Razorback report: Hogs have plan for Smith

By: Matt Jones Matt Jones's Twitter account
Published: Thursday, May 19, 2022
Arkansas pitcher Hagen Smith is shown during a game against LSU on Friday, April 15, 2022, in Fayetteville.
( Hank Layton, NWA Democrat-Gazette )
Arkansas pitcher Hagen Smith is shown during a game against LSU on Friday, April 15, 2022, in Fayetteville.

Arkansas plans to start left hander Hagen Smith at the SEC Tournament next week in Hoover, Ala.

Smith, a freshman, was held out of the starting rotation during this week’s series at Alabama. He will be available to pitch once as a reliever during the series, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said on the Razorbacks' pregame radio show Thursday, prior to Arkansas' 7-3 victory over the Crimson Tide.

“We just felt like this would be a good time to let the 18-year-old have a little time away from starting,” Van Horn said. “We’ll give him a little extra rest, but still let him get his work in this weekend. The perfect scenario is maybe we have somebody go six innings and he can pitch the seventh, eighth and ninth, and we can win the game. That’s a good rest, but also some experience and he’d be ready to pitch next week.” 

Smith (6-2, 4.34 ERA) has pitched 64 1/3 innings this season, but most of his shortest outings have come in the past month. He pitched 3 innings at Texas A&M on April 23, 6 innings against Ole Miss on April 30, 4 innings at Auburn on May 7, and 2 2/3 innings against Vanderbilt last Saturday. 

The 2 2/3-inning start was Smith’s second-shortest outing this year. 

SEC West race

Arkansas and Texas A&M are tied for the SEC West lead with two games remaining. 

The 11th-ranked Aggies won 10-5 at Ole Miss on Thursday in that series opener. Texas A&M (34-16, 18-10) has won four consecutive SEC games. 

Thursday’s wins by Arkansas and Texas A&M eliminated LSU from contention in the SEC West race. 

Auburn, which had its series opener at Kentucky postponed until Friday, would be eliminated if the Razorbacks or the Aggies win one more game this week. 

Arkansas or Texas A&M could clinch a share of the division Friday with a victory, coupled with a loss by the other team. The Aggies hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Razorbacks by virtue of their 2-1 series win in College Station, Texas, in late April. 

That result is only relevant to the seedings in Hoover, however, and Arkansas would be recognized as a division champion if it finishes tied for first place.

The Razorbacks and the Aggies clinched a first-round bye at the SEC Tournament with Thursday’s victory. They won’t play their first games in Hoover until double-elimination play begins on Wednesday. 

"Arkansas is really good," Alabama coach Brad Bohannon said. "They're ranked in the top 10 for a reason. They have a real chance to win the West for a reason." 

Taylor in Alabama

Evan Taylor pitched against Alabama for the third time in his career Thursday, but for the first time in a tight game. 

Taylor entered the game with a runner at first base and one out in the sixth inning. He allowed 2 hits and 1 walk, and struck out 4 in 2 scoreless innings to earn his fifth victory. 

Taylor grew up in Florence, Ala., about 120 miles north of the University of Alabama campus. 

“I really try not to think about that because it’s always something to worry about. You think they’re going to try too hard,” Van Horn said. “I really didn’t think about it until the second inning when he went back out there, and I thought, ‘He lives not too far from here. Hopefully he stays under control.’”

Taylor pitched in Tuscaloosa as a freshman — mop-up time at the end of a blowout victory by the Razorbacks. He entered with a 12-0 lead in the ninth inning, but allowed 3 runs on 2 walks and 1 hit before Marshall Denton recorded the final out. 

Taylor pitched in another blowout last season, a 16-1 victory by the Crimson Tide in Fayetteville. He entered in an 11-1 game and allowed 5 runs and 5 hits in 2 innings. 

Taylor has seen his role increase as a redshirt junior this season as he has been used primarily as a set-up man for closer Brady Tygart. The games against Alabama accounted for half of his SEC appearances in his first two seasons, but Thursday was his 16th appearance in an SEC game this year. 

“He’s really grown up as a player and as a person,” Van Horn said. “He’s really calm on the mound, but intense at the same time. He doesn’t show a lot of emotion and he’s been really good for us.” 

HR success

If it seems Arkansas’ home-run swings are doing more damage lately, it’s because they are. 

Peyton Stovall hit a 2-run home run and Cayden Wallace hit a 3-run home run with 2 outs in the fifth inning Thursday to turn a 3-0 disadvantage into a 5-3 Razorbacks lead. 

"The obvious difference in the game is Arkansas got big hits with people on base," Bohannon said. 

Dating to the start of the Ole Miss series three weeks ago, 14 of Arkansas’ last 18 home runs in SEC play have come with runners on base. Wallace had the Razorbacks’ fifth three-run home run during that stretch. 

Multi-run homers have been key to several of Arkansas’ recent victories: 

• Kendall Diggs had a 3-run home run to end a 6-3 victory over Ole Miss on April 30.

• Michael Turner and Chris Lanzilli each had 2-run homers during a 4-3 victory over Ole Miss on May 1. 

• Diggs and Robert Moore each hit 3-run homers during an 11-8 victory over Auburn on May 6. 

• Braydon Webb hit a 3-run homer during a 7-4 victory at Auburn on May 8.

“Two-run homers, three-run homers, those can extend leads, bring you back, put people away,” Van Horn said. “It’s been good. We’ve done a nice job there.” 

Familiar face

Alabama catcher Dominic Tamez is playing this week against several of his former teammates. 

Tamez was a true freshman catcher at Arkansas during the 2020 season. He started twice and played in eight games before that season was canceled after four weeks due to the covid-19 outbreak. 

Tamez came to Arkansas in the same signing class that included second baseman Robert Moore, outfielder Braydon Webb and pitchers Will McEntire, Zack Morris and Peyton Pallette, among others. 

Tamez walked twice and went 0 for 3 during the series opener. He allowed Jalen Battles to steal second base during the fifth inning and threw out Chris Lanzilli trying to steal second in the sixth. 

It was the second time this season a former Arkansas player played in a game against the Razorbacks. Outfielder Trey Harris, who played at Arkansas from 2019-20, was a pinch runner for Central Arkansas during a game April 26 in North Little Rock. 

RPI watch

Arkansas received a slight boost in the Ratings Performance Index with Thursday’s victory. 

The Razorbacks’ RPI improved from 29th to 27th following the win, according to real-time RPI calculations at WarrenNolan.com. Those calculations are not official, but typically mirror the NCAA’s figures. 

Arkansas has several chances to improve its RPI during the long road trip to Alabama, which includes two more games on the Crimson Tide’s home field and games at the SEC Tournament. Road and neutral-site wins have increased value in the RPI formula. 

The Razorbacks’ RPI is expected to be scrutinized by the NCAA Tournament selection committee leading up to its seeding announcements on Memorial Day. 

Arkansas is in contention for one of the coveted top eight national seeds, which would guarantee a home super regional if the Razorbacks advance that far. 

Since the NCAA Tournament switched to its current format in 1999, no team with an RPI of 20 or greater has been awarded one of the top eight seeds.


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