Arkansas set to use Smith as pitching wildcard in SEC-opening series with Auburn

By Dudley E. Dawson
on 2023-03-16 13:52 PM


Arkansas may be riding a 10-game winning streak headed into its SEC opener with visiting Auburn on Friday, but that doesn’t mean Razorback head coach Dave Van Horn is afraid to make some changes.

The No. 7  Razorbacks (15-2) and Tigers (13-3-1) will open the three-game series Friday at 4 p.m., moved up from 6:30 due to  expected cold weather.

Van Horn announced Thursday he plans to flip the script with his starting pitching with normal Friday starter Hagen Smith (3-0, 1.40 ERA in 19 1/3 innings) moving into a new “wildcard” role.

“Wildcard -  closer, long reliever, finisher, however you want to say it,” Van Horn said. “A good pitcher in the bullpen. His numbers are great. He knows how to do it and he just wants to help the team win in any role and (I) appreciate that.

“You know, when you have some things (injuries) happen with arms, some times you have got to make changes. We just felt like that might be something that we needed to do this weekend.”

Smith (7-2, 4.66) had 15 starts and five relief appearances while earning Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American and SEC All-Freshman honors.

Arkansas left hander Hunter Hollan (3-0, 2.18) ascends to the Friday starter with Van Horn insisting that Smith was not injured, noting as evidence that he was warming up in the bullpen on Tuesday in a 13-7 win over UNLV.

“No, he is better than ever,” Van Horn said. “Did you see him warming up in the bullpen Tuesday? He was ready to come in.”

The two teams were part of four SEC programs and eight overall in the College World Series last season.

Arkansas used 16 hits to end Auburn’s 2022 season with a 11-1 win over the Tigers on June 21 in the CWS in Omaha, Neb.

While Hollan is coming off a Sunday start and thus a shorter than normal rest, Van Horn was looking ahead to making this move during that outing.

“If you go back to Sunday, he had at least 25 more pitches in there, but we took him out at about 70,” Van Horn said. “He actually likes pitching on shorter rest. He has told us that many a time. So I feel fine about it.”

Fresh off a nine-inning complete game last week, Will McEntire (3-0,  3.48) will start for Arkansas in Saturday’s 2 p.m. game.

Sunday’s possible starters for the 2 p.m. series finale are numerous according to Van Horn.

“With this staff now, it is going to match up and best available,” Van Horn said. “ If we haven’t used Hagen or just used him a little, that’s a possibility.

“We could use Dylan Carter, we could use (Austin) Ledbetter, we could use Zack Morris. That is just to name a few.”

All three of those pitchers got innings during Arkansas’ two-game mid-week sweep over UNLV.

There was also a strong five-inning Wednesday start from Ben Bybee and some solid work from fellow freshmen Gage Wood and Parker Coil.

“I definitely feel better,” Van Horn said. “We had some guys pick it up and show us some things. Dylan Carter continues to pitch well and it was just really good to see Bybee the way he did.

“I thought Coil through the ball well. It wasn’t super consistent and it was maybe hitter to hitter, but it was good.

“And Zach Morris was the one that showed us something yesterday. He is probably not going to he available Friday, but the next two days he would be available. We’ll see how he feels.”

While expected closer Brady Tygart remains on the mend, Van Horn is obviously pleased with the improvement in his team’s pitching depth.

“We feel like we have a few more than we did last week at this time. Like everybody, battling some injuries – a couple season-ending – but it is what it is,” Van Horn said.

“Tygart, we won’t have him for the weekend, but we have some other guys that have done a pretty good job so we are excited to see the progress from our pitchers.”

Photo by John D. James

(Last updated: 2023-03-16 13:52 PM)