FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas didn’t have to go to its bullpen much over the final two games of the Alabama series thanks to starters Trey Killian and Chris Oliver, who combined to log 16 of 18 innings during the Razorbacks’ wins.
But the bulk of the pitching staff won’t have to wait much longer for work.
Plenty of opportunities have arrived this week.
Arkansas (13-8, 3-3 in Southeastern Conference), which is fresh off its series win against the Crimson Tide, begins a three-game, midweek series with a doubleheader against Mississippi Valley State (1-20) today at 3:05. They’ll play in Baum Stadium twice, then head to North Little Rock to play in Dickey-Stephens Park on Wednesday night. So both teams will need plenty of pitching.
“It will give us a chance to get some guys some work and they are ready to get in there and pitch,” Van Horn said after Sunday’s 1-0 win against Alabama.
Van Horn said left-hander Colin Poche (1-0, 0.77 ERA) and righty Alex Phillips (1-0, 2.25 ERA) will start during the doubleheader today. Both will be given a chance to work extended innings as Arkansas moves into a stretch of six games in six days, traveling to Mississippi State to play a three-game series that begins Friday night.
“If Poche has a good outing we may let him go for awhile — about five or six innings — if his pitch count stays good and probably the same with Phillips,” Van Horn said.
Van Horn didn’t name a starter for Wednesday’s game, but said Arkansas will “piece it together” during its annual trip to Central Arkansas.
No matter who is on the mound, Arkansas wants to emerge from the series with three wins. Mississippi Valley State lost 18 straight to start the year before recording its first win against Alcorn State last Saturday.
The Delta Devils have been shut out six times this season, too, including each outing in a three-game series at Alabama earlier this month. The Crimson Tide no-hit Mississippi State during the second game and won the series by a combined 18-0.
“We have got to win some games,” Van Horn said. “We have to climb up that ladder on the W’s. They’re a team we have played the last couple of years and last year we had one game that was really close in Little Rock.
“Hopefully our guys will come focused, take the bus down to Little Rock and play that game, spend the night and then go on to Starkville for another big series.”
Arkansas’ pitching staff enters the series with 15 consecutive scoreless innings, bouncing back from the 17-9 loss in the opener. Oliver insisted the Crimson Tide stole the Razorbacks’ signs during the opener, which led to the struggles.
Arkansas’ bullpen uncharacteristically allowed 14 of the 17 runs.
“They had our pitches,” Oliver said. “We couldn’t really do much with it. It’s a little easier to hit when you know what’s coming.”
Arkansas is playing a midweek series for the second consecutive week. The Razorbacks didn’t play a midweek game the first month of the season.
But it will be the norm in April with midweek series scheduled against Nebraska (April 1-2), UNLV (April 8-9) and Northwestern State (April 22-23). Arkansas also plays Stephen F. Austin (April 15) and Missouri State (April 29) once.
Those nonconference games are scheduled between SEC series against Mississippi State, South Carolina, LSU, Vanderbilt, Auburn and Ole Miss. All six SEC opponents are currently ranked in Baseball America’s top 25.
“I think this will be a good midweek game for us at this time,” Van Horn said. “Hopefully we can play a lot of people and play good enough to win. You look at our midweek games, they get pretty tough so it might be a chance for some guys to play a little more than they might get to for the rest of the season.”
Killian Earns SEC Honor
Killian (1-3) was named Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Week after his performance against Alabama last Saturday.
The sophomore threw his second straight complete game, leading the Razorbacks to a 2-1 win against the Crimson Tide. It came a day after Alabama beat Arkansas 17-9.
The Mountain Home native allowed four hits, walked two and struck out seven, earning his first win. Killian worked four perfect innings and retired 14 of the final 15 batters to help Arkansas even the series.
It continued an impressive stretch for Killian, who was suspended for the first six games this season because of an NCAA violation that occurred while he was in high school. The sophomore struggled in his first appearance, but has pitched at least seven innings in his past three starts. Killian has allowed three earned runs.
Arkansas got outfielder Joe Serrano back from an ankle injury for the Alabama series. Now, the Razorbacks are hoping shortstop Brett McAfee will return soon.
Van Horn said Sunday that McAfee — who is hitting .302 with 9 RBIs — was about “80 percent” after a back injury that has sidelined him for eight straight games.
“I talked to him before the game (Sunday) and he took some swings in here in the cages and felt a lot better,” Van Horn said. “He didn’t feel it and that’s the main thing. I think he’s getting close.”
The Razorbacks have played Michael Bernal at shortstop and Bobby Wernes at third base in McAfee’s absence. The two have combined to commit just two errors this season. Wernes is hitting .293, while Bernal is batting .250. Both have 5 RBIs
“The good thing about this is he’s been hurt and we have hung in there and played good and turned some double plays and made most of the plays,” Van Horn said. “It makes me feel good as a coach that if somebody is not going good or we have an injury that I have got somebody to plug in there.”