Bottom of lineup, bullpen get it done

By: Rick Harvey, Special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Published: Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Arkansas' Jacob Stone delivers a pitch Tuesday, April 15, 2014, during the game against Stephen F. Austin at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville. Stone relieved starting pitcher Alex Phillips.
Photo by Samantha Baker
Arkansas' Jacob Stone delivers a pitch Tuesday, April 15, 2014, during the game against Stephen F. Austin at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville. Stone relieved starting pitcher Alex Phillips.

FAYETTEVILLE - A balanced offensive attack complemented another strong performance by Arkansas’ bullpen Tuesday night.

All but one batter had a hit and the bullpen struck out 10 over six scoreless innings as the Razorbacks kicked off a nine-game home stand with a 7-2 victory over Stephen F. Austin in front of 2,036 at Baum Stadium.

The Razorbacks (23-15) finished with 12 hits, eight coming from the bottom five hitters in the batting order. Michael Bernal, the No. 9 hitter, led the way by going 3 for4 with 3 RBI.

“I thought we came out and swung the bats pretty well tonight,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “I feel like offensively up and down the lineup it’s starting to get a little bit better, a little more consistent. I know that we’re not facing SEC weekend pitching, but [Stephen F. Austin starter Halden Maynard] still had a good arm, a pretty good breaking ball. I thought we did a good job when pitches were in the zone that were hittable.

Dave Van Horn - Stephen F. Austin Postgame

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn recaps the Razorbacks' 7-2 win over Stephen F. Austin. (By Matt Jones)
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WHEN 6:35 p.m., Friday

WHERE Baum Stadium, Fayetteville

RECORDS Arkansas 23-15, 7-8 SEC. Vanderbilt 28-10, 7-8 SEC.

“It seems like to us, the staff, that we are getting better offensively.”

A more balanced offense takes the pressure off the top of the order, said clean-up hitter Brian Anderson, who was the only Razorback without a hit Tuesday night.

“Guys had hits all up and down the lineup today, and that’s a good sign,” Anderson said. “You’ve got guys in the bottom half of the order getting on base, driving in runs. Mike Bernal did a great job today in the nine hole, driving the ball off the wall. That was huge for us. That got us going.

“It’s definitely a good sign when you see those guys in the bottom half of the order fouling off pitches, seeing a lot of pitches, making the pitcher work harder for the top-of-the-lineup guys coming up.”

The Razorbacks went to their bullpen early after starter Alex Phillips gave up two second-inning runs, and relievers Jacob Stone, Colin Poche (3-0) and Michael Gunn shut down the Lumberjacks (15-21). Stone struck out 2 in 2 innings work, Poche struck out 4 in 3 innings, and Gunn struck out 4 over the final 2 innings.

“Phillips had a bit of trouble locating early,” Anderson said. “Then our bullpen - guys who haven’t thrown a lot, and guys who haven’t thrown a lot recently - those are weekend guys who got to throw today and they did a good job of pounding the zone and really just mixing stuff and keeping Stephen F. Austin off balance.

“Poche had only one or two mistake pitches today. He was really good today, and that’s good to see for us.”

Arkansas scored four runs in its first two at-bats off Maynard (0-2). The Razorbacks led 1-0 in the first on a single by Tyler Spoon and an RBI single by Blake Baxendale. The lead was pushed to three in the second inning when Eric Fisher and Bobby Wernes led off with back-to back singles and both scored on a double to the left-field wall from Bernal.

The Lumberjacks scored their only runs when they pulled to within 3-2 in the third, highlighted by a single from Ricardo Sanchez and an RBI double from Mackenzie Handel.

Singles from Bernal and Andrew Benintendi, along with an error by Stephen F. Austin, helped push the Razorbacks’ lead to 6-2 in the fifth.

Arkansas returns to SEC play this weekend when it opens a three-game series against Vanderbilt at 6:35 p.m. Friday.

Sports, Pages 21 on 04/16/2014