Tom Murphy is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. He was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Time off is crucial as pitchers, hitters endure slumps
Arkansas' Blaine Knight sends in a pitch against Ole Miss Thursday April 27, 2017 at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- The No. 15 Arkansas Razorbacks' current five-day break between games comes at a crucial time, Coach Dave Van Horn said Monday.
The Razorbacks' longest stretch between games this season comes on a stretch of nine games in 11 days, capped by last Friday's split doubleheader with Ole Miss at Baum Stadium. Arkansas had a 5-4 record in that span, its worst such run of the season.
Arkansas at Tennessee
WHEN 6 p.m. Central, Thursday
WHERE Lindsey Nelson Stadium
RECORDS Arkansas 34-12, 13-8; Tennessee 22-18, 6-14
PITCHING MATCHUP Arkansas RHP Blaine Knight (6-3, 3.48 ERA); Tennessee Hunter Martin (4-5, 3.07)
SERIES Arkansas leads 32-26 overall, trails 15-13 in Knoxville, Tenn.
RADIO Razorback Sports Network. Not all games will be carried by affiliates. Check local listings.
TV SEC Network
SHORT HOPS Arkansas will play its final nine games, all against SEC teams, over a 17-day span after playing its previous nine games in 11 days. … Tennessee’s Hunter Martin pitched a complete-game four-hitter but lost 1-0 at Vanderbilt in his start last weekend. … The Volunteers, whose last game at Vanderbilt was rained out Sunday, host East Tennessee State tonight at 5 p.m. Central.
THE WEEK AHEAD
THURSDAY at Tennessee, 6 p.m.
FRIDAY at Tennesse, 5 p.m.
SATURDAY at Tennessee, noon
The team's final nine games of the regular season, all against SEC opponents, will take place in a much more leisurely span of 22 days, beginning Thursday at Tennessee.
"We definitely need it, and probably wanted it a little bit," Van Horn said after his monthly talk to the Swatter's Club.
"Those nine games, really didn't think about it during the time, we did travel a little bit there. Guys were definitely worn out, so this is good timing."
Major concerns about the pitching staff, after weekend starters Blaine Knight, Trevor Stephan and Josh Alberius combined to pitch 5 1/3 innings at Auburn were at least partially alleviated after the Razorbacks lost two of three against Ole Miss last weekend.
Knight, Stephan and Jake Reindl, the first pitcher out of the bullpen in the final game of the series, combined to throw 19 2/3 innings, allowing 20 hits and 9 earned runs, with 6 walks and 20 strikeouts.
The previous weekend against hot-hitting Auburn, the starters gave up 18 hits and 14 earned runs, with 5 walks and 5 strikeouts, during their brief stints.
"We gained a lot of experience over the last month but we also wore some guys down a little bit, having to use guys two or three times," Van Horn said. "Not only on the weekend, but having to pitch them on a Tuesday or Wednesday, because we played a lot of close games against some good competition.
"I just feel like now that it's slowed down a little bit, just through practice and rest they'll climb back and do a great job."
Van Horn told the gathering he felt that senior Josh Alberius, who started nine consecutive weekend series finales, is probably back in the role that best suits him now as a utility right-hander in the bullpen.
He said Kacey Murphy (4-0, 3.41 ERA), a sophomore left-hander who allowed three runs in a 1 2/3-inning start against Ole Miss on Friday, would probably remain in the rotation against Tennessee.
"I would say so, but it depends on how it goes," Van Horn said. "If we got into a slugfest and we needed him, you know, we would use him.
"We've told him that, 'Hey, here's your role. We plan on throwing you game 3 as a starter, but if we need you before that, make sure you bring your spikes every day.'"
Knight (6-3, 3.48), a sophomore right-hander, and Stephan (4-3, 3.54), a junior right-hander, are to start the first two against the Volunteers.
Van Horn said the heavy schedule probably contributed to a hitting and run-scoring slump.
After scoring eight or more runs eight times during an 11-game stretch from April 4 to April 18, the Razorbacks have not topped eight runs in the eight games since. Arkansas' torrid home run pace also slowed for a spell before Grant Koch and Chad Spanberger hit home runs in the Hogs' 7-4 sweep-averting victory over Ole Miss on Friday.
"I think it affects the hitters as much as anybody when you're playing and traveling, just because the legs get tired, and if you don't have your legs under you, it's really hard to hit," Van Horn said.
"Your hands may get a little bit tired from ... just everything. Obviously, the arms need the rest, but I think the offense's swings should be a little quicker. It doesn't mean you're going to go out and hammer the ball all over the field, but I think it gives us a better opportunity to."
Van Horn and the Razorbacks know the final nine-game stretch against Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M, which comes with Arkansas one game out of first place in the SEC, is critical.
"It doesn't always equate into we're going to win a bunch of games, but we are going to be fresh and have a little bit more bounce in our step," he said. "I've noticed that in our dugout the last few games that we've been a little bit more quiet. I really do believe it was because the energy level was down and some guys were fatigued."
Sports on 05/02/2017
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