A Razorback baseball program that has juggled injuries all season long will be without two more key pieces this weekend in Starkville, Miss., while also realigning its starting pitching rotation. 

Arkansas  will rest the injured shoulder of starting second baseman Peyton Stovall against Mississippi State and also will not have trusted reliever Dylan Carter due to a season-ending ulnar collateral ligament injury that he confirmed on social media on Wednesday.

The Razorbacks  (33-12, 14-7) and Bulldogs (24-20, 6-15) will battle Friday night at  6, Saturday night at 6 and Sunday at 1. Friday and Sunday’s game will be on SEC plus and Saturday’s on ESPN2.

“Stovall probably will not play this weekend,” Van Horn said. “I don’t even think I’m going to put him on the roster. It’ll let him rest that shoulder another five or six days. He’s not ready yet. You’re going to have either (Peyton Holt) in there or possibly Coll. So we’ve got to have some guys pick it up.”

Van Horn was asked if he was worried about Stovall being out longer than this weekend.

“There’s always concern on that,”  Van Horn said. “Really the only thing I can tell you is it’s inflammation, which basically means tendonitis. It’s bothering because we’ve got to get that inflammation to calm down and go away a little bit. They’re working hard to get that taken care of.” 

Arkansas is turning to Hagen Smith (6-1, 2.54) as its opening game starting pitcher and giving normal Friday starter Hunter Hollan (6-2, 3.79) a chance to rest his leg injury.

The Razorback will also start Brady Tygart, who will be able to throw 35-40 pitches this week after throwing 20 last weekend in his first time on the mound since suffering his UCL injury on March 1.

Tygart will likely be followed in by Will McEntire (6-2, 5.82).

“First on the pitching rotation, what we’re going to do is we’re going to let Hollan have a couple more days to rest,” Van Horn said. “We’ll either throw him game 2 or game 3, hopefully and let that leg continue to rest.

“So we’re going to just flip it. We’ll start Hagen Smith and then we’ll just TBA it for Saturday and Sunday. I mean obviously there’s a really good chance Tygart gets the ball in one of those games and then we’ll just piggyback off of him. We’re just not sure which day we want to do it yet.”

Smith has known for awhile that he would be turning back into a full-time starter after being used a reliever when Tygart was injured.

While Mississippi State will start junior right hander Cade Smith (1-1) in the opener, Arkansas’ Smith is aware he needs to put forth a quality start and go five or six innings.

 “Yeah, he needs to give us that many or more,” Van Horn said. “He’s known for a week he was going to do this, so he’s had plenty of time to prepare. He’s been preparing anyway with his bullpens throughout the season. I think he’s looking forward to going out there and starting the game.”

Mississippi State has struggled mightily this season, just two years after head coach Chris Lemonis left the Bulldogs to the 2021 national championship.

Lemonis fired pitching coach Scott Foxhall earlier this week after Mississippi State was swept at Tennessee by scores of  8-7, 12-8 and 13-2 in a run-rule shortened contest.

“…As far as Mississippi State, everyone I talk to will use the lingo ‘They’re better than their record. They’re a dangerous team,’” Van Horn said. “So I think that’s probably due to things that maybe haven’t gone their way. They can really hit. Then you throw in the fact that each team has nine games left and they’ve got to get some wins. 

“I try to teach these (Arkansas) guys when they walk in the door that they all count the same. They all mean the same. A win’s a win a loss is a loss when the season’s over, as far as regular season. We’re just going to go down there and do everything we can to win the first game and go from there.”

Van Horn is not certain how Mississippi State pitchers will react to the firing.

“No, I have no idea how that’ll affect the team,” Van Horn said. “I mean you have to be in that locker room to know that. I don’t know if the players are upset about it or happy about it or a little bit of both, you just never know. I’m sure they’ll try to rally the troops, and they know what’s up against ‘em, and just try to get some wins. 

“I mean, that’s the situation we’re all in, but the teams that are down there heading, nine games left, and they’ve got five, six, seven wins, they’re all fighting to get into the SEC Tournament, not the NCAA Tournament yet. So they want to have a chance to get to that tournament. Those teams, they’re going to fight you pretty good. We know that.”

He hopes to see the offense put up plenty of runs this weekend even with lead off hitter Tavian Josenberger, two-hole hitter Stovall and regular third-place batter Jared Wegner all on the shelf with injuries.

 “Yeah, you know, hitting, it’s so hard and pitching is so good in the league, stuff is so good. It’s hard to get them all rolling,” Van Horn said. “But if you can get four or five guys in your lineup that have a good weekend, man you’ll be tough to beat. Because runs are hard to get now. 

“You never know when you’re going to break loose and just have that weekend where it just jells and you’ve got six guys that are getting after it, just everything’s going their way, they’re confident and seeing the ball good. I don’t know it’s going to happen. I know we would love it with just all that’s gone on, you know with the injuries.” 

The fact that true freshman Gage Wood (1-0, 3.00, 4 saves) has become the team’s closer has been huge for the Razorbacks.

  “Yeah, Wood’s been consistent probably his last four or five outings,” Van Horn said. “I think he kind of likes that role, finishing the game and coming in, getting maybe six outs or so. He’s been good at it. Throws a lot of strikes. He can throw three or four pitches for a strike. 

“Yeah, it definitely helps saying, ‘OK, we’re not going to pitch Hollan in the first game.’ The way we’ve been running it is bringing in Smith off of him if we were probably tied or winning. Now you’re going to go with a person who can semi close it for you to start. So you’ve gotta have somebody take that role and I would say he’s the main guy and I think he likes it. We do have a lot of  confidence in him.”

Hollan is preparing to pitch Saturday or Sunday.

“I feel like that we will pitch him,” Van Horn said. “That’s always a possibility, but he’s been doing what he’s supposed to do to get ready to pitch and start a game as far as working on the mound, throwing his bullpen and pretty much everything he can do. He’s healthy except he’s got a leg that’s been bothering him. It seems to be getting better, so we feel like, as of today, that he’s going to get on the mound in Starkville.”

Van Horn was obviously dismayed with news on Carter.

“Well, my reaction was, I don’t say it was shock, but after the first MRI, the Friday before the Monday that he had the second one done, was clean and even the doctors felt good,” Van Horn said. “They just thought, ‘We’ll do the dye just to double-check,’ and then it came back with a tear. It was kind of shocking, actually. Just disappointed. I felt bad for him.

“ I found out at like 4:30 in the afternoon. I gave him a call. I think we had all individually called him to see how he was doing and talk to him a little bit. But yeah. You don’t replace him really. When he was rolling along there, he was pitching 90-93 and throwing the slider for a strike and pitching in some really tough, leverage situations. 

“We gotta have some guys pick it up. We’ve had a couple guys in the bullpen that haven’t done well lately and they have good arms and it’s time to get it going again.some confidence, I mean, I could tell that those pitches, the way that our catcher was acting, the way our pitcher’s acting, then you got back and look at them.”

Arkansas is done with its mid-week regular season games and has this series at Mississippi State, a home one with South Carolina and road one at Vanderbilt before postseason action.

“ It gives us an opportunity, more than anything, to rest our relievers and get them where they might be able to throw twice on the weekend if we need them to a little here and there,” Van Horn said. “Also next week, not having a game, getting ready for finals, playing a weekend series, not having a weekend series, finishing up their finals and then after that we’re finishing there regular season.

“I think it’s kind of a mental break for them. You get worn out a little bit mentally with all that goes on in college baseball with the travel and the number of games and the stress of the weekends. And then you throw the injuries on top of it. 

“I usually don’t have any (mid-week) games at this time of the year. It’s not like this is a new thing. We haven’t scheduled these two weeks for a while.”

The big news in the SEC on Thursday was Alabama head coach Brad Bohannon getting fired due to some gambling allegations.

“Don’t really know what happened,” Van Horn said. “ Don’t know all the details. I really like Brad. I don’t know what’s going on there. I’m sure we’ll find out more throughout the day and the next few days. 

“I feel bad for the players on the team. I feel bad for the coaches and fans. I don’t know what went on. I guess they’ve got something to be able to make that move pretty quick, so just a bad setup. Bad situation.”

Photo by John D. James