Peyton Stovall has added spark to Arkansas baseball lineup

Arkansas second baseman Peyton Stovall bats during a game against Oral Roberts on Tuesday, March 12, 2024, in Fayetteville. (Caleb Grieger/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — Injuries caused University of Arkansas second baseman Peyton Stovall to miss 29 consecutive games at the end of last season and the start of this season, but now he’s back in the lineup and looks like he never left.

Stovall, a junior from Haughton, La., has played the past seven games and is batting .321 with 2 home runs, 1 double and 9 RBI going into the No. 1 Razorbacks’ series at No. 24 Auburn that opens Friday at 6 p.m. at Plainsman Park in Auburn, Ala. Including three walks, he has a .406 on-base percentage.

În Stovall’s first plate appearance, he legged out an infield single against McNeese State on March 9 in the opener of a doubleheader. He played in both games and went 3 for 8, including a home run.

Stovall has batted leadoff the past four games after batting sixth in his first game back and in the two-hole spot for two games. He has shown few signs of rust despite missing so many games and practices dealing with injuries.

“His at-bats have been really good,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “I’d have to say he’s been amazing, really.

“For a guy that’s got [28] at-bats, it doesn’t look like it. It looks like he’s got 120.”

After being the designated hitter for three games against McNeese State, Stovall has played the past four at second base against Oral Roberts and Missouri without committing an error.

“He’s experienced, knows what he’s doing, has great range,” said Van Horn, who also played second base for the Razorbacks in 1982. “If he gets to the ball, he fields it.”

Stovall, who bats left-handed, missed the final 17 games last season because of a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He missed the first 12 games this season with a broken right foot after being hit by a pitch in a scrimmage Feb. 5.

“People have probably already forgotten, he had major shoulder surgery,” Van Horn said. “They’re all thinking about his foot.

“He’s got to take care of his arm. We’ve got to watch how much we throw him, but at the same time he’s got to keep the arm rehabbing to build it up.”

Van Horn also said Stovall’s shoulder “has some things in there now that weren’t in there a year ago that are holding that together.”

The shoulder has healed, Van Horn said, but will get stronger.

“It’s going to be better than ever when it is done, but it’s not 100%,” Van Horn said. “We limit his throws and what he does.”

Stovall, a team captain, returned for preseason practice in January.

“I was super excited to finally get back on the field and be healthy with my shoulder,” Stovall said. “Then a freak accident happened [breaking his foot] and it felt like someone punched me in the gut.

“It was super upsetting. But I knew that I needed to be the best leader that I could be … show these guys the way to win.

“It was super tough. The first week I was on crutches and a boot. I really didn’t put any weight on it. I was super careful with it, super cautious.

“Listened to everything that the trainers and doctors said. That first week, I really couldn’t move my foot out of the boot. If I did, it would be painful.”

Stovall gradually recovered and a few days before returning to the lineup, he took some swings indoors against live pitching.

“He had four at-bats and he hit three missiles,” Van Horn said. “By our TrackMan that was seeing how far he hit it and how fast it exited the barrel and all that other stuff, he had two doubles and a homer.

“We’re like, ‘Wow, he’s ready now.’ He hit two balls to left field, opposite field. They were crushed. He also pulled one into the gap. He flew out, but hit the ball pretty good.

“It was nice. It was against lefties and righties.”

Arkansas sophomore shortstop Wehiwa Aloy, a transfer from Sacramento State, said Stovall continued to be a team leader even when he was injured.

“Just helping guys on and off the field,” Aloy said. “Even after a bad at-bat or something, he’d come by and say, ‘You’re good. Keep on going. Keep competing for the next AB.’

“He’s just been there...for all of the team.”

Junior catcher Hudson White, a transfer from Texas Tech, said Stovall was voted a captain by his teammates for a reason.

“He’s been here three years. He has a lot of experience,” White said. “He’s an outstanding player. A lot of guys look up to him. He’s a great leader.

“So when you have someone like that in the lineup, it gives you a lot of confidence to line it up against anyone.”

After Stovall’s shoulder surgery last year, Van Horn said he was “so bummed out and down about it.”

Van Horn said he told Stovall he needed to stay positive for the team.

“We just told him, ‘Hey man, you’ve got to keep your head up because everybody is looking at you. That’s just the way it is,’ ” Van Horn said. “I told him, ‘A lot of guys, they couldn’t handle this. But you’re tough enough to handle it and you’re going to be fine. Get healthy for your junior year and let’s have a great ’24.’

“Then in the fall, I think the guys saw how hard he was working out.”

Van Horn also said Stovall is an improved hitter this season.

“He’s stronger, he’s quicker. Swing is beautiful right now,” Van Horn said. “Timing is not 100%, but when it is, when it’s linked up, he’s as good as anyone in the country.”