Murphy saves best for final regular-season home start

By: Matt Jones
Published: Saturday, May 12, 2018
Arkansas pitcher Kacey Murphy walks off the mound while coach Dave Van Horn, left, looks on during a game against Texas A&M on Saturday, May 12, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas pitcher Kacey Murphy walks off the mound while coach Dave Van Horn, left, looks on during a game against Texas A&M on Saturday, May 12, 2018, in Fayetteville.

— The second-lowest earned run average in the Southeastern Conference belongs to Arkansas' second weekend starter.

Junior left-hander Kacey Murphy lowered his ERA to 2.32 with 7 1/3 scoreless innings Saturday in the Razorbacks' 3-1 win over Texas A&M. Murphy won for the sixth time in 11 starts.

Murphy was unable to speak after Saturday's game because he had lost his voice. Instead, he let his pitching do the speaking for him.

The career-long outing might have been the best yet for Murphy because he had to work through some trouble. He stranded the bases loaded in the first inning and stranded another runner at third base after a leadoff double in the fifth.

He struck out five, including the final batter he faced, Texas A&M No. 3 hitter Braden Shewmake, on an 88 mph fastball in his 111th pitch of the game in the eighth inning.

"That was huge," Arkansas catcher Grant Koch said. "I talked to him between innings to make sure he felt good and his stuff was the same. I think that's why he's been so good for us is because he's so consistent from the first to the eighth.

"That was good to see that he felt good and was able to execute that pitch."

Murphy left to a standing ovation from the crowd of 8,876. It was likely the final regular-season home game for the junior from Rogers Heritage, who is rated as the No. 415 prospect in next month's Major League Baseball draft by Baseball America.

Murphy wasn't overpowering, instead relying on good defense behind him, especially at critical times. Casey Martin forced out a runner at home plate in the first inning to keep the Aggies off the board and Dominic Fletcher made a perfect throw home from center to keep a runner from tagging from third base in the fifth.

"He hits spots," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of Murphy. "If you don't throw the ball in the middle of the plate, you've got a shot. If you're throwing it on the corners and you locate it well with a little deception, hitters sometimes will get themselves out and that's what Murphy relies on.

"He comes across as just that crafty left-handed veteran. There are some of those guys at the big league level that just pitch and look the same. The lefties are crafty. The ball gets away from the right handers and they can throw the breaker away from the lefties. He uses his changeup and really gets them guessing."

Murphy pitched into the eighth inning, but it wasn't so clear cut that he would make it deep into Saturday's contest. He had 58 pitches through three innings mostly because of shaky command. He hit a batter and walked a batter with one out in the first inning, and walked another to lead off the third.

He began to settle in with an 11-pitch fourth inning that was extended when second baseman Carson Shaddy committed a two-out error on a ground ball that took a late hop up his arm.

After Chandler Morris doubled to lead off the fifth, Murphy retired nine of the next 10 batters.

"The fifth and sixth, especially the sixth, he looked great," Van Horn said. "He looked like he was commanding everything. If the pitch count wouldn't have been so high we would have let him roll."

Murphy came back for the eighth inning to face the Aggies' No. 2 and 3 hitters. Cole Bradford singled to lead off the inning when a hard-hit grounder went off Murphy's glove. After Murphy struck out Shewmake, Barrett Loseke worked around the runner with a strikeout of clean-up hitter Hunter Coleman and a groundout from pinch-hitter Will Frizzell, who hit a home run Friday.

"We were trying to figure out if we wanted to bring him back out for the eighth, but he seemed like he was rolling to us," Van Horn said. "We wanted him to get those first two hitters. The first guy hits it back and off his glove might have been a base hit up the middle if he doesn't touch it. We wanted him to face Shewmake one more time. He struck him out. That was it. That was good."

Murphy out-dueled Texas A&M left-hander John Doxakis, who allowed three runs on five hits in 6 1/3 innings. Doxakis struck out seven.

"The story of the game was both pitchers did a great job," Van Horn said. "Murphy did a tremendous job for us."

It was the eighth time this season Murphy pitched at least six innings in a start. Only Friday starter Blaine Knight (9) has more starts of six innings or more for the Razorbacks.

"It seems like every time he goes he's going to get us deep into a game and give us all he's got," Koch said of Murphy. "I think you've seen throughout the year he always limits the damage. I think that keeps him in the game for a long time."

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