Bullpen depth on display for Razorbacks; Travs, Naturals get started

Chris Murray Bio
The Arkansas Razorbacks showed off their bullpen strength – and depth – in taking the series opener from Alabama on Thursday night before an ESPNU national audience.

The depth of the bullpen means you can pull your starter in the fifth inning with a 3-1 lead, and not worry about running out of arms over the weekend. That’s what happened Thursday night, as Dave Van Horn used a quick hook on Barrett Astin.

With runners on first and second and one out, Van Horn turned to lefty Jalen Beeks. While he did allow one unearned run, Beeks ended up going 2.2 innings and giving up just one hit. The Hogs followed with power arms Trey Killian, Chris Oliver and, finally Colby Suggs.

Suggs had to labor in the ninth, as Alabama hitters worked the count and drew a pair of walks. Ultimately, the hard-throwing Suggs finished off a scoreless ninth with a groundout for his fourth save as the Hogs pulled even with the Tide in the SEC West at 7-3. The Crimson Tide was limited to four singles on the night.

Arkansas left a lot of runs on the bases. That is partially due to poor offensive execution, but Alabama hurlers made some tough pitches with men on base. That’s the nature of the college game today, and that probably plays into Van Horn’s readiness to use his relievers. He knows how precious a one- or two-run lead is, and with the quality of relievers in the Arkansas bullpen, there’s no sense in taking chances.

The Hogs send Ryne Stanek to the hill tonight, with the first pitch set for 6:35. Saturday’s game is slated to start at 1:05.

The Arkansas Travelers’ season-opener was rained out last night. The Travs were set to host Frisco, but the slow, steady rain forced a postponement. Instead, the two teams will play a doubleheader starting at 6 tonight at Dickey-Stephens Park. One notable name on the Travs’ roster is Michael Roth, whom SEC fans probably remember as a workhorse who pitched South Carolina to consecutive College World Series titles. Third baseman Kaleb Cowart is ranked as the No. 60 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America.

The Northwest Arkansas Naturals might have wished they had been rained out. Instead, the Midland Rockhounds dealt them an 11-0 defeat in the season-opener at Arvest Ballpark, just off I-540. Former Razorback Brett Eibner hit leadoff and played centerfield for the Naturals and went 0-for-3. NWA stater Noel Arguelles, a 6-foot-3 left-hander who is on the Angels’ 40-man roster, took the loss. Both the Travelers and the Naturals are at home every day through Tuesday for Class AA Texas League action.

In recent years, both the Angels and Royals organizations have ranked among the elite in top prospects and farm systems. Central Arkansas has seen Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Howie Kendrick pass through, among others. And fans in Northwest Arkansas have been able to witness the bounty of the Royals farm. Many of those guys – Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and others – are now in the bigs, and the KC system took a big hit in the James Shields deal. The talent levels of both teams have ebbed a bit, but there are still compelling reasons to turn out to see the Travs and Naturals.

In other D-I series, Central Arkansas travels to Natchitoches, La., for a Southland Conference set with Northwestern State. The Demons are typically a quality Southland squad, but are struggling, having lost 13 straight games. This could be a good time for the Bears to make up ground in the league race.

In the Sun Belt Conference, Arkansas-Little Rock looks to continue its winning ways as it travels to Middle Tennessee for a weekend series. After starting 0-6 in the SBC, UALR swept last weekend’s series and has won four straight overall. Arkansas State hosts Western Kentucky, looking to get back on track after being swept at Florida International last weekend.

Coaches, SIDs, baseball fans from around the state: got a tip or interesting note? Pass it on to ctmurray@gmail.com

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