Coach Dave Van Horn mulls lineup changes after defense, batting falter

25 February 2024:     Dave Van Horn        .of the Arkansas Razorbacks tapes up the lineup before their game against Michigan at the 2024  Kubota College Baseball Series game at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.   Photo by James D. Smith/Special to the Democrat-Gazette
25 February 2024: Dave Van Horn .of the Arkansas Razorbacks tapes up the lineup before their game against Michigan at the 2024 Kubota College Baseball Series game at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. Photo by James D. Smith/Special to the Democrat-Gazette


FAYETTEVILLE -- As ecstatic as the Arkansas Razorbacks were over their pitching staff's dominant performances during a 2-1 weekend at the College Baseball Series, there was equal parts frustration with the hitting overall, clutch hitting in particular, and the defense.

After Sunday's 4-3 win over Michigan, Coach Dave Van Horn said about half the starting positions are still up for grabs as only three regulars -- third baseman Jared Sprague-Lott (.429 batting average), right fielder Kendall Diggs (.370) and first baseman Ben McLaughlin (.333) -- are hitting better than .269.

The Razorbacks (5-2) fell a spot to No. 5 in the USA Today Coaches poll on Monday heading into their game at 3 p.m. today against Grambling State (1-6). Arkansas has a 10-0 record in the series with the Tigers.

"We're very fortunate to be 5-2," Van Horn said at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday. "I told these guys we've got to get a lot better."

Arkansas freshman Colin Fisher (1-1, 0.00 ERA), the SEC co-freshman of the week, is slated to start today against Grambling right-hander Carlos Peguero (0-1, 11.57).

One area where the Razorbacks performed well in Arlington was their starting pitching.

Left-handers Hagen Smith and Mason Molina and right-hander Brady Tygart combined to throw 17 scoreless innings, with 33 strikeouts, 4 walks and 6 hits allowed.

"That was big, obviously," Van Horn said. "We would've been 0-3 if they didn't pitch good. We know we have a good pitching staff."

Fisher's 5-inning start in a 4-0 win over James Madison last week started the current stretch of 22 consecutive scoreless innings by Arkansas starters.

Smith and Molina bounced back from rough season debuts.

Smith (0-0, 3.86 ERA) tied the school record with 17 strikeouts and allowed no runs on 3 hits and a walk through 6 innings in the Hogs' 5-4 win over Oregon State. He was named SEC pitcher of the week on Monday, the week after allowing 3 runs on 42 pitches in his 1-inning appearance in a 6-4 win over James Madison.

Tygart (1-0, 0.82) worked 6 innings and struck out 6 with 3 hits and 2 walks allowed. He left with a 1-0 lead before Oklahoma State rallied to win 2-1 in 14 innings.

Molina (1-0, 2.08) threw 5 innings of no-hit ball, with 10 strikeouts and 1 walk in the win over Michigan.

"Everybody's been really good," Molina said Sunday. "I mean, we faced a lot of good guys at Oregon State, and Oklahoma State threw some really good dudes at us last night.

"But on our side I'm really happy with the way we've thrown the ball. Proud of the guys for just attacking the zone, not really getting behind in counts, just continuing to go out there and battle."

Hitting was a struggle over the weekend, as the Razorbacks went 19 for 109 (.174) against Oregon State, Oklahoma State and Michigan. They hit 5 for 34 (.147) with two outs, 1 for 4 with the bases loaded (.250) a paltry 6 for 33 (.182) with runners in scoring position and left 31 runners on base.

"Offensively, we weren't swinging the bat all weekend and we put a lot of pressure on our pitchers and they did a tremendous job," Van Horn said.

Van Horn started non-regulars Will Edmunson in left field, Ross Lovich in right, Nolan Souza at second base and Parker Rowland at catcher in the finale and they combined to go 0 for 10 with 6 walks, 2 runs scored and an RBI.

"Yeah, the other guys aren't hitting, why not give those guys a shot?" Van Horn said. "They're good players too. That's kind of what we did last weekend too. ... I was hoping they'd bring a little energy to the game. And you know ... I didn't see a lot of energy."

Van Horn offered up that the coaching staff thought they knew who their starting position players would be but they're not certain at some spots now.

"We don't know who our starters are right now," he said. "We thought we did. Right now I'd say about 50% of the jobs are wide open."

Sprague-Lott has been a hot hitter, but he committed a pair of errors in each of the last two games in Arlington, helping drop the Hogs' fielding percentage to an unsightly .966.

"We thought he was going to be a really good defender and a below-average hitter," Van Horn said. "Right now he's our best hitter and not doing real well in the field. You tell me what to do. That's the way this game works, man. It's crazy."

Diggs and McLaughlin, the team RBI leader with 8, are the only Razorbacks with a hit in every game and center fielder Ty Wilmsmeyer (.269, 1 HR, 5 RBI) joins them in reaching base in all seven games.

Regulars in catcher Hudson White (.208), shortstop Wehiwa Aloy (.167) and left fielder Jayson Jones (.133) struggled to a combined 1 for 31 showing in Arlington, with Jones providing the only hit and RBI from the trio.


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