State of the Hogs: Razorbacks get needed break

By: Clay Henry
Published: Friday, April 28, 2017
Arkansas catcher Grant Koch walks toward the plate prior to a game against Ole Miss on Friday, April 28, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas catcher Grant Koch walks toward the plate prior to a game against Ole Miss on Friday, April 28, 2017, in Fayetteville.

— The comments were the same all around Baum Stadium the last 48 hours: The Arkansas baseball team looked lethargic.

I downplayed that thought. I've seen good pitching make a team look tired before. I credited the Ole Miss hurlers for slowing down the Razorbacks. That's why I thought the sluggishness was all about. You don't get a hit, it makes you look like there is lack of energy in the trot back to the dugout.

OK, I stand corrected. Dave Van Horn was firm that the Hogs were running on empty as they gutted out the finale of the three-game series with a 7-4 victory, rallying from a 3-0 deficit.

With no midweek games scheduled, the veteran UA head coach said he was “locking” his team out of Baum Stadium until 1 p.m. Tuesday.

“I don't want to see them,” Van Horn said. “I think we are tired, just out of gas. I think everyone has seen that.”

I guess I was the only one trying to think of another reason the Hogs had lost four of their last five SEC games ahead of the win in the second game of Friday's doubleheader.

Van Horn said he knows catcher Grant Koch was feeling the effects of catching almost every game over the last two months with backup catcher Alex Gosser fighting an arm injury.

“Gosser can hit, but he really can't throw to much,” Van Horn said. “We've kidded Koch about catching every game.”

The story was that California had a catcher go 56 straight games a couple of seasons back. Could Koch do that?

Van Horn admitted Koch was struggling at the plate over the last three weeks when his average slipped about 40 points, finally under .300. He dropped Koch to the seventh spot in the batting order in the first game Friday in hopes of “relaxing” his catcher.

It may have worked. Koch homered twice in the doubleheader - once in each game. His two-run homer in the third inning started the Hogs back from the 3-0 deficit in the second game. He also cranked an RBI double in the fifth to give Arkansas its first lead of the series.

The Hogs pulled away with three two-out runs in the eighth. Jax Biggers broke the tie with a sharply hit single. Eric Cole followed with a two-run single.

Koch did admit that some rest would be good, but he seemed horrified in the interview room when told that Van Horn wanted to “get Grant a massage” sometime this week.

“I don't want a massage unless it's from the trainer,” Koch said. “Who's going to give it? I don't think so.”

Players laughed about Van Horn's plans to lock them out of the facilities.

“I don't think he's going to keep us out,” said freshman Evan Lee, who recorded his first save by retiring three Ole Miss batters after inheriting two on in the ninth.

Lee, the designated hitter, had missed a chance to break the tie in the eighth. He was glad to get the call when Van Horn lifted Jake Reindl after a walk and Cannon Chadwick after a hit batsman to start the ninth.

Lee actually opened the bullpen gate when Van Horn reached the mound ahead of the signal to umpires for a pitching change.

“I was excited,” Lee said. “I knew I was coming in, but I didn't realize he hadn't made the signal. I was hoping no one saw me do that. When he did signal, I was ready to roll.”

Van Horn said the instructions to Lee were simple.

“We had two runners on, but I told him those two didn't matter,” Van Horn said. “I said, 'Just throw strikes.' That's what we wanted to see. That's what I was talking to Coach (Wes) Johnson in the dugout. Who can throw strikes? He said, 'Evan Lee is your guy.' So that's who I wanted. He's a winner and I knew he was probably mad that he didn't get the hit in the eighth.”

The Hogs had another pitching hero. Jake Reindl gave them 6 1/3 innings of relief after starter Kacey Murphy gave up three runs and didn't make it out of the second inning in his first SEC start. Reindl threw a career-high 93 pitches.

“I've been end of game, late relief, so this was different,” Reindl said. “I did throw 139 pitches against Gravette in high school.”

Reindl may slide into a starting role. Van Horn said the fact the Hogs don't have any more midweek games will help the staff.

“This gives us a chance to rework things with our pitching,” he said. “I think Jake may get one of the starting spots on the weekend.”

But first, there will be some rest.

“I know the coaches need some rest,” Van Horn said. “And if we are tired, so are the players.”

OK, I give. It's time for a break.

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