BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Arkansas baseball will be without a big bat in Jared Wegner, but may be adding a big arm in Brady Tygart this weekend in Georgia.
The No. 5 and SEC Western Division-leading Razorbacks (30-7, 11-4) open a three-game series with the Bulldogs (20-17, 4-11) Thursday night at 6 p.m. CST at Foley Field.
Arkansas is the fourth straight top 10 foe Georgia, who started the season 12-3, has faced in as many weekends.
“You look at their record in league, now it’s the second half, you’ve got to turn the page,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “I’m sure that’s what they’re talking about, but we’ve just got to go in there and do what we do and just give ourselves an opportunity to get late in the game and have a chance to win.”
Georgia won 5-4 at Clemson on Tuesday night before a crowd of 4,645 fans at Dough Kingsmore Stadium to split the season series.
“It was just a really good win and we needed it,” Scott Stricklin said. “I thought we played pretty well this weekend (in Florida) and didn’t win the series.
“Disappointing there, but to turn around and play really clean baseball, and after the rough start on the mound, I thought we settled in and really pitched it well.”
Arkansas, who swept Tennessee last weekend and downed UCA on Tuesday, is on the verge of adding Tygart to its pitching staff, which has a 4.77 team ERA with 323 strikeouts and 149 walks.
Tygart, who suffered a UCL injury on March 1 , is on the trip and could add to a pitching staff that had to juggle roles and turn to younger pitchers with injuries to Jackson Wiggins in the preseason and then Tygart and Koty Frank early in the season.
Tygart (1-0, 5.68, 1 save) made only four appearances before the injury.
The one known fact about the pitching staff is that pitcher Hunter Hollan (6-1, 2.81) will start for Arkansas in the first game.
As has been the case for the last few weekends, Hollan will be followed to the mound by TBA – to be announced.
If Arkansas has a lead last in game one, expect to see Hagen Smith (5-1, 2.79, 2 saves) to close it out.
If Smith is not needed in game one, he could join Will McEntire (5-1, 5.20) and/or Ben Bybee (2-0, 4.76) in starting one of the final two games.
“It’s not about winning game 1, it’s about winning a game we are ahead in and winning a game,” Van Horn said. “It’s trying to get to know as many SEC wins as you can. If we are losing 5-3 we are not pitching him.”
It’s a formula that has worked as Arkansas leads the Western Division by a game-and-half over No. 1 LSU (29-7, 9-5), who plays at Ole Miss this weekend.
“We’ve been winning every time we’ve bought him in and he’s held the lead,” Van Horn said. “So…I mean he doesn’t pitch Thursday, he might start Friday. If he doesn’t pitch on Friday, he’s gonna start on Saturday.
“He’s’s gonna pitch and if he hasn’t pitched the first two days he’ll start game 3, and I think everybody in the league knows what we’re doing and they get it.
“So it’s just the way it is. If we get Tygart back we might start announcing some people.”
Georgia started the season 12-3 overall, but got swept by South Carolina in its first SEC series and has been fighting uphill since.
The offense, which is averaging .291 batting, has hit 65 home runs and is averaging 7.6 runs per game, is headed up by freshman Charlie Condon (.444 17 HR 53 RBIs), Connor Tate (.369, 12 HR, 38 RBIs) and Parks Harber (.276, 11 RBI, 37 RBI).
“…If you look at Georgia, they got off to a great start this year in regular season from opening day, and they’ve hit all year,” Van Horn said. “They’ve done nothing but hit and score runs, hit home runs.”
Georgia’s pitching staff has a high ERA of 6.32 with freshman right hander Kolten Smith (1-1, 4.80), junior lefty Charlie Goldstein (1-1, 5.67) and junior southpaw Liam Sullivan (3-2, 5.59) listed as the three starters this weekend.
“The starting pitching, I mean it’s been a little bit up and down, but they’re very talented,” Van Horn said. “They might start three lefties against us. So who’s to say, but really good team.”
Arkansas, batting .291 with 60 home runs and averaging 8.2 runs per game, will be without injured left fielder Wegner, who is hitting .351 with team-leading home runs (12) and RBIs (44).
Wegner had a surgery earlier this week that put pins in this left thumb and is expect to be out 3-4 weeks.
The Razorbacks put normal designated hitter Kendall Diggs in the outfield and brought Ben McLauglin in as designated hitter in the last four games.
McLaughlin, who missed time with an injury, has gone 6 of 11 at the plate in the last four games.
“Yeah, I’m really happy with the way I’m playing after being out as long as I was,” McLaughlin said. “I’m just trying to have good at-bats and piece at-bats together.
“Tonight was another day to build off of that and to get ready for Georgia. Every at-bat, I feel like I’m seeing more and more pitches that I missed when I was gone, and I just feel very confident right now.”