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.
Diamond Hogs Notebook: So far, so good for Smith in bullpen
Arkansas reliever Hagen Smith celebrates the final out of the game Friday, March 17, 2023, with catcher Parker Rowland during the Razorbacks’ 7-2 win over Auburn at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas left-hander Hagen Smith debuted his new role Friday with a three-inning save during the Razorbacks’ 7-2 victory over Auburn.
Smith threw 44 pitches, did not allow a hit, struck out 5 and walked 2 after entering the game in the seventh inning. Both walks came with one out in the seventh, to Auburn’s Nos. 1 and 2 hitters, Kason Howell and Cole Foster.
Smith retired the final eight batters he faced.
“When I come out of the [bullpen] my mindset is: You’re not going to hit each pitch. No one is going to hit this pitch right here. Every single pitch I’m going to blow it by or you’re going to swing and miss," Smith told Razorback Sports Network after the game.
Smith had been Arkansas’ No. 1 starter prior to the Auburn series. As a starter Smith allowed three runs in 19 1/3 innings.
He lowered his ERA and WHIP to a matching 1.21, and opposing batting average to .147.
Before the game Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said the coaching staff has been planning Smith’s move to the bullpen for a while.
“It’s not like it’s spur of the moment,” Van Horn said on the RSN pre-game show. “We’ve been planning this, trying to figure out how to handle these injuries and what might give us the best opportunity to win until we can get some guys ramped up a little bit.”
It was Smith’s sixth career relief appearance. He came out of the bullpen five times late last year and recorded two saves during the postseason.
“We wouldn’t have made it as far as we did in the playoffs last year without Hagen coming out of the pen and settling things down, finishing games,” Van Horn said. “He did an incredible job.”
Van Horn said either Smith or left-hander Hunter Hollan needed to move out of a starting role. Hollan started Friday and pitched six innings.
“That was probably the thought process, that one of those two needs to help us at the back end,” Van Horn said. “They’re both really good at it, but we just felt like Hagen has experience, and he was all for it.”
Smith was told he would move to the bullpen early in the week by Arkansas pitching coach Matt Hobbs. He warmed up but never pitched during Tuesday’s 13-7 victory over UNLV.
Van Horn and Smith sounded hopeful that he can return to pitch during another game this weekend, but both noted it would depend on how he feels.
“I’ll get some recovery tonight and try to sleep as much as I can, get some rest,” Smith said.
5-hole streak ends
Arkansas right fielder Jace Bohrofen went 0 for 3 from the No. 5 position in the batting order.
That ended a streak of 17 consecutive games with the Razorbacks getting a hit from the five hole. Bohrofen walked and scored a run. The five-hole hitter has scored at least once in each game.
Prior to Friday, the Razorbacks’ No. 5 hitters — including pinch hitters — had a .540 batting average and an on-base percentage of .587.
Those numbers dipped to .515 and .570 after the game.
Bohrofen also had a personal eight-game hit streak end.
Arkansas center fielder Tavian Josenberger indicated he will be torn Saturday when the Razorbacks’ basketball team plays against Kansas during the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Des Moines, Iowa.
Josenberger, a Kansas City native, transferred to Arkansas from Kansas last summer. He played two seasons for the Jayhawks.
“Whoever wins, I hope they win it all,” Josenberger said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
• Arkansas left fielder Jared Wegner extended his team-best hit streak to 11 games. Wegner went 2 for 3 and walked twice, scored 1 run and had 1 RBI.
• Brady Slavens’ fourth-inning home run was the 33rd of his Division I career, which is tied for 20th among active players.
• Nine of Slavens’ 21 hits this season have been for extra bases. During his three seasons at Arkansas, 46.5% of Slavens’ hits (67 of 144) have been for extra bases.
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