Cronin nearing saves record with many games to go

By: Matt Jones
Published: Saturday, April 14, 2018
Arkansas pitcher Matt Cronin throws during a game against South Carolina on Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas pitcher Matt Cronin throws during a game against South Carolina on Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Fayetteville.

— On a frigid day at Baum Stadium, Arkansas closer Matt Cronin brought the heat.

Cronin lit up the radar gun with his his 95 mph fastball and recorded saves in both of the Razorbacks' wins over South Carolina. Cronin recorded three outs in a 2-0 win over the Gamecocks in Game 1 and six outs in a 3-0 win in Game 2. Both games were seven innings.

Cronin allowed 1 hit and struck out 2 in his 3 innings combined. He threw a total of 45 pitches.

"That was a great job by him," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "You're always nervous as a coach bringing somebody back a second time.

"It was three hours later, but he kept himself loose and ready to go. The sign would be if he wasn't throwing strikes and we would have come in and got him, but he kept pounding the strike zone. (The second game) looked like his first game of the day."

The final scores might suggest otherwise, but pitching was difficult Saturday. The temperature never was above 40 degrees and 25 mph wind gusts dropped the wind chill below freezing for most of the afternoon.

Cronin, who threw 13 pitches in the first game, said he wore multiple layers and kept himself loose during the second game by doing squats and "air throws" in the tunnel between innings.

"I'll throw a 10, 15-pitch bullpen, kind of light before the game sometimes, so I kind of looked at (Game 1) as a more intense version of that," Cronin said. "I felt great the second game, too."

Cronin improved his season total to nine saves, moving to within four of Colby Suggs' school record of 13 saves set in 2013. He has saves in four of the Razorbacks' last seven games and is tied with Florida's Michael Byrne for the SEC lead.

He is perfect in save opportunities and has a 2.05 ERA in 15 appearances. He is moving into the conversation as one of Arkansas' best closers during the Van Horn era, which has included the likes of Suggs, Jay Sawatski, Barrett Astin and Zach Jackson.

"It's nice having a guy on the back end like Matt," said Isaiah Campbell, who earned the Game 2 win with five scoreless innings. "You know when he comes in there he's going to throw strikes and compete.

"It's incredible to have nine (saves) through this many games because we still have a lot of games left. We still have half the SEC season left, so he's on pace to break the record. Knowing him and how much confidence he has in himself, I can see him doing it."

Cronin has been especially dominant in his past four outings, including three this week. Beginning with last Friday's 2 2/3-inning save against Auburn, Cronin had retired 19 consecutive batters before South Carolina's Justin Row singled to left field with one out to go in Saturday's finale.

He also worked around a base runner in Game 1 after starter Kacey Murphy gave up a leadoff single in the seventh.

"He just hasn't allowed people to get on and when we've brought him in with runners on, he seems to get out of the jam," Van Horn said. "When we've let him start an inning, it seems like not many runners get on against him. He attacks you."

Cronin recently added a breaking ball to his pitch arsenal that includes the electric fastball and a curveball. He went to the breaking ball multiple times during his save in Game 1 on Saturday.

"Now we're starting to use his breaking ball a little bit more," Van Horn said. "We're showing it and we've actually tried to finish a couple of hitters with it."

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