Matt Jones is the editor of the Hawgs Sports Network. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has a bachelor's and master's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas.
Razorback Baseball Notebook: Smith in, Sanders out of weekend rotation
Arkansas reliever Hagen Smith celebrates Friday, April 14, 2023, after recording the final out of the Razorbacks’ 5-2 win over Tennessee at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The third-ranked Arkansas baseball team will start left-hander Hagen Smith on Friday against No. 7 South Carolina, while the Gamecocks are making a change to their weekend rotation.
Smith will start his second consecutive series opener for the Razorbacks (36-12, 17-7 SEC). He allowed 2 runs, 2 hits and 5 walks, and had 8 strikeouts in 5 innings at Mississippi State last week in his third start of the SEC season. Smith (7-1, 2.56 ERA) has also closed six games.
South Carolina (36-12, 14-9) will not start right-hander Will Sanders, who has been the team’s No. 1 starter since the beginning of the season. Sanders (4-3, 5.75) has a lower-body injury and will not make the trip to Arkansas, Gamecocks coach Mark Kingston said Thursday.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said Thursday he will not name starters for Saturday’s and Sunday’s games before the series begins.
“We’re going to do what we’ve got to do to win Friday,” Van Horn said, “and we’ll TBA it on Sunday as well. Probably after the game [Friday] I’ll be able to give you a Saturday starter, then obviously we pretty much know who’s going to throw on Sunday if he’s feeling good.”
Arkansas started sophomore right-hander Brady Tygart (2-0, 3.86) on a low pitch count last Saturday at Mississippi State. Tygart is working his way back from a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow and will likely be on a pitch count of around 45 this week, pitching coach Matt Hobbs said earlier this week.
“Where we’re at now is the game can start talking to us a little bit with him, instead of it being dictated so much by what he needs to throw,” Hobbs said. “We can start making some decisions based on him being able to go a little longer.
“The buildup has been really good; it's been pretty seamless. We haven't had a ton of setbacks or anything like that, so I think we just keep on adding pitches to his workload and try to be as smart as we can with him.”
More from WholeHogSports: Hobbs talks challenging season
Junior left-hander Hunter Hollan (6-2, 4.15) started the final game at Mississippi State and pitched four innings. Hollan has been battling an injury to his left leg.
Sophomore right-hander Eli Jones (4-2, 3.38) will start Friday’s game for South Carolina. The Gamecocks will not announce a starter for Saturday’s game, and sophomore left-hander Matthew Becker (4-1, 4.46) will start Sunday.
Among the possible starters for Saturday’s game, Kingston said, is right-hander James Hicks (6-1, 3.88), who grew up in Arkansas and graduated from Conway High School.
The Gamecocks were already down right-handed starter Noah Hall (5-1, 3.29), who has not appeared in a game since March 31 due to a back injury.
South Carolina is the third consecutive team to make a change at the front of the rotation before a trip to Arkansas. Tennessee’s Chase Dollander and Texas A&M’s Nathan Dettmer were held until the second game of their series against the Razorbacks.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn indicated Thursday that left fielder Jared Wegner (broken thumb) and second baseman Peyton Stovall (shoulder inflammation) are unlikely to play against South Carolina, but said center fielder Tavian Josenberger will be on the roster as he works his way back from a hamstring injury he suffered April 22 at Georgia.
“Josenberger is looking good,” Van Horn said. “He worked out with us yesterday. He’ll be out there again today, so he’ll be on the roster again.”
Josenberger was on the 27-man roster last week at Mississippi State when Van Horn said he was at about 80% of full strength. He did not play during the series against the Bulldogs.
Josenberger was Arkansas’ lead-off hitter prior to his injury. He is batting .322, has an on-base percentage of .433, has scored 40 runs and is 9 of 12 on stolen-base attempts.
Wegner, who was hitting .351 with 12 home runs and 44 RBI at the time of his injury April 11, had pins removed from his surgically repaired thumb Monday.
“He’s still pretty sore,” Van Horn said. “He’ll be on the roster. I’m still not sure about playing [him] yet. He’s not swinging the bat with the team at all yet, so it is probably highly unlikely [he will play] this weekend.”
Van Horn said Stovall’s throwing shoulder “is not doing great.” Stovall has not played since an April 29 game against Texas A&M when he was visibly grimacing on throws to first base and did not look comfortable at the plate. His batting average has fallen to .253.
“It just kept bothering me,” Stovall said of the injury Tuesday. “I would go out there Friday and feel decent, and by Sunday my shoulder would hurt so bad that I could hardly throw and it bothered me to really swing.”
South Carolina coach Mark Kingston said second baseman Will McGillis and shortstop Braylen Wimmer will make the trip to Arkansas and are hopeful to play. McGillis has been out with a broken bone in his forearm since March 25 and Wimmer has battled a hamstring pull.
South Carolina right fielder Ethan Petry is a frontrunner to be national freshman of the year.
Petry is batting .395 with 21 home runs and 68 RBI through 48 games. He ranks top 10 in the SEC in most offensive statistical categories, and his home runs and RBI rank seventh and 12th, respectively, in Division I.
“What's amazing to me is the batting average with the home runs,” Van Horn said of Petry. “A lot of times you don't see that. You'll see the home runs and a .290 batting average because there's a lot of swing and miss in there.
“When he gets a pitch to hit it looks like he doesn’t miss it, whether it’s a line-drive single or a home run. I mean, 21 home runs as a 19-year-old…pretty amazing. This is a really high level of baseball and he’s kind of making it look easy, honestly.”
Back in town
South Carolina is making its first trip to Arkansas since the Razorbacks defeated the Gamecocks twice in three games at the 2018 NCAA Fayetteville Super Regional.
That is the longest time period between trips to Fayetteville since the Gamecocks and the Razorbacks entered the SEC together in 1992. Arkansas has a 22-12 record against South Carolina in Fayetteville, including 4-2 at the old George Cole Field. The Gamecocks won the final game played at the Razorbacks’ former home, 13-2 on March 31, 1996.
The super regional was one of two trips to Fayetteville in 2018 for South Carolina, then in its first season under coach Mark Kingston. Arkansas also won two of three games during the regular-season meeting between teams.
The Gamecocks handed Arkansas half of its home losses during a 34-4 home campaign in 2018 — the highest win total and highest win percentage for the Razorbacks in 28 seasons at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Arkansas enters this weekend’s series with a 28-3 home record. South Carolina is 9-8 in road games.
Arkansas in Arlington
The Razorbacks plan to play baseball games at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, in 2024, but it will not be part of the College Baseball Showdown as previously reported.
Arkansas’ games in Arlington next season are expected to be played Feb. 23-25, a source said. Coach Dave Van Horn has previously said the Razorbacks will play games against Oklahoma State, Oregon State and Michigan at Globe Life Field in 2024.
The Razorbacks have played as part of the College Baseball Showdown twice in three seasons, including this year when Arkansas defeated Texas and Oklahoma State, and lost to TCU on the first weekend of the season.
Globe Life Field announced its six-team College Baseball Showdown field Wednesday, which included Texas Tech, Baylor, Oregon, Nebraska, Tennessee and Oklahoma.
Hobbs on Wake
Arkansas pitching coach Matt Hobbs said this week he was happy to see Wake Forest reach No. 1 in the national polls for the first time.
Hobbs spent five seasons as the Demon Deacons’ pitching coach before he was hired at Arkansas in November 2018.
“I still have great relationships with those guys,” Hobbs said. “I’m not saying this to take credit, but I recruited some of those kids, so it’s fun to watch them succeed….I think that’s really cool when you see, like, hey, I thought that kid was going to be really good and he is really good. You feel good about that for those guys."
Wake Forest is 40-7 overall and 18-5 in ACC play entering its series at Florida State this weekend.
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