Razorback Baseball Report: Wood struggles, Bolton's return, Tygart's start

Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn (second from left) relieves pitcher Gage Wood (45), Saturday, May 27, 2023, during the sixth inning of the Razorbacks’ 5-4 loss to the Texas A&M Aggies in the semifinals of the 2023 SEC Baseball Tournament at the Hoover Metropolitan Complex in Hoover, Ala.

HOOVER, Ala. — University of Arkansas freshman Gage Wood emerged as the Razorbacks’ closer when he earned five saves in SEC games against Alabama, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Mississippi State, and picked up a victory over South Carolina in a span of seven series.

But Wood’s past three appearances, including in Texas A&M’s 5-4 victory over the Razorbacks on Saturday in the SEC Tournament semifinals, showed some troubling signs.

Wood walked the only two batters he faced Saturday — 9-hole hitter Max Kaufer and leadoff man Hunter Haas — to help the Aggies score three runs in the inning. He threw only four strikes on 12 pitches.

In two appearances in the Razorbacks’ series at Vanderbilt last weekend, Wood went a third of an inning and allowed 5 runs on 3 hits, 1 walk and a hit batter. He threw 20 pitches with nine strikes.

In Wood’s second game at Vanderbilt, he went two-thirds of an inning and had a walk and balked in a run while throwing five strikes on 14 pitches.

Added up, that’s 20 strikes on 46 pitches for Wood in his past three appearances.

“He’s had three in a row like that, so it makes it tough,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said of Wood continuing to be used out of the bullpen in high leverage situations as the Razorbacks prepare to host an NCAA regional. “It makes it tough for us as coaches. What do we do?

“He’s a guy that was throwing 95 miles an hour, had a little attitude, and he’s [been] throwing the ball 91, 92, think he might have topped out at 93.

“It’s frustrating, and we’ve got to figure out this week if we’re going to be able to use him on the weekend.”

Bolton back

Arkansas shortstop John Bolton played well in his return to the lineup after missing the previous three games because of a sprained left ankle suffered against Vanderbilt last Friday.

Bolton was 2 for 3 on Saturday, including a 2-run double in the ninth inning, and also reached base when he was hit by a pitch. He was robbed of a third hit on a driving catch by Texas A&M center fielder Jordan Thompson.

In the field, Bolton played error-free and threw out Thompson at home plate when he tried to score on a ground ball.

“He had a couple plays in the field, and he made them,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “Made a perfect throw [to home].

“At the plate, I thought he looked really good, really sharp, strong.”

Bolton, who bats right-handed, lined his double to right field on a 2-2 pitch from Brandyn Garcia.

“John Bolton’s at-bat, fouling off pitches and smoking one opposite field down the line, just did a great job there fighting to get to the next pitch,” Van Horn said. “When he got hurt, he was really starting to swing the bat a lot better obviously, a lot more confidence, hitting balls hard against Vandy over there.

“He swung the bat well and then he hurt his ankle, obviously. It would be nice if he can take that into the next weekend and give us a little offense toward the end of our lineup.”

Bolton is batting .212 on the season, but he’s 10 for 31 (.323) in his past 11 games.

Coming through

Playing its fifth game in five days, Texas A&M turned to Matt Dillard for his second start of the season and the senior left-hander delivered a strong performance against Arkansas on Saturday.

Dillard went a season-long four innings and held the Razorbacks scoreless with 1 walk and 6 strikeouts on 60 pitches, including 38 strikes.

“Couldn’t say more about Matt Dillard,” Aggies Coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “A guy that at one point was thinking about giving up baseball, and we had a talk this morning in my room about, ‘How awesome is this?’

“Felt like he was playing with house money, just go out there and enjoy it, good or bad. There’s no way it could be a bad thing for him with where he was maybe this time last summer thinking about giving up baseball.”

Dillard said he considered not playing baseball this season because of some injury issues before deciding to continue pitching for the Aggies.

“Oh, it’s amazing,” Dillard said of contributing to the win over No. 4 Arkansas. “I was telling the guys before the game, ‘When you lay in bed at night, this is what you dream about. This is so much fun. You want to be in moments like this.’

“When Coach gave me the opportunity, I was thrilled to have his respect and his trust to go out there in a situation like this, semifinal game. It’s awesome.”

Tygart’s start

Arkansas sophomore right-hander Brady Tygart, making his fifth start after missing eight weeks recovering from an elbow injury, went 3 1/3 innings and allowed 1 run, 3 hits and 2 walks with 3 strikeouts on 64 pitches against Texas A&M before being replaced by Will McEntire.

“Definitely wasn’t the best day for me,” Tygart said. “I had to compete a little bit more than I normally do.

“I just couldn’t quite find it. But that happens, and glad we got off with as little damage as we did.”

Tygart threw 32 strikes and 32 balls. He also hit a batter.

“Brady didn’t have the stuff that he’s had the last couple outings,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “Fastball, 91, 92 [mph]. He can throw it 95 if he needs to, if you want him to close the game. He can do that.

“But he didn’t have the command that he had the first [four] outings. I just feel like hopefully he got this out of the way and we can see him take a step forward next weekend, and I’m sure in a big game.”

The streaks

Arkansas first baseman Brady Slavens went 0 for 4 on Saturday to end his hitting streak at 12 games.

Peyton Holt, the Razorbacks’ second baseman, went 1 for 3 to extend his hitting streak to nine games.

Twice for McEntire

Arkansas junior right-hander Will McEntire had two relief appearances for the second consecutive weekend.

McEntire went a combined 6 1/3 innings against Texas A&M on Wednesday and Saturday, and allowed 4 runs, 5 hits and 2 walks with 5 strikeouts.

While McEntire was credited with allowing three runs Saturday. Two of those scored after walks by relievers Gage Wood and Parker Coil.

McEntire went the final four innings in the Razorbacks’ 6-5 victory over Texas A&M in 11 innings on Wednesday.

“I thought McEntire was outstanding both outings,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “[The box score] says here he gave up three runs, but a couple freshmen walked in two of those for us.”

McEntire pitched a combined 6 1/3 scoreless innings in two appearances at Vanderbilt last weekend.

Gimme 5

Saturday’s game was the fifth between Arkansas and Texas A&M this season.

The Razorbacks have a 4-1 record against the Aggies. Arkansas swept the regular-season series in Fayetteville on April 27-29 and the Razorbacks defeated Texas A&M 6-5 in 11 innings Wednesday in Hoover.

“We know each other inside and out,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn told SEC Network before the game. “We know their bullpen, we know how talented they are. It’s really hard to beat somebody five times in a row; it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, but especially when you’re playing a talented team. A lot of our games have been really close and we’ve been fortunate enough to come out on top.”

This is the fifth time in six seasons Arkansas has played an SEC opponent at least five times.

Arkansas went 4-1 against Mississippi State in 2017 when the Razorbacks swept a regular-season series in Fayetteville and the teams split a pair of games at the SEC Tournament.

In 2018, the Razorbacks went 5-2 against South Carolina. Arkansas won a best-of-three-game series against the Gamecocks in Fayetteville during the regular season and an NCAA super regional, and defeated South Carolina once at the SEC Tournament.

The Razorbacks were 4-4 against Ole Miss in 2019. The Rebels won their regular-season series in Fayetteville, the teams split two games at the SEC Tournament and Arkansas won the third game of a super regional in Fayetteville.

Arkansas and Ole Miss went 3-3 against each other last season. The Razorbacks won the regular-season series in Fayetteville and the Rebels won two of three games at the College World Series, including a semifinal game that sent Ole Miss to the national championship series.

Mound Ags

Improved pitching has been key to Texas A&M’s extended stay at the SEC Tournament.

In five games against Tennessee, LSU, South Carolina and Arkansas (twice), the Aggies have a 2.74 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, have allowed 6.2 hits per game and recorded 2 shutouts.

In 30 regular-season SEC games, Texas A&M had a 7.37 ERA, 1.78 WHIP, allowed 9.4 hits per game and did not record any shutouts.

50-50 split

According to Texas A&M’s media guide, the Aggies tied their all-time record against Arkansas at 50-50-1 on Saturday.

Texas A&M’s records go back farther than Arkansas’ media guide, which does not list games played before 1960. According to the Aggies’ media guide, the teams played in 1908 and 1926.

Saturday’s game was the third between Arkansas and Texas A&M at the SEC Tournament. The Razorbacks hold a 2-1 edge in games played there since 2014.

The Aggies were 4-3 against Arkansas in Southwest Conference Tournament games played from 1977-88.