Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Van Horn aims to give arms a rest in Hoover
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn is shown during a game against South Carolina on Sunday, May 14, 2023, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas wants to keep its pitchers on regular rest heading into the postseason and not tax any of its top arms too much during its stay at the SEC Tournament.
The No. 4 Razorbacks announced right-hander Cody Adcock (4-2, 5.36) would start today’s tourney opener against Texas A&M (33-23), which blanked Tennessee 3-0 on Tuesday at the Hoover Met.
Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn, the SEC coach of the year, said ace lefty Hagen Smith (8-1, 2.56), the Razorbacks’ only first-team All-SEC selection, would start Thursday’s game on his normal six day’s rest after an 8-2 win at Vanderbilt last week.
Arkansas (39-15), considered a strong candidate to receive a national top 8 seed when the NCAA Tournament hosts are announced on Sunday evening, faces a balance between trying to stay sharp and confident and not wanting to overburden its pitching staff at the tournament.
“Obviously we do want to win,” Van Horn said when asked about that balance. “I guess the importance would be to continue to get these pitchers some work but not too much work. Keep them sharp.
“The same with the hitters. They need some live at-bats, especially with a couple of of the guys who have been injured, to get those guys in the lineup and swinging the bat and try to get them right.”
Those guys would be outfielders Tavian Josenberger (.301 batting average, 7 home runs, 27 RBI) and Jared Wegner (.328, 12, 44), who are trying to get back in the groove after missing time with a hamstring injury and a broken left thumb, respectively.
Josenberger is 2 for 17 (.118) with 9 walks, 10 strikeouts and 4 runs scored with no extra-base hits and no RBI in the last 6 games after missing 8 games.
Wegner went 1 for 11 (.090) with a double and 4 runs scored, 2 walks and 5 strikeouts during his first 3 games back in Nashville last week. Wegner hit a wicked ground ball to third base with an exit velocity of 115 mph on his first swing last Thursday, showing his confidence in his repaired left thumb is strong.
Only designated hitter Kendall Diggs (.314, 10, 56) among the first four batters in the Arkansas lineup is coming off a decent weekend. The sophomore, who got outfield time when Josenberger and Wegner were shelved, went 3 for 12 (.250) with 2 walks, a hit by pitch, 2 runs, 2 strikeouts and an RBI in the three games at Vanderbilt.
Outfielder Jace Bohrofen (.332, 14, 46), whose batting average stayed over .400 for most of a 25-game stretch midway through the year, is in a 6 for 42 (.143) slump over the last 10 games since a monster weekend against Texas A&M.
The batters in the 5-6-7 slots, particularly infielders Caleb Cali (.306, 8, 33), Brady Slavens (.303, 9, 42) and Peyton Holt (.390, 2, 16), are the hottest Hog hitters entering the postseason.
Slavens, riding a 10-game hitting streak, went 8 for 14 (.571) in Nashville with two extra-base hits. Holt, who has started the last nine games at second base for the injured Peyton Stovall, is riding a 6-game hitting streak, including a 7 for 11 (.636) weekend at Vandy with 6 RBI and 3 extra-base hits.
Van Horn said shortstop John Bolton would not play in the tournament opener but might have an opportunity to play by Saturday. Bolton, who had been in a walking boot since injuring an ankle during the Hogs’ disastrous eighth inning in a 10-8 loss to Vanderbilt last Friday, got the boot off on Monday.
Starters Brady Tygart (2-0, 3.31), in his fifth week back from a strained elbow ligament, and Hunter Hollan (7-2, 4.11) would both be available in the tournament for regular duty. Longer relievers like Will McEntire (6-3, 5.05), Zack Morris (1-3, 7.52), Austin Ledbetter (0-1, 6.58) and others will be on stand by.
Van Horn said Texas A&M was thought to be on “the bubble” for an NCAA Tournament berth entering the series and would be putting great effort into stacking wins in Hoover.
“A&M is finally starting to hit the ball like everybody thought they would because they have so many starters back from last year that hit the ball well,” Van Horn said in a Tuesday morning video conference. “They’ve been scoring a lot of runs. I think that’s the deal. Both teams we have an opportunity to play tomorrow, they’re scoring and we’re going to have to score with them or do a really good job on the mound.”
The Razorbacks swept their three-game set against the Aggies this season, winning by scores of 7-5, 10-4 and 8-7 on April 27-29.
Texas A&M Coach Jim Schlossnagle was asked how his team has evolved since that sweep.
“We’re a different club,” he said. “I think we’ve won six of our last eight SEC series.
“But, frankly, Arkansas outplayed us. It’s amazing the job that — I mean, Coach Van Horn has always been one of the — if he’s not the premier coach in our sport, he’s in the top one or two, and the job he’s done with his team this year is really, really impressive. They play such sound baseball, overcoming injuries and doing all that stuff.
“But we’re a different team. We’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
Van Horn discussed the message he imparted to his team before Tuesday’s practice.
“Let’s just take care of the game we have in front of us and let’s just play good today and let’s not go backward,” Van Horn said. “If you lose, you lose. You’re losing to a good team. If you win, you’re beating a good team.
“You just want to play good. If we do that and it doesn’t go good, you can live with that and get back to your home base and rest up and get ready for an exciting weekend.”
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