Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Freshman pitchers impress in late innings
Arkansas reliever Gabriel Starks delivers to the plate Wednesday, April 7, 2021, during the eighth inning of the Razorbacks' 10-3 win over UALR at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Freshman right hander Heston Tole became the 21st Arkansas pitcher to see game action this season on Wednesday.
Tole's six-pitch ninth inning closed the No. 2 Razorbacks' 10-3 victory over Arkansas-Little Rock. Arkansas swept the two-game series at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Tole and fellow freshman right hander Gabe Starks each pitched one scoreless inning in relief, providing Arkansas fans a glimpse of pitchers who could factor into the Razorbacks' future plans. Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn indicated that with each quality outing, the pitchers could earn future innings.
"The more these guys pitch and the more they show us what they can do and we begin to trust them more, and the players playing defense behind them trust them more, it makes it easier to go get a young guy like that who’s got good stuff," Van Horn said.
Starks displayed a good mid-90s fastball that touched 97 mph, and a low 80s changeup during his 20-pitch eighth inning. He allowed a two-out single by Kenny Rodriguez, but worked around him by striking out Kobe Barnum.
It was Starks' second solid outing in a little more than a week. He struck out two Central Arkansas batters during a perfect ninth inning eight days earlier.
"I do have a lot more confidence in Gabe after what I’ve seen the last couple of outings," Van Horn said.
Van Horn said he thought about sending Starks back to pitch the ninth inning, but he and pitching coach Matt Hobbs wanted to get a look at Tole. Hobbs mentioned Tole on Tuesday when asked which pitchers had stood out recently in practice.
"He's been really good in the work that we've done with him...bullpens and live sets and all that stuff," Hobbs said. "It's been very, very good. He's thrown better than kind of what I was expecting after the fall. He's really made a jump.
"He's a guy that we have talked about internally that we would like to get out there if it makes sense — if it makes sense in a game, if it makes sense for the season, if it makes sense for his long term."
Van Horn said he was impressed with Tole's inning. Tole got a pair of fly outs to quickly retire two batters, then struck out Will Spears in three pitches to end the game.
"He’s got a really good slider, throwing the ball about 92 mph and really glad to see him come in there throwing strikes like he does, because that’s what we thought he would do," Van Horn said. "He’s going to be getting a lot more work as the season goes on."
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