FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas baseball has suffered yet another blow on the mound, as Koty Frank will miss the rest of the year with an injury, Dave Van Horn announced Tuesday night.
The right-hander left Sunday’s game against Wright State after throwing only two pitches, but there was optimism that the injury would keep him out only 5-6 weeks. However, further testing revealed he actually suffered a torn lat muscle and needed season-ending surgery, which is scheduled for next week.
“His season’s over,” Van Horn said after Tuesday’s win over Army. “He’s going to have a procedure done on Monday. Don’t ask me to describe it, but (we’ll) try to get him ready for next year.”
It is a significant blow for the Razorbacks because Frank, a graduate transfer from Nebraska, was arguably their top middle reliever. His six appearances are tied for the team lead through the first three weeks of the season and he had a 3.09 ERA in 11 2/3 innings.
The silver lining, if there is one, is that the injury happened early enough in the season that it sounds like Arkansas will be able to get him a medical redshirt that will allow him to return in 2024. Frank is a super senior and next season would be his sixth year in college — two in junior college, two at Nebraska and two with Arkansas baseball.
That doesn’t help this year, though, as the Razorbacks had already lost their projected ace for the season and their star closer could miss the first half of SEC play.
Right-hander Jaxon Wiggins suffered a torn UCL before the season and had Tommy John surgery, cutting short what was shaping up to be a breakout year that could have thrust him into the first round of the MLB Draft.
Right-hander Brady Tygart left last week’s game against Illinois State with an injury later revealed to be a UCL sprain. That diagnosis was confirmed Monday and he’s expected to miss 5-6 weeks. Prior to getting hurt, he was off to a great start and looked every bit the Preseason All-American he was projected to be.
Throw in some early-season struggles by veterans who were expected to be better than they’ve been so far and Arkansas has been in search of some help on the mound. JUCO transfer Cody Adcock and sophomore Austin Ledbetter have thrown better of late, but the emergence of Dylan Carter has arguably been the most important development over the past week.
Carter, who began his career at Crowder C.C. and redshirted at Arkansas last year, has pitched multiple innings in three of Arkansas’ last five games — all of which have been in tight spots — and had success.
“It’s been huge,” Van Horn said. “He’s been throwing extremely well. He threw a couple breaking balls today (and) from the side, they looked nasty. He’s spotting his fastball 92-93 and challenging up, mixing and he’s got a good changeup.”
In 7 2/3 innings over a seven-day span, Carter mostly scattered eight hits and two walks, allowing just two earned runs while striking out six. That has lowered his season ERA to 4.50, which is impressive because it’s still skewed by the three earned runs he gave up in his debut.
Although Carter closed out a blowout win over Eastern Illinois with a scoreless inning in his second appearance, it was his third outing that asserted him as a true option to fill some of the lost innings.
Entering the game immediately after Tygart’s injury, Carter prevented Illinois State from scoring the go-ahead run, which was on third, and ended up throwing 2 1/3 scoreless innings to earn the victory in a game Arkansas baseball won in 11 innings.
Recounting that game at the monthly Swatter’s Club meeting on Monday, Van Horn kept a sense of humor despite the growing injury report for his pitching staff.
“We lost Tygart, but we found another pitcher,” Van Horn said. “So half-full, half-empty, how are you? I’m right in the middle. I’m drinking a lot, let’s put it that way.”
The veteran Arkansas baseball coach was just joking, but it’d be hard to blame him if he poured himself a shot or two to take away the sting of season-altering injuries.
Quite frankly, he and his counterparts on campus — Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman and Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman — could form a support group to discuss what has undoubtedly been the “Year of the Injury” for the Razorbacks.
Injury Bug Bites Arkansas Football Early and Often
Fresh off a nine-win season in which it was ranked in the final AP Poll for the first time in 10 years and with several key players returning, expectations for Arkansas football were sky high going into 2022.
Even though they didn’t lose until the fourth game of the season, the Razorbacks’ hopes for a special season took a huge hit when preseason All-American and potential first-round pick Jalen Catalon re-injured his shoulder early in the second half of the season opener against Cincinnati.
With him on the field, Arkansas posted a first-half shutout. Just a few plays after he left the game, the Bearcats found the end zone for the first time. Granted, they were already in the red zone when he got hurt, but it was foreshadowing of what was to come.
The Razorbacks ended up ranking 101st and 124th nationally in scoring and total defense, respectively. Opponents racked up 465.2 yards per game, the most they’ve ever allowed, and the biggest chunk of that was through the air. In fact, Arkansas football ranked dead last in pass defense among FBS schools, allowing 294.7 yards per game.
Catalon’s injury can’t be blamed for all of those struggles, but it certainly played a role — as did all of the other injuries in the secondary, a position hit harder than any other Sam Pittman has experienced in his career.
Most notably, backup cornerback LaDarrius Bishop, who had a lot of starting experience, went down with a torn ACL just two weeks into the season and starting nickel Myles Slusher had two different injuries that caused him to miss multiple games.
With Jayden Johnson and Khari Johnson each getting hurt in the Mississippi State game and Malik Chavis suffering a concussion late in the first quarter against BYU, the Razorbacks were down six defensive backs at one point and desperately searching for answers.
Second-year reserves Trent Gordon and Keuan Parker were forced into action, with 48 of Parker’s 51 career defensive snaps coming against BYU and 102 of Gordon’s 119 career snaps coming in the back-to-back games against Mississippi State and BYU.
It was so dire that the coaching staff starting moving guys around. First, freshman wide receiver Sam Mbake was moved to cornerback and promptly started practicing with the second unit. Then, Quincey McAdoo — who, naturally, was recovering from a hand injury — made the switch and eventually climbed into the starting lineup. He had enough success in just a handful of games to land on the SEC All-Freshman team.
As bad as things were in the secondary, the most impactful injuries for Arkansas football were on the other side of the ball and to the same player: quarterback KJ Jefferson.
Jefferson missed the Mississippi State game with a concussion and, after fighting through it in the Liberty game, missed the LSU game with a clavicle injury. The Razorbacks lost all three of those games, including against Liberty when he played and was clearly not close to 100%.
Considering it lost to the Flames and Tigers by a combined five points, it’s not much of a stretch to say that a healthy Jefferson likely leads Arkansas to wins in both of those games. That would have made it 8-4 in the regular season instead of 6-6 — and who knows how differently the Mississippi State game would have played out because two drives stalled on failed fourth downs inside the 10.
The difference Jefferson made on the Razorbacks’ offense was obvious with the eye test, but it could also be clearly illustrated by statistics. In the 10 games, including the Liberty Bowl, he played and was healthy, Arkansas football averaged 37.7 points and 496.8 yards — marks that would have broken single-season school records and ranked 12th and seventh nationally, respectively.
Special Arkansas Basketball Season Spoiled by Injuries
The hype surrounding Arkansas basketball this year was as high as it’s been since it reached back-to-back national championship games in the mid-90s, winning it all in 1994 and finishing runner-up in 1995.
It’s no secret why: Eric Musselman emphatically ended the Razorbacks’ second-weekend drought by taking them to the Elite Eight in each of the last two seasons and signed the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class with three five-star recruits, highlighted by No. 1 overall prospect Nick Smith Jr. — their highest-ranked recruit since Corliss Williamson.
Final Four talk dominated the airwaves on sports talk radio shows, message boards and social media, and was amplified by Musselman’s marketing machine.
However, just a few hours before the season opener against North Dakota State, word started leaking out that Smith had a knee injury. Sure enough, the UA announced he was out indefinitely with “right knee management.”
He missed the first six games of the season, including the Maui Invitational, before making his collegiate debut against Troy. Smith played only a few minutes that night, though.
It wasn’t until the next game, against San Jose State, that Arkansas basketball fans got their first real taste of what he’s capable of doing for the Razorbacks. He scored 16 points, made 3 of 5 shots from beyond the arc and dished 5 assists in 24 minutes and Arkansas cruised to a 41-point blowout victory.
Granted, it wasn’t a big-name opponent, but the way the Razorbacks played and the fact they still had a few non-conference tune-up games to really gel took the excitement to new levels.
Then, in the very next game against UNC Greensboro, disaster struck. Making a move to the basket, Trevon Brazile — who was already creeping into the first round of mock drafts because of a strong start to the season — fell to the floor and grabbed his knee. It didn’t take long for the Razorbacks’ worst fears to be confirmed: He was out for the year with a torn ACL.
While you could argue the order of Arkansas’ best players, Brazile probably had the most irreplaceable skillset on the team because of his 6-foot-10 frame, 7-foot-2 wingspan, insane athleticism and 3-point touch.
Making matters worse, Smith re-injured his knee against Bradley and was promptly back on the shelf with “right knee management.” Speculation about whether he’d play again or just prepare for the NBA Draft ran rampant, but he ended up returning — after missing another 13 games.
Although the injury wasn’t season-ending, losing Smith for 19 total games, and Brazile for the year, severely impacted the Razorbacks’ season. Instead of being a top-10 team, they barely finished in the top 10 of the SEC and are still trying to gel ahead of the postseason.
Musselman hasn’t been shy about how much the injuries changed things for Arkansas this year and even referenced it when asked about Kentucky being without its two primary point guards when it beat the Razorbacks in the regular-season finale.
“Well, we’re certainly not going to feel sorry for anybody that has had any injuries,” Musselman quipped. “I can tell you that flat out.”
Even with an 8-10 conference record, Arkansas is still expected to make the NCAA Tournament and could potentially do damage in the dance, but the three-game skid to end the regular season didn’t instill much confidence that a run is on the horizon.
If it doesn’t happen, this season will be remembered as one of the bigger disappointments in recent Arkansas basketball history — largely because of the injuries to Smith and Brazile.
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