Ugly Stat Illustrates DVH’s Frustrations + More from Game 2 loss vs Mississippi State

Dave Van Horn, Matt Hobbs, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Mississippi State
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — The ‘race to two strikes’ has been the motto of Arkansas’ pitching staff all year, but it’s been losing that race quite a bit of late.

For the second straight night, the No. 5 Razorbacks set a season high in walks and this time it cost them in Saturday’s 8-5 loss to No. 14 Mississippi State at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Arkansas (41-10, 18-8 SEC) managed to win Friday’s game despite issuing nine walks and then matched that total in the first four innings of Game 2, with a 10th coming in the eighth inning. Those free passes contributed to the Bulldogs (33-17, 15-11) jumping out to an 8-0 lead that was too much to overcome, evening the series at a game apiece.

It’s an issue that’s hung around for a few weekends now, playing a role in some of the pitchers’ recent struggles and threatening to erase the staff’s title as the best in the country.

“I think as a staff, we just need to get back to what we were doing earlier in the year and just be aggressive,” said left-hander Parker Coil, one of the bright spots in Saturday’s loss. “Coming at people and not trying to dance around the zone. Just stay in that attack mode and being able to go out and get 0-1, 0-2 and really attack hitters. That’s all it is.”

Heading into the South Carolina series last month, the Razorbacks ranked 10th nationally in walks allowed per nine innings at only 3.10. That number was slightly higher against SEC competition, but still a respectable 3.63.

Although it has continued to rack up strikeouts at a historic rate, Arkansas has also started to walk batters at a concerning rate. Over the last 14 games, it’s averaged 5.65 walks per nine innings — a figure that would rank 240th out of 295 Division I teams.

That number is also skewed by a few non-conference games, such as the UAPB game in which the Razorbacks didn’t have a single one. In their last 11 SEC games, the rate jumps up to 6.47.

No one has been immune to it, either. Ace Hagen Smith issued four and closer Gage Gaeckle had three in the opener against Mississippi State. In Game 2, it was mostly Brady Tygart (5) and Ben Bybee (4).

On top of the obvious impact of giving the other team free base runners, it has inflated pitch counts and forced the Razorbacks to use more of their bullpen at a time when several key arms have been struggling. Needless to say, it’s not a winning recipe and one that could hurt Arkansas when the postseason rolls around if it’s not fixed.

Another Tough Day for Tygart

Despite hinting at a possible change to his starting rotation, Dave Van Horn ultimately stuck with Brady Tygart on Saturday and Mason Molina on Sunday.

It remains to be seen how the latter will do in the series finale, but Tygart certainly didn’t do anything to secure his spot in the rotation moving forward.

Coming off the worst start of his career at Kentucky, the right-hander lasted just 1 2/3 innings and gave up four earned runs on three hits and five walks. He’s now allowed nine earned runs in 4 2/3 innings across his last two outings.

During his postgame press conference, Van Horn’s frustrations with Tygart were obvious.

“I don’t know,” Van Horn said when asked about what’s behind Tygart’s recent struggles. “I have no idea. You would probably have to talk to him about it.”

Tygart, of course, was not made available to reporters following the game, but Van Horn did eventually admit that his issue is still related to an inability to throw his fastball for a strike.

“I didn’t see the fastball go over the plate much at all,” Van Horn said.

It’s a startling drop off from how Tygart looked for the first 11 weeks of the season. Prior to getting shelled at Kentucky, he had a 2.68 ERA and 1.17 WHIP while holding opponents to a .197 batting average in just under 5 innings per start. Naturally, his numbers took a hit in conference play, but they still looked good through six SEC starts: 3.41 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, .210 BAA.

Not only did his numbers look good, but he also turned in back-to-back quality starts against South Carolina and Florida, seemingly turning the corner and emerging as Arkansas’ true No. 2 starter. Instead, he’s been anything but that and is now in danger of moving back to the bullpen.

Tygart was in trouble from the start Saturday, issuing back-to-back walks to start the game and allowing a two-run home run before the end of the first inning. Van Horn had finally seen enough when he walked in a run with two outs in the second.

Coil Stops the Bleeding

Considering the Razorbacks found themselves down 8-0 and already had nine walks through four innings, things really could have gotten out of hand Saturday night.

Instead, left-hander Parker Coil came out of the bullpen and settled things down. In his first SEC outing in two weeks, Coil gave Arkansas 3 1/3 scoreless innings of relief — one out shy of matching his career high of 3 2/3 innings, which he did in a start against Army last season.

Taking over in the fifth inning, the Edmond, Okla., native worked around a two-out hit in each of his first two frames before throwing a perfect seventh inning. He went back out in the eighth and struck out Dakota Jordan, Mississippi State’s top hitter, and had Hunter Hines down 0-2 before giving up a double. That marked the end of his day.

“What he did was he threw a lot of strikes and he had a couple of quick outs,” Van Horn said. “Just throwing that cutter. Threw a changeup a little bit and spotted it up pretty well. The 0-2 double, that was supposed to be a buried slider. He left it down the middle, and next thing you know it’s off the fence. Other than that, I thought he had a great outing.”

Even with the scoreless outing, Coil still has the worst ERA on the team at 7.16, but he has pitched a lot better of late. A key to that has been tweaking his repertoire of pitches.

“A few weeks ago, I started throwing a cutter,” Coil said. “It’s helped me out a lot. It’s pretty hard. I threw a few changeups tonight which I haven’t really thrown all year. I think that helped me out a lot. But I’ve been working on those pretty good. It was good to see those in play tonight.”

Offense Continues to Show Fight

It wasn’t able to complete the late-game comeback like it did the night before, but Arkansas did make things interesting after falling behind 8-0.

The Razorbacks took advantage of a couple of mistakes by Mississippi State to get on the board in the middle innings, with an error bringing in the first run and setting up a sacrifice fly by Peyton Holt in the fourth.

In the fifth, the Bulldogs botched a tailor made double play ball. That kept a runner on base, turning Peyton Stovall’s home run into a two-run shot. It was a 423-foot blast that left the bat at 109 mph and gave him nine home runs this season.

Arkansas tacked on another run in the sixth when Nolan Souza drew a leadoff walk, went first-to-third on Ross Lovich’s single and scored on a sacrifice fly by Kendall Diggs. That made it 8-5.

The eighth inning proved to be the deciding one, as Arkansas got a couple of singles sandwiched around a strikeout to start the inning. However, Lovich and Diggs each went down looking to leave them loaded.

“You know, the last two days I’ve been pleased with the way we’ve competed, if you take away maybe three at-bats in the eighth,” Van Horn said. “I’ve been encouraged by the offense.”

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks will play their fourth rubber match in a span of five weeks on Sunday, with first pitch against Mississippi State scheduled for 2 p.m. CT in a game that will be nationally televised on SEC Network. 

This will be the first time Arkansas has played such a game at home, though. It lost the finales at Alabama and Kentucky, but did win the deciding game at South Carolina.

Left-hander Mason Molina (3-2, 3.81 ERA) is slated to start for the Razorbacks. He’ll be looking to get back on track after struggling in his last two outings, over which he allowed five earned runs on five hits and 10 walks in a combined 6 1/3 innings.

“You always have confidence in Molina,” teammate Peyton Holt said. “The kid’s a really good pitcher and he’s shown it all year. A lot of confidence.”

After initially leaving Game 3 as TBA, Mississippi State has announced left-hander Pico Kohn (1-0, 3.75 ERA) as its starter. It will be his first SEC start of the season, but he did allow only one run in a four-inning start against Ole Miss on May 1, when the two teams met in a midweek game.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • The announced attendance for Game 2 of the Arkansas vs Mississippi State series was 10,963. It’s the 15th crowd of at least 10,000 at Baum-Walker Stadium this year.
  • Wehiwa Aloy notched his second straight three-hit day, going 3 for 5 with a pair of doubles. That makes him 6 for 9 against the Bulldogs and raises his season batting average to .284. “I don’t think he’s overdoing it,” Van Horn said. “I’d say four of those hits were with two strikes, seems like. Maybe more. He’s done a really good job laying off some borderline pitches and then getting something he can handle late in the count, most of the time.”
  • Ben McLaughlin went 0 for 3, but did draw another couple of walks. He’s up to 46 walks this season, which is two shy of cracking the UA’s single-season top-10 list.
  • After not starting for the first time in SEC play Friday night, Kendall Diggs was in the lineup and batting leadoff. He went 1 for 4 with a shift-beating single, sacrifice fly and strikeout.
  • Right-hander Jake Faherty was the last pitcher used by Arkansas and he threw a perfect ninth inning with a couple of strikeouts.
  • The difference in the game turned out to be a pair of two-run homers Mississippi State in the fourth inning, hit by Dakota Jordan and Logan Kohler. Those came against reliever Ben Bybee.
  • Even though it was the penultimate regular-season home game, the Razorbacks did their senior day festivities and recognized eight players: Stone Hewlett, Peyton Holt, Ross Lovich, Hudson Polk, Parker Rowland, Jack Wagner, Ty Wilmsmeyer and Koty Frank.
  • In honor of senior day, Koty Frank’s father, Brent, sang the national anthem before the game.
  • It was also Kevin Kopps bobblehead day at the ballpark, with the first 2,000 fans through the gates receiving one for free. Although he’s pitching for Triple-A El Paso, where he owns a 3.57 ERA in 17 2/3 innings, Kopps’ parents were in attendance and his father, Rick, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Arkansas vs Mississippi State Highlights (Game 2)

Postgame Interviews

Arkansas vs Mississippi State Box Score (Game 2)

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