Razorback Baseball Notebook:

Hogs fashion new kind of home run crown

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Saturday, February 17, 2018
Arkansas designated hitter Luke Bonfield (center) wears a Hog hat after hitting a three-run home run against Bucknell Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, during the first inning at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas designated hitter Luke Bonfield (center) wears a Hog hat after hitting a three-run home run against Bucknell Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, during the first inning at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks came up with a fun way to celebrate home runs on the eve of their season opener this week, giving the home run hitter a Hog hat to wear in the dugout.

The plastic Hog got a workout on Saturday as the Razorbacks cranked six home runs, including a trio of three-run shots by Luke Bonfield, Dominic Fletcher and Casey Martin in their 32-4 thrashing of Bucknell at Baum Stadium.

Senior second baseman Carson Shaddy, the first to don the Hog hat after his three-run homer in Friday's 14-2 victory, said the idea was born just before the opener.

"I think it was Eric Cole and Zach Barr," Shaddy said, referencing the Razorbacks outfielder Cole and Barr, the team's director of video and scouting. "I think we came up with it probably at 8 o'clock on Thursday night."

Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said the players ran the idea by him and he gave it his blessing.

"You know this game can be such a frustrating game and there's a lot of failure, so you need to try to do some things to make it fun," Van Horn said. "I think it's kind of a college thing. I think they're even doing something in football. Maybe not necessarily here, but other programs.

"I don't think they're trying to show anybody up. They wait until he touches the plate and starts heading to our dugout before they put it on his head I guess. I'm fine with it."

Fletcher got the shortest stint with the hat on Saturday. Catcher Grant Koch launched a first-pitch no-doubt shot to left field one out after Fletcher's shot over the right-field wall in the Hogs' six-run second inning. Koch had to give up the Hog a couple of minutes later in the same inning, when Shaddy delivered his big blow over the right-field wall.

Hot start

A handful of Razorbacks are off to big starts at the plate, including freshman Heston Kjerstad, who is 5 of 6 with five runs scored, and Carson Shaddy, who is 3 of 4 with a pair of home runs and has reached base in 7 of 8 plate appearances.

"He's done a great job of taking what they give him," Coach Dave Van Horn said. "Taking that two-strike, full-count walk yesterday I think really started it. Then he hit a home run on his next at-bat. Today kind of the same thing, taking pitches and not going out of the zone and squaring up some balls. It's been really good to see."

On tap

Coach Dave Van Horn said junior right-hander Keaton McKinney would likely throw between 50 and 60 pitches today in his season debut.

After McKinney, the Razorbacks have a plan.

"[Jake] Reindl will definitely pitch tomorrow, maybe an inning," Van Horn said.

He also expects to pitch 6-8 right-hander Jackson Rutledge and others.

"We're trying to space guys out, get them a little work, but also have them available because we'll need a couple of these guys on Wednesday," Van Horn said, referencing the Hogs' stand-alone game against Arizona in San Diego prior to the Tony Gwynn Legacy tournament over the weekend on the West Coast.

Stand out

Asked who stood out to him on Saturday, Dave Van Horn remarked, "I mean, just look at the linescore, there was a lot of guys."

After glancing at the box score, Van Horn said, "Casey Martin stood out. He got four hits and played three different positions and showed you how fast he was, stole a base.

"[Heston] Kerstad continued to hammer the ball. Those are a couple of freshmen. It was good to see [Dominic] Fletcher kind of snap out of it and pop a couple of balls."

On Knight

Blaine Knight, who worked five hitless innings in the opener, gigged himself for his first-inning control, when he threw 18 pitches, including a nine-pitch walk by John Paul Bell in the two hole.

"In the first inning I struggled with breaking balls," Knight said. "I threw one that went 20-something feet I think. I adjusted, so overall it was pretty good."

Knight needed 35 pitches to record his first five outs, then 32 to get through the next 10 batters.

"I think he's just really grown up as a pitcher," Coach Dave Van Horn said. "He wasn't trying to be overpowering. He just pitched. It seemed like maybe the second and third inning he started working his curveball and his change-up a little bit better."

Van Horn said some of the Hogs' lengthy half innings of offense probably cost Knight an inning.

"He had three different innings where there was 20 minutes between coming off the field and then getting back out there," he said. "If it wasn't for that we'd have sent him back out for the sixth. He had about 15 to 20 more pitches he could have thrown."

Knight was one of five SEC starters to throw five-plus scoreless innings on opening day, joining Florida's Brady Singer (7 innings), Auburn's Casey Mize (6), Texas A&M's Stephen Kolek (5 2/3) and Ole Miss' Ryan Rolison (5).

Working Van Hoose

The Razorbacks knocked Bucknell ace Connor Van Hoose out in the second inning on Friday, with the right-hander allowed six hits and seven earned runs on 61 pitches.

"I thought we did a great job of laying off a lot of marginal pitches early in the count," Van Horn said. "We got his pitch count up, fouled off a lot of pitches, just got a couple of big two-out hits, a couple of big two-out walks to be honest with you. There was some 3-2 counts, bases loaded, borderline pitches that were low."

Van Hoose had a 2.28 ERA in 2016 and is the Patriot League preseason pitcher of the year.

"We just didn't chase a lot of pitches," Van Horn said. "Very unusual for him to walk people. If you look at his numbers from last year, he didn't walk very many. Tonight he did. Obviously you throw 40 pitches in one inning you're not going to be around long."

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