones, freshman Mason Neville made his debut as a defensive replacement in right field during the ninth inning. He replaced JUCO transfer Harold Coll, who had pinch hit for Jace Bohrofen in the eighth inning and struck out on three pitches.

Arkansas vs TCU Postgame Interviews

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Arkansas vs TCU Box Score


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