After rough weekend, Arkansas baseball lineup takes step in right direction

Arkansas left fielder Jayson Jones celebrates Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, with assistant coach Nate Thompson after hitting a 2-run home run during the third inning of the Razorbacks' win over Grambling State at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville. (Andy Shupe/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — The lineup decisions for University of Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn only got tougher after Tuesday’s 21-1 rout of Grambling State.

The trio of players who have been splitting time in left field — Jayson Jones, Will Edmundson and Ross Lovich — all had super-productive days at the plate.

Hudson Polk, the fourth catcher used by the Razorbacks in their first eight games, hit a first-inning grand slam and added his name to the roster of potential designated hitters in the process.

The Razorbacks raised their batting average by 39 percentage points by raking 20 hits against the Tigers. That bumped their average to .287 heading into a three-game series with Murray State this weekend at Baum-Walker Stadium.

More from WholeHogSports: What to know about Murray State

Arkansas had more hits against Grambling than the 19 it totaled in going 2-1 at the College Baseball Series in Arlington, Texas, last weekend. That sent their average from .310 to .248 and Van Horn clearly came away frustrated at the lack of run production.

Based on TrackMan data, the Razorbacks hit 12 balls with an exit velocity of 100 mph or better, including both of Jones’ home runs and Polk's grand slam. Jones hit a two-run shot in the third inning and a grand slam in the fifth.

“Obviously it’s not the pitching we’ve been seeing but you still have to hit it and you have to hit it hard,” Van Horn said. “The wind’s blowing in. Our guys just came out with a little bit of an attitude it looked like to me. We hit a lot of balls hard, super hard. We were patient. Took our walks.”

Among the Razorbacks nine extra-base hits they had six doubles, one each by Edmundson, Kendall Diggs, Jack Wagner, Jared Sprague-Lott, Wehiwa Aloy, and Nolan Souza.

“I’m all about hitting doubles,” Van Horn said. “I love doubles. We had a hustle double or two and some legit doubles.”

Jones started in left field and went 2 for 5 with 6 RBI. Edmundson started in center field for Ty Wilmsmeyer and went 2 for 4 with 3 runs scored in the lead-off spot. Lovich subbed in for Diggs in right field in the fourth inning and went 3 for 3 with 2 RBI.

“It was great,” Van Horn said of players in the left field battle all producing. “Make it harder on me every day, I’m good with it. That position needs to be a position that helps with the offense a lot. We’re going to have injuries, we’re going to have sickness. Maybe one can go to center field.

“But they all swung the bat well. I mean, Lovich got three hits and two of them were with two strikes. Edmunson, I mean, he squared up a bunch of balls. Even the double play ball, he hits the ball hard and the guy makes a diving play. Hits a double, line-drive single. … Then Jones clobbered two balls. He hit those balls extremely hard. It just cut through that wind like nothing. It’s good. We need those guys. We need those guys to hit.”

Grambling has had success in recent years against Arkansas using pitchers with slower breaking balls and fastballs that don’t reach the same velocity as what the Hogs are used to seeing in practice.

“This fall and spring, we’ve been facing our insane pitching staff to where everybody’s high velo[city],” Jones said. “Everybody has insane stuff, so we kind had to switch a little bit our approach that we did today. It is definitely tough. As we trust our hands and trust our approaches and in BP everybody was just backspinning balls the other way and just trying to let it get deep and hit it out of the catcher’s mitt.”

Jones said he could not let the cross wind out of the southwest that was pushing balls to the left-field corner alter his approach.

“I would say that’s the toughest thing for a righty, definitely to look at ‘Oh, the wind is blowing out, let’s hit some pull-side nukes,’” Jones said. “I feel like the approach that I’ve tried to drill in my head and I feel like a lot of hitters get in trouble when they start to look at wind and stuff like that. Just let it come, it’ll happen. Just let your hands — just trust your approach, trust your swing.”

Van Horn said it was good to see Polk provide early separation with his grand slam, which gave the Razorbacks a 6-0 lead before Grambling could record an out.

“I talked with him yesterday in the morning,” Van Horn said. “We talked about catching and hitting and playing and what he brings to our lineup. I told him we need some of that. Right now, anyway, we need some power. Sure enough, right on cue, he homers his first at-bat. It was beautiful.”

Transfer junior Hudson White opened the season at catcher, but freshman Ryder Helfrick, and senior Parker Rowland had also started at the spot before Polk got his first turn.

White, Wagner, Diggs, McLaughlin and Helfrick have all started at designated hitter, but Polk entered his candidacy for that job with his power move on Tuesday.