Diamond Hogs Notebook: Bybee's start, pitching redemption, injury report

Arkansas starter Ben Bybee delivers a pitch Wednesday, March 15, 2023, during the first inning of the Razorbacks’ 5-2 win over UNLV at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said prior to Wednesday’s mid-week series finale against UNLV that he hoped for three innings from freshman right-handed starter Ben Bybee. 

“Anything after three would be great, honestly,” Van Horn said on the Razorback Sports Network pre-game show. “We don’t have a lot of arms available. [Several of the] ones that are [available] are very inexperienced.”

Making his first start in 22 days, Bybee nearly doubled his coach’s innings count. He pitched into the sixth and did not allow a run as the sixth-ranked Razorbacks defeated UNLV 5-2 at Baum-Walker Stadium. 

Bybee allowed 6 hits and 1 walk, and struck out 3 during his 63-pitch outing that included 42 strikes. He lowered his ERA to 2.35 in 7 2/3 innings. 

It was a striking contrast to Bybee’s first start three weeks ago against Grambling State, when he gave up 2 runs, 2 hits and 2 walks in 2 innings, and threw 46 pitches. He threw 59 pitches in the first five innings against UNLV. 

“I think the biggest thing was just kind of getting the nerves out of the way and getting that first under the buckle,” Bybee said of what he learned between the two starts. “I felt a lot more comfortable coming in today. I just felt like I had more of a pitch plan coming into this game. 

“I kind of let that Grambling start sit a little bit. I was itching and kind of wanted to get back out there and prove myself. I thought I did that and I’m just excited to see where this goes.” 

Bybee pitched through some trouble at times, including in the first when Santino Panaro singled with one out and Edarian Williams doubled to put two runners in scoring position with two outs. Austin Kryszczuk lined out to end the inning — the first of four consecutive outs that allowed Bybee to settle into the game. 

A double play erased a lead-off single in the third and Bybee stranded two more runners in the fourth. 

Gage Wood, another freshman right-hander, bailed out Bybee after Jacob Sharp and Williams singled and doubled in the first two at-bats of the sixth inning. Wood worked around his own two-out walk and stranded the bases loaded with a strikeout of Paul Myro. 

“We need guys to step up and so I’m really proud of Ben and the way he went out today, because we need more pitchers on the staff that we can count on,” said left-hander Zack Morris, who earned a three-inning save. “I thought Ben did a really good job of going out there and proving he can get the job done.” 

Wednesday’s game was the latest in a string of strong pitching performances for a staff that has been thinned significantly by injuries.

“Coach [Matt] Hobbs and Coach [Dave] Van Horn have been talking ever since other guys have gone down,” Bybee told RSN after the game. “They’ve said, ‘All of you guys have got to step up 5, 10, 15% more than you originally would.’ 

“It’s definitely in the back of your mind that it’d be really nice to go out there and carry along some weight that we’re missing in the bullpen.” 

Bouncing back

Ben Bybee was not the only Arkansas pitcher who had a sense of redemption Wednesday. 

In some ways, all three of the Razorbacks’ pitchers — Bybee, Gage Wood and Zack Morris – bounced back. 

Before Wednesday, Wood faced two above the minimum and pitched four scoreless innings when beginning an inning, but had failed to record an out when inheriting base runners. Wood threw 10 pitches and could not find the strike zone in both of Arkansas’ losses, against TCU on Feb. 18 and Eastern Illinois on Feb. 26. 

Wood delivered against UNLV when inheriting two base runners from Bybee in the sixth inning. He walked Alex Pimentel on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases with two outs. He was otherwise electric during his 21-pitch outing that included 14 strikes. 

Wood struck out two batters after Austin Kryszczuk hit a weak popup to the shortstop for the first out of the sixth inning. That kept Jacob Sharp from being able to tag from third base. 

“He’s come in a couple of times when the game was over and he’s done really well, and he’s come in a couple of times when there was a little bit going on and it didn’t go so good for him,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “Last night I thought he did a great job and then today that was huge.” 

Van Horn said he was hoping Wood could get out of the jam just giving up one run. 

“Hopefully he gained a lot of confidence there and can take that confidence with him going forward,” Van Horn said. 

Perhaps no performance was as good to see for the Arkansas coaches as that of Morris, who overcame some early command issues during his 56-pitch outing. Morris threw 31 pitches for strikes. 

Both of UNLV’s runs against him were unearned. Right fielder Kendall Diggs dropped a fly ball off the bat of Williams that would have been the final out of the seventh inning. Williams went to third base on the error, but Morris got Kryszczuk grounded out to preserve a 3-2 lead. 

Morris, who had not pitched since a March 1 game against Illinois State, said he worked to reposition his shoulders “to help really get back on top of the ball.”

“It definitely boosts the confidence, especially not really getting any action the past two weeks,” Morris said. “I feel that’s something that I was due for, in a way, with the luck I had the previous outings. It felt like turning a new leaf in a way to move forward with this pitching staff.” 

Injury report

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn detailed some injuries following Wednesday’s game. 

Second baseman Peyton Stovall (sore arm), third baseman Caleb Cali (elbow) and utility infielder Peyton Holt (hamstring) did not play during the two-game series against UNLV. 

Van Horn said the decision was made to rest Stovall during the series, but he could have been used as a designated hitter or in a pinch-hit situation. Holt is expected to be available for this weekend’s series against Auburn and Cali threw during infield practice prior to Wednesday’s game. 

“We’re not full force, but we’ll be in a lot better shape come Friday, I hope,” Van Horn said. 

Ben McLaughlin, an infielder who underwent a knee scope on March 2, was on the lineup card and available for the UNLV series, a team spokesman said. McLaughlin has not played since a Feb. 25 game against Eastern Illinois.


• Left fielder Jared Wegner extended his team-leading hit streak to 10 games with a fifth-inning home run. Wegner leads the team with eight home runs and 29 RBI. 

• Jace Bohrofen, who was the designated hitter Wednesday, extended his hit streak to eight games with a 1-for-3 performance. Bohrofen also drew a walk and scored a run after he reached on a throwing error in the eighth inning. 

• Up next for Arkansas is the SEC-opening series against Auburn that is scheduled to begin Friday at 6:30 p.m. The Razorbacks have won four consecutive series over the Tigers dating to 2018, and also eliminated Auburn with an 11-1 victory at last year’s College World Series.