FAYETTEVILLE — No one would have blamed Dave Van Horn for tweaking the rotation for Arkansas baseball this weekend. Instead, he opted to send a message of confidence.
Will McEntire responded like you’d hope a veteran would, giving the Razorbacks a solid start in their 10-3 series-clinching win over Eastern Illinois on Saturday.
After back-to-back disastrous outings, the right-hander allowed only one run on two hits and two walks while striking out four in 4 2/3 innings. Due to a pitch count, he was credited with the win despite not making it a full five innings.
“It was really good to see McEntire throw the ball a lot better today,” Van Horn said. “He’s not where he was last year yet, but it was a lot better than last week. Used his cutter, his fastball, his curveball, changeup — I mean, he went out and pitched, and pitched to contact a little bit, but he ate up almost five innings for us, and that was good.”
In his first start of the year, McEntire didn’t make it through the second inning against TCU. The Horned Frogs jumped on him early for four runs in 1 1/3 innings. Half of the batters he faced got hits and another reached on a walk.
It was even worse against Grambling, when the Razorbacks gave him some work out of the bullpen. Five of the six batters he faced reached base and he was charged with a run in 2/3 of an inning. That gave him a 22.50 ERA — a drastic difference from his career 2.38 ERA entering the season.
Following Saturday’s outing, McEntire admitted its been a tough week because he wanted to pick up where he left off in the postseason, which included a seven-inning start in Omaha, but said it meant a lot to him that the coaches had enough faith to keep him in the rotation.
One reason for him having more success against Eastern Illinois than in his first two appearances was a mechanical tweak he made with pitching coach Matt Hobbs and director of analytics DJ Baxendale, a former standout pitcher for the Razorbacks himself.
“Coach Hobbs and Coach Baxendale got with me and apparently my arm slot had dropped a pretty significant amount,” McEntire said. “It was making my stuff more just spin and not really move as I needed it too.
“So we got back on the mound on Thursday and I moved it back up because I am more of an over the top pitcher. I feel like my stuff was was better today. Credit to them for helping me fix that.”
McEntire retired the Panthers in order in three of his first four innings Saturday. The only exception was the third, in which he gave up a leadoff home run to Kolten Poorman and ran into some two-out trouble with a walk and single.
That put runners on the corners and brought up the dangerous Ryan Ignoffo, who hit .395 last season and was 8 for 15 against Arkansas in his career up to that point.
With the Razorbacks clinging to a 3-1 lead at the time and McEntire’s spot in the rotation tenuous at best, it was a big moment for the right-hander. He delivered by getting him to look at strike three — something Van Horn said he believed was good for his confidence.
Most of Arkansas’ offensive production Saturday came when it was down to its final out of the inning. In fact, the Razorbacks’ first five runs — and seven of 10 in the game — were scored with two outs.
It started in the first inning, with a Brady Slavens single driving in Jared Wegner, who had also doubled with two outs. The next inning, Tavian Josenberger launched a two-out, two-run home run. Parker Rowland kept the trend going in the third with a two-out RBI double.
Arkansas didn’t score again until the seventh, with a bases-loaded walk by Ben McLaughlin ending the drought. When it blew the game open with a five-run eighth inning, the last two came on two-out RBI singles by McLaughlin and Rowland.
It is still early in the season, but the Razorbacks have shown a pretty good ability to make things happen with two outs so far this year. They are now hitting .338 with two outs and more than half of their team RBIs — 28 of 54, to be exact — have come with two outs.
“I think our guys are really seeing the ball really well right now and not really giving in with two strikes,” Jace Bohrofen said. “It’s a good thing to see now. I feel like last year, we didn’t really figure that out until the postseason.
“Fighting pitchers…it makes it tough on them and they don’t want to be out there any longer than they are, so I think that’s going to be a key to success to our offensive production this year — just fighting people.”
Jace Bohrofen Stays Hot
He did finally make an out by flying out to center in his third plate appearance Saturday, but other that that, Jace Bohrofen was nearly perfect.
A day after reaching four times, the junior did it again in Game 2 of the series against Eastern Illinois. This time, he did so by going 3 for 4 with a walk. Two of his hits resulted in doubles and the other probably should have, but it was a line drive that just got over the right fielder’s head, causing the runners to hold up on the play.
Prior to his fifth-inning fly out, Bohrofen had a stretch of nine plate appearances dating back to the midweek game against Grambling in which he went 3 for 3 with two doubles, four walks, a HBP and a sacrifice fly.
“I think he kind of frustrates pitchers,” Van Horn said. “He’ll foul off some pitches, but he’ll also take some borderline pitches early that he doesn’t feel like he can get the barrel to or something and drive it. That’s what you want.
“When he gets down in the count, he’ll fight you a little bit. He’s taking his walks, which is huge. And then when he gets a pitch he likes, our lingo is he’s getting his swing off, and he’s letting it go. He’s hitting the ball hard.”
Saturday’s performance gives Bohrofen a team-high .500 batting average and improved his already team-leading .625 on-base percentage. He is also the only regular starter who has more walks (6) than strikeouts (5).
“It feels good,” Bohrofen said. “Confidence is everything and getting off to a hot start and carrying it into hopefully SEC play is going to give me a lot of confidence. It just really feels good.”
Arkansas Baseball Injury Updates
After missing the series opener with a hand injury, second baseman Peyton Stovall was back in the lineup and batting second. He had a tough day at the plate, though, going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and reaching once on a HBP.
“I think he swung at some high pitches that he normally doesn’t swing at,” Van Horn said. “He fouled off some pitches. He’s never going to make excuses or anything, but I’m sure that hand’s bothering him a little bit. He really wanted to play.”
With Caleb Cali still struggling offensively, Van Horn opted to pinch hit for him in a bases-loaded, two-out situation in the seventh inning. He went with Ben McLaughlin instead and he drew a walk. In the next inning, he notched a two-out RBI single.
However, the JUCO transfer had to leave the game after that hit because of an injury. He was replaced by a pinch runner in Reese Robinett, who also stayed in the game and played first base in the ninth. Van Horn said the staff originally thought it was a knee injury for McLaughlin, but it could also be a lower hamstring injury.
“Doctors have looked at it,” Van Horn said. “They don’t think it’s major yet, but if he’s sore or swelled up in the morning, I think is the word they used, then we’ll probably get an MRI on it. If not, might just be a little bit of a pull.”
It’s also worth noting that backup shortstop Harold Coll didn’t go through pregame warmups and appeared to be unavailable for a second straight game. He is dealing with back tightness.
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
The Razorbacks will go for the sweep on Sunday, with first pitch scheduled for 1 p.m. CT. Just like the first two games of the series, it will be streamed online on SEC Network-Plus.
Junior right-hander Hunter Hollan (2.25 ERA, 4 IP) will start for Arkansas, while Eastern Illinois will counter with super senior right-hander Ky Hampton (0.00 ERA, 6 IP).
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- Tavian Josenberger’s second-inning home run was a 352-foot line drive over the right field wall. It had an exit velocity of 103 mph and launch angle of just 23 degrees. He now has two home runs, which already matches his total at Kansas last year. “We didn’t plan on him hitting the ball as far as he does,” Van Horn said. “Give credit to him for working hard. He’s gotten a lot stronger. Our strength coach has probably helped him a lot.”
- The first guy out of the bullpen Saturday afternoon was right-hander Koty Frank. He gave up a couple of hits — including a home run to Cade Zalewski — but was otherwise pretty effective in 2 1/3 innings. “He works really quick, he keeps our fielders are at full attention when he gets the ball,” Van Horn said. “It’s ‘Bang,’ he’s going. Threw his breaking ball behind in the count, slider, threw his fastball, changeup — pitched backwards a little bit, and zipped through a couple innings for us.”
- Through the first six games of the season, Brady Slavens has shown a knack for using the entire field. At least three of his four doubles this year have been opposite-field hits and his first RBI single on Saturday went the other way, too. He’s hitting .375 so far. “I made that comment last night to one of the coaches after the game, that if he keeps going the other way, he’s going to have a big batting average this year,” Van Horn said.
- In addition to McLaughlin producing as a late-game substitute, backup catcher Parker Rowland also had a good day at the plate, going 2 for 4 with two RBIs, a double and a walk. “Those guys swung the bat good,” Van Horn said. “Just because they haven’t started a lot doesn’t mean they’re not right there to be a starter.”
Arkansas vs Eastern Illinois Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs Eastern Illinois Box Score (Game 2)
More coverage of Arkansas vs Eastern Illinois from BoAS…