Razorbacks' Cronin aims to close out record

By: Bob Holt
Published: Thursday, April 19, 2018
Arkansas pitcher Matt Cronin throws during a game against Auburn on Friday, April 6, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas pitcher Matt Cronin throws during a game against Auburn on Friday, April 6, 2018, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Wes Johnson, Colby Suggs and Matt Cronin were walking down a hallway in Baum Stadium a week before this season opened when they passed a list of Arkansas Razorbacks' records posted on a wall.

One record in particular caught Cronin's attention, and the sophomore left-hander from Navarre, Fla., wasn't shy about expressing his thoughts.

"Matt saw that Colby has the most saves in a season and he goes, 'Hey, I'm coming after your record,'" said Johnson, the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville pitching coach. "I just laughed, and said, 'OK, yeah. Whatever, Matt.'"

No one is laughing now about Cronin's chances of surpassing the school-record 13 saves Suggs had in 2013.

Going into No. 3 Arkansas' series at Mississippi State this weekend, Cronin has nine saves with 17 regular-season games remaining and likely appearances in the SEC Tournament and at least an NCAA regional. He's tied for seventh on the Razorbacks' season saves list.

"It's nice having a guy on the back end like Matt," Arkansas sophomore starting pitcher Isaiah Campbell said. "You know he's going to throw strikes and compete.

"It's incredible he has nine saves and we still have a lot of games left. He's on pace to break the record. Knowing him and the confidence he has in himself, I can see him doing it."

Suggs, a volunteer coach for the Razorbacks while completing work on a communications degree, said he wasn't taken aback by Cronin's declaration about breaking the saves record.

"I wasn't offended at all," Suggs said. "That showed Matt has the confidence to get it done. Hopefully, he breaks the record this year and then breaks his own record next year. That'd be awesome."

Cronin, 6-2 and 190 pounds, throws a fastball that has topped out at 96 miles per hour and an improved slider to go with that confidence.

"Matt's got a special fastball, and he's able to locate it and move it around," Johnson said. "Then he's able to spin that breaking ball."

Cronin showed potential last season when he was 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA, 31 strikeouts and 12 walks, but he pitched just 18 innings with 1 save.

The Razorbacks didn't have an established closer as their 14 saves were divided among seven pitchers, with Jake Reindl having a team-high three.

"That's the position I wanted last year," Cronin said. "I didn't quite get it. I wasn't commanding my pitches as well as I needed to. That's the position I wanted again this year, and I finally secured it.

"I think it was more of a confidence thing. I have a lot more confidence in my fastball, and I'm just able to fill it up and throw a lot more strikes with it."

Cronin is 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA in 15 appearances. He has 32 strikeouts and 5 walks in 30⅔ innings while holding opponents to 13 hits and a .129 batting average.

"Matt has some serious stuff," said Suggs, a second-round pick by the Miami Marlins in 2013 who played three seasons professionally. "Left-hander with a fastball in the mid-90s with a breaking ball he can throw for a strike.

"That's tough for any level of competition."

Six of Cronin's saves are against SEC teams -- including two in both ends of a doubleheader against South Carolina on Saturday. He also has saves against Arizona, Texas and Grambling State.

"He's got the right mentality," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. "You can tell he doesn't seem like he's rattled at all no matter what the situation is. I think he's the best at doing it on this staff."

Cronin has pitched two or more innings in nine of his appearances, including 4 against San Diego State, 3 against Ole Miss, and 2⅔ against Southern California, Kentucky and Auburn. He pitched a combined three innings in his doubleheader saves against South Carolina.

"Matt has the mindset that he doesn't care what the situation is, if he's in the ballgame he's shutting it down for however long he needs to for us to get the win," Suggs said. "That's really impressive to see from a guy who may not have gotten as many innings as he would have liked as a freshman."

Arkansas senior second baseman Carson Shaddy is batting .364 with nine home runs, but said he's glad he doesn't have to try to reach base against Cronin.

"Matt is absolutely nasty," Shaddy said. "It's called a high spin rate fastball, and it's untouchable right now.

"When he's pumping 95, 96 and he gets that right mentality, he's unstoppable. He's really hungry for that [saves] record."

Johnson said he expected Cronin to be a strength for the back end of the bullpen, but he didn't know whether Cronin was ready to become a dominant closer.

"Matt's really embraced that role," Johnson said. "It's no secret around here he's grown up a lot in the last six or eight months. Last year he had a good stuff, but we had to get him acclimated to some different things."

Johnson said Cronin has become more organized with his academics so he's able to focus on pitching at practice instead of stressing about a class assignment to complete.

Cronin worked hard in the weight room to add strength to help him recover quicker after he pitches, Johnson said, and has developed into a better student of the game by extensively studying tapes of hitters as well as himself.

"The off-the-field stuff has been huge for Matt," Johnson said. "He's got all that in order now so he's having more success on the field."

Cronin hasn't allowed a run or a walk while holding opponents to 1 hit with 4 strikeouts over 8⅔ innings in his past four appearances -- all ending with saves.

"He just attacks you with a fastball that's both sides of the plate, up, in, down," Van Horn said. "He moves it around. He can locate it.

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

"He hasn't really allowed people to get on. When we've brought him in with runners on, he seems to get out of the jam. When we've let him start an inning, just seems like not too many guys get on base."

Cronin got the last three outs in the seven-inning opener of the South Carolina doubleheader when Kacey Murphy allowed a hit after retiring the first 18 batters he faced.

Murphy said he was disappointed to come out the game but felt good handing the ball to Cronin.

"He's got the highest ceiling for a guy I've seen in a while," Murphy said. "When you have a fastball like his -- and now you add a breaking ball -- there's not a lot of guys that stand a chance. I trust the guy with the world.

"He grew up a lot in the offseason. You can see it in how he carries himself that he doesn't second-guess himself at all. He knows he can do the job, and that's what we love about him."

Cronin didn't allow a run in his first 7⅓ innings this season while picking up victories against Bucknell and San Diego State, and a save against Arizona.

"Matt had a hot start right out of the gate," Suggs said. "He was just throwing pellets for strikes.

"He really wanted that closer role, and once he was given the opportunity, he just took it over and didn't give anybody else even a sniff at it."

Sports on 04/19/2018

ARKANSAS SINGLE-SEASON SAVES LEADERS

Razorbacks sophomore Matt Cronin is tied for seventh on the team’s single-season list for saves with nine:

rank;player;saves;season

1;Colby Suggs;13;2013

tie 2;Tim Deitz;12;1983

tie 2;Phillip Stidham;12;1989

tie 4;Phillip Stidham;11;1990

tie 4;Barrett Astin;11;2012

6;Phillip Stidham;10;1991

tie 7;Matt Cronin;9;2018

tie 7;Jason Stephens;9;1996

tie 7;Devin Collis;9;2006;

tie 7;Stephen Richards;9;2009

tie 7;Zach Jackson;9;2015

Matt Cronin at a glance

SCHOOL Arkansas

POSITION Relief pitcher

CLASS Sophomore

HEIGHT/WEIGHT 6-2, 190 pounds

THROWS Left-handed

HOMETOWN Navarre, Fla.

NOTEWORTHY Has a 2-0 record with 9 saves and a 2.05 ERA in 30⅔ innings. … Has 32 strikeouts with 5 walks. … Holding opponents to a .129 batting average. … Recorded saves in both ends of a doubleheader Saturday when Arkansas beat South Carolina 2-0 and 3-0. … Was 2-0 with 1 save and a 2.00 ERA in 18 innings as a freshman.

Up next

NO. 3 ARKANSAS AT MISSISSIPPI STATE

WHEN 6:30 p.m. Central, Friday

WHERE Dudy Noble Field, Starkville, Miss.

RECORDS Arkansas 28-10, 10-5 SEC Miss. State 19-18, 5-10

RADIO Razorback Sports Network. Not all games will be carried by all affiliates. Check local listings.

TV None

INTERNET SEC Network-Plus

THE WEEK AHEAD

THURSDAY Off

FRIDAY at Miss. State*, 6:30 p.m.

SATURDAY at Miss. State*, 6 p.m.

SUNDAY at Miss. State*, 1 p.m.

MONDAY Off

TUESDAY Texas Tech, 6:30 p.m.

WEDNESDAY Texas Tech, 6 p.m. *SEC game

Discussion

Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.