Hogs turn to pitching to sweep Bucknell

By: Clay Henry
Published: Sunday, February 18, 2018
Arkansas pitcher Keaton McKinney throws during a game against Bucknell on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Arkansas pitcher Keaton McKinney throws during a game against Bucknell on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018, in Fayetteville.

— After thumping Bucknell by a combined 46-6 in the first two games in the series, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn cautioned his team in warmups Sunday morning that the wind blowing in might mean tight situations.

Van Horn pegged it right. With Bucknell pitchers finally throwing strikes and the south wind at 25 mph making homers a tough feat, Arkansas needed pitching and defense to get the series sweep with a 3-1 victory Sunday before 4,872 at Baum Stadium.

Pitchers Keaton McKinney, Matt Cronin, Caleb Bolden, Jackson Rutledge and Jake Reindl held the Bison to just five hits to put the finishing touches on a perfect opening weekend for the No. 6 Razorbacks.

Bucknell had three of its best pitchers saved for Sunday and the free passes that led to the big innings for the Hogs in the first two games were gone. The Hogs got only nine hits to go with four walks, and only two hits went for extra bases. Bucknell pitchers had allowed 15 walks in each of the first two games.

Eric Cole led the Hogs with three hits and a walk, reaching base all four times. His solo homer in the seventh gave the UA bullpen a little cushion when the Hogs failed to score three straight innings after taking a 2-1 lead in the third.

Bucknell stayed in it with three double plays, including a big one to end the third when Grant Koch bounced out with the bases loaded.

The Hogs also turned two double plays, the biggest to end the second after Bucknell had taken a 1-0 lead. Left fielder Heston Kjerstad hauled in a fly near the line in left and gunned out Evan Klugerman at the plate.

Koch, the catcher, didn't have to leave home plate for the throw, from medium depth in left. It came in on the fly and he reached to his right, then swiped cleanly to his left to get Klugerman on his slide. Home plate umpire Bill McGuire gave an emphatic out call, but then raced off the field with the crew chief for a replay review.

There was a long delay for the review, apparently because the UA production crew was unprepared with enough angles of the tag.

“I knew I had tagged him,” Koch said. “I took all of my gear off (in the dugout).”

Van Horn said he got the explanation a couple of innings later.

“Our people weren't ready to go,” Van Horn said of the TV crew. “They only had one camera angle at first and it didn't look good. They finally found another angle and it was clear that the tag was made. We have to get our stuff together and be ready next time.”

On Kjerstad's play, Van Horn said the freshman played it perfectly.

“He ran around it and got behind it and caught it on the run, was right behind it,” he said. “It was a great throw. It was a big play. They were up 1-0, and we get the double play and then come in and tie it.”

The Hogs tied it with the bottom of the order. Koch singled, Jared Gates walked and Carson Shaddy singled. They took a 2-1 lead in the third when Dominic Fletcher singled, Cole walked and Luke Bonfield singled.

UA starter Keaton McKinney was pitching for the first time after Tommy John surgery last February. He gave up one run on just one hit while walking two. He threw 44 pitches, but felt tightness in the second inning. Van Horn had only planned for McKinney to throw 45 to 50 pitches anyway.

“It felt good to get out there,” McKinney said. “My arm got tight in the second and that's just part of the process with Tommy John.

“I was guiding my fast ball for whatever reason. That's why I went with my changeup a lot. I've got to go back to work.”

Van Horn didn't like his 50-50 ratio on balls and strikes, a dead even 22 and 22.

“I'd like to have seen more strikes,” he said. “He went 3-0 to the first hitter and battled back. I saw too much of that. He was not locating his changeup. His fastball was 88 to 90 (mph), but he's been throwing better than that. I'd just like to see better command.”

It was enough of an off start that Van Horn wouldn't commit for McKinney to start next weekend in San Diego. Kacey Murphy will get the nod Wednesday against Arizona. Blaine Knight and Isaiah Campbell would get the Friday-Saturday starts with Sunday to be determined.

The bullpen was sharp for the Hogs on Sunday. Cronin (1-0) got the win by pitching the third. Freshmen Bonnin and Rutledge added three innings and two, respectively, before Reindl got the save by pitching the ninth. All four allowed one hit each.

There was some wow about each of the relievers, especially Rutledge. The 6-8, 260-pound freshman turns the radar gun numbers red on the scoreboard with almost every fast ball. He was 94, 95, 97 and 97 mph on his first four pitches, but all were called balls.

“There were a couple there that he didn't get that might have been strikes,” Van Horn said. “He was really good and got it in the zone after that. He was quick to the plate, too. He was only supposed to go one, but he was going good so we gave him another (inning).

“We could extend him or use him as a closer. Today for our first tight game, we wanted to close with the more experienced guy in Reindl.”

Cole's homer was a welcome sight in the seventh.

“We needed that,” Van Horn said. “I honestly thought the left fielder was going to catch it, but it had that left-hand slice and it cut through the wind. That was big, a two-run lead compared to one. It was a big swing for us.”

As it was, Van Horn wasn't entirely disappointed that it was a tight game. After two blowouts, the team needed just that type of game before the California trip.

“It was a lot crisper game,” Van Horn said. “The wind today made it different. They hit one today that probably would have gotten out on the other days this weekend. We hit two like that. That's the beauty of baseball. The weather plays an important part.

“They stayed in the game with the double plays. We didn't come through with the big hit and this was probably good for us to be in a game like this. It was a great weekend for our team.”

By that, Van Horn meant that not only did the Hogs win three, everyone played.

“We used all 17 of our position guys and we pitched almost everyone,” he said, noting Murphy was saved for the Wednesday start.

“We think he's ready to go. We've brought him along slowly. He had a little bit of a back injury in the fall. We've gone slow with him but he's ready. We've given him as much time as possible.

“We want to just pick up where we left off today, swinging the bats and throwing strikes. We probably are not as far along as the teams we are facing (in California), but we are as talented or more talented than they are. ”

Koch agreed that the close game was needed.

"You aren't going to score 30 every time, so it's good to be in a tight game where you have to battle and compete in a tight situation," Koch said.

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