Absurdly High Exit Velocity Stat + More from Grambling Trouncing

Hudson Polk, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Grambling
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — All it took for Arkansas to find its power was playing a midweek game against Grambling.

The Razorbacks hit three home runs, including a pair of grand slams, en route to a 21-1 seven-inning blowout win over Grambling at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Those long balls were part of a 20-hit onslaught that included nine extra-base hits. It was their most hits in almost exactly six years — when they did it against Dayton on Feb. 28, 2018 — but more importantly, it was more hits than they had in a total of 31 innings over the weekend in Arlington.

As a team, Arkansas hit a paltry .174 and scored 10 total runs across those three games, leaving head coach Dave Van Horn extremely frustrated with his offense. He was much happier following Tuesday’s game, even if it was against a one-win team from the SWAC.

“Obviously it’s not the pitching we’ve been seeing, but you still have to hit it and you have to hit it hard,” Van Horn said. “Our guys just came out with a little bit of an attitude it looked like to me. We hit a lot of balls hard, super hard. We were patient. … I felt like we would have won today no matter who we played.”

The veteran coach wasn’t exaggerating. Grambling’s pitchers rarely touched 90 mph and one reliever, Brett Washington, threw several pitches under 60 mph – including a 57 mph curveball. Despite being a significant difference in velocity they’re used to seeing, 12 of the Razorbacks’ 20 hits had exit velocities of at least 100 mph, by Best of Arkansas Sports’ count.

The three home runs are included in that total, with Hudson Polk’s first-inning grand slam leading the way at 113 mph. Jayson Jones hit the other two and they had exit velocities of 110 and 108 mph. That ended the Razorbacks’ five-game home run drought, which was their longest since 2014.

“I’m all about hitting doubles,” Van Horn said. “I love doubles. We had a hustle double or two and some legit doubles. But it’s nice to hit the ball over the fence every now and then.”

Arkansas wasted no time getting to Grambling, either. The first six batters reached base, albeit with the help of three walks and an error. The error came on a double play ball and, instead of getting two outs, the Tigers loaded the bases for Polk’s first at bat of the season. He crushed the first strike he saw 421 feet to center.

Even after the next two guys flied out, the Razorbacks did some more damage with Will Edmunson notching an RBI single to make it 7-0. After a scoreless second inning, they tacked on five more in the third, two in the fourth, six in the fifth and one in the sixth, easily scoring enough to invoke the seven-inning mercy rule.

Dandy Debut for Dossett

As if this past weekend wasn’t enough evidence, the Razorbacks further proved they have an incredibly deep pitching staff Tuesday afternoon when they trotted out a pitcher for the first time this season and he struck out the side.

The pitcher in question was right-hander Cooper Dossett, who became the 14th different player to get on the mound this year when he entered in the fourth inning.

Even though he struck out all three batters he faced, Grambling did make him work for it. He threw 17 total pitches, with 10 being strikes. That includes a 96 mph fastball that he blew by Cameron Bufford, the preseason SWAC Player of the Year, for one of those strikeouts.

“Velocity is great, but you’ve got to locate it and he located some really well,” Van Horn said. “I thought he threw his cutter, which is really nasty, he threw it great to the left-handed hitters. To the righties, he was pulling a little too far over and it was ending up in the other batter’s box. I thought his stuff was really good.”

Van Horn admitted he had hoped to get Dossett on the mound in Arlington, but a situation never arose because of how close the three games were. He didn’t want to throw the sophomore into a tough situation for his first outing of the year.

There’s a chance Dossett gets on the mound again this weekend against Murray State. If he can build on this outing against a better team, it could give Arkansas yet another weapon out of an already loaded bullpen.

“We have a great pitching staff,” Dossett said. “You could argue that it’s the best in the country. I just want to do my job every time I go out there. It’s definitely a competitive pitching staff. All of us know that and we all just want to go out there and just do the best we can.”

It would also be a big development for Dossett, a Springdale Har-Ber product who was actually the highest-ranked pitcher in Arkansas’ 2022 class that made it to campus last season.

Despite being the No. 156 overall prospect in his class, according to Perfect Game, he pitched only 1 2/3 innings in two appearances as a freshman. It wasn’t a certainty that he’d be back this year, but he earned a roster spot with a solid summer and fall.

“You definitely got to have a chip on your shoulder,” Dossett said. “I really wanted it and worked hard for it. I think coming back and just working hard, believing in myself and staying at it (paid off).”

Battle in Left Field

Following the weekend in Arlington, Dave Van Horn told reporters that about 50% of the starting positions are still up for grabs. One of those is left field.

That spot actually has three players vying for the job and all three got action Tuesday night, with Jayson Jones starting in left, Will Edmunson starting in center and Ross Lovich coming off the bench midway through the game and playing in right.

Those three went a combined 7 for 12 with nine RBIs and played clean defense, so no one really separated himself.

“It was great,” Van Horn said. “Make it harder on me every day, I’m good with it. That position needs to be a position that helps with the offense a lot. We’re going to have injuries, we’re going to have sickness. … We need those guys. We need those guys to hit.”

Edmunson, the JUCO transfer, hit leadoff for the second straight game and went 2 for 4 with a double and two walks. One of his outs was a double play, but Van Horn sounded okay with it because he hit it hard and it required a nice defensive play.

Lovich, the Missouri transfer, pinch hit for Kendall Diggs in the fourth inning and went 3 for 3 with two RBIs. The first of those hits was a first-pitch single back up the middle to drive in a run. His next two each came with two strikes — a 100 mph rope to right and an opposite-field poke to left.

Perhaps the most exciting of the trio was Jones, the heralded sophomore who has always possessed incredible power, but has struggled with consistency. He went 2 for 5 with two home runs and six RBIs.

Jones’ first at bat was a fly out caught just in front of the track in right, hit into a strong wind, but then he used the weather to his advantage I his second and fourth at bats, crushing pitches into the Hog Pen for a two-run homer and grand slam, respectively.

“I would say that’s the toughest thing for a righty, definitely to look at, ‘Oh, the wind is blowing out, let’s hit some pull-side nukes,’” Jones said. “I feel like a lot of hitters get in trouble when they start to look at wind and stuff like that. Just let it come, it’ll happen. Just trust your approach, trust your swing.”

Potential New DH?

When they haven’t been behind the plate, Dave Van Horn hasn’t been afraid to start either Hudson White or Ryder Helfrick as his designated hitter. Having a veteran like Parker Rowland gives him that luxury, as he can do it without worrying about losing his DH if a catcher gets hurt.

The guy lost in the shuffle has been Hudson Polk. The former Oklahoma transfer is now in his second season at Arkansas after serving as Rowland’s backup much of last year.

He got his first action of the season and, after taking two balls, hammered the first strike he saw for the aforementioned 421-foot grand slam that left the bat with a 113 mph exit velocity.

“The one that Polk hit was just absolutely crushed into the breeze,” Van Horn said. “He knew it was going out of the park when he hit it. I thought it was, but that wind didn’t slow it down a whole lot.”

That proved to be his only hit of the game, as he finished 1 for 4, but he also walked and struck out only once.

It was similar to the preseason he had for the Razorbacks. According to unofficial stats compiled by the media, Polk hit .304 in fall and spring scrimmages and had the second-highest OPS on the team (1.063) because half of his hits went for extra bases.

Despite the lack of playing time early, Van Horn said Polk could be an option at designated hitter moving forward – especially if the rest of the lineup hits like it did in Arlington over the weekend.

“I talked with him yesterday in the morning,” Van Horn said. “We talked about catching and hitting and playing and what he brings to our lineup. I told him we need some of that. Right now, anyway, we need some power. Sure enough, right on cue, he homers his first at-bat. It was beautiful.”

Peyton Stovall Injury Update

Another player who could help Arkansas’ lineup is Peyton Stovall, who was projected to be the starting second baseman and leadoff hitter before breaking his foot in an intrasquad scrimmage on Feb. 5.

The injury originally came with a recovery timeline of 4-6 weeks and Van Horn told reporters he thinks it’ll be about five. That’d put him back for the Oral Roberts midweek game on March 12, which is just before the SEC-opening series against Missouri.

“As soon as he gets cleared to where he can start seeing live pitching, we’ll have some of our guys throw to him,” Van Horn said. “Plus he’s standing in on guys getting loose in their bullpen. We’re just putting a screen in front of him. … He wants to play. He’s already told me, ‘When I get back in the lineup, I’m never coming out.’ So I hope that’s the case.”

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks’ 12-game home stand continues with a three-game series against Murray State beginning Friday. First pitch of Game 1 is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT and all three games will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.

With an 8-1 win over North Alabama on Tuesday, the Racers improved to 6-2. They last visited Baum-Walker Stadium in 2021, when Arkansas swept a three-game series. Arkansas leads the all-time series 5-0.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • Arkansas is now 31-0 all-time against teams from the SWAC, including an 11-0 mark against Grambling.
  • Six different pitchers combined for 11 strikeouts in seven innings for the Razorbacks, bringing their season total to 113 in 73 1/3 innings. That is an average of 13.9 per nine innings. The pitching staff also lowered its season ERA to 2.70 and opponents are now hitting just .187 against them.
  • Despite throwing 39 pitches in the 14-inning loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday, freshman left-hander Colin Fisher got the nod and threw a scoreless first inning before coming out because of a pitch count. “We just wanted to let him get in the rhythm of starting on Tuesday, like he was going to,” Van Horn said.
  • Sophomore left-hander Parker Coil was first out of the bullpen and the only pitcher to get more than one inning. He faced the minimum, but did erase the one single he allowed by inducing a double play. His extended work was likely due to him missing the weekend because of a sickness.
  • One guy who didn’t get in the game Tuesday night was sophomore infielder Reese Robinett, who has yet to play at all this year. Van Horn told reporters the tentative plan is to redshirt him after he got 25 at bats in 14 games as a true freshman, including a memorable extra-inning home run against LSU. “I don’t want to just play him a little bit,” Van Horn said. “We’re just going to keep working him and we think he’s going to play here, we just want to make sure that we’re fair all the way around there.”
  • After making four errors across the last two games, third baseman Jared Sprague-Lott made both of his plays Tuesday. In fact, both of them were starting a 5-4-3 double play. “Baseball, you just keep working, man,” Van Horn said. “If you have a bad weekend with the glove or the bat, good thing about it, you usually don’t have to wait a week to go out there and do it again.”
  • Here are the metrics — distance, launch angle and exit velocity — for Arkansas’ three home runs in the game:
    • Hudson Polk: 421 feet, 21.9 degrees, 113 mph
    • Jayson Jones (1): 400 feet, 17.9 degrees, 110 mph
    • Jayson Jones (2): 425 feet, 24.3 degrees, 108 mph

Arkansas vs Grambling Highlights

Postgame Interviews

Arkansas vs Grambling Box Score

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