Chris Murray: Razorbacks Pitching Coming Up Aces

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The biggest reason the Arkansas Razorbacks were the preseason top-ranked team – and a major factor in the Hogs riding a five-game winning streak into the weekend – is the strength of their pitching.

Through Wednesday’s game, Arkansas leads the nation with a ridiculous 1.64 ERA. Let that marinate for a minute. Arkansas’ pitching staff has been as good as advertised, and with a little better defense and some timely hitting, the Hogs might still have that no. 1 spot. (By the way, Central Arkansas is knocking on the door of the top 10 in ERA).

That ERA came down this week as the Razorbacks (ranked 13th by USA Today) allowed just one run in two midweek games over Mississippi Valley State – 6-0 at Baum Stadium on Tuesday and 2-1 at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock on Wednesday. Of course, the Delta Devils are, frankly, weak competition, but it’s not like the Hogs threw their weekend starters. With that said, as good as the lauded starters have been, the Razorback bullpen has matched it.

Jalen Beeks has pitched in a team-best 12 games, with two wins and two saves, including the save Wednesday. His ERA is a miniscule 0.90. Workhorse Brandon Moore’s ERA is just 1.09. Colby Suggs and Trey Killian have also pitched well in relief, as did Barrett Astin before being moved into a starter’s role.

The rotation for this weekend’s set with Mississippi State will be the same as last week’s – Astin, Ryne Stanek and Randall Fant. After the triumphant sweep at South Carolina, why mess with success. All three pitched well, and Stanek and Fant were exceptional.

Friday’s nine-run fourth inning highlighted Arkansas’ offensive output against South Carolina, but in truth the Hogs had quality at-bats in all three games with the Gamecocks. The Hogs have possibly found a lineup they are comfortable with, and just maybe, the offensive is starting to click. It was encouraging Tuesday to see Dominic Ficociello blast his first home run of the season. It’s still hard to see the Hogs winning big without contributions from him.

No. 16 Mississippi State got off to an amazing 17-0 start before losing two of three to UCA. Since then, the Bulldogs have dropped four of six SEC games.

MSU’s Hunter Renfroe is one of the top bats in the SEC. The junior outfielder is hitting .427 with nine home runs and 36 RBIs. Shortstop Adam Frazier is hitting .396, and third baseman Alex Detz bats .364 for the Bulldogs, who hit .310 as a team.

State’s rotation has struggled at times, especially when compared to Arkansas’, but the Bulldogs’ bullpen has also posted impressive numbers. It will be critical for the Razorbacks to get out early against MSU. I’m thinking they’ll do that and take the series, maybe even a sweep.

Tonight’s game is set for 6:35, with starts Saturday at 2:05 and Sunday at 1:05.

UCA was the surprise hit of the pre-conference baseball season, racking up an impressive 18-3 record with wins over Wichita State and Mississippi State. That changed last weekend in Tulsa, where the Bears were swept by Oral Roberts in the Southland Conference opener.

The Bears bounced back quickly, though, thumping Oklahoma State 11-3 on Tuesday in Stillwater, and dispatching Lamar 10-0 in Southland action on Thursday night. UCA looks to get back to .500 in conference play, with games against the Cardinals at 6 p.m. today and 1 p.m. Saturday at Bear Stadium.

Arkansas State sits just one game out of first place in the Sun Belt Conference with a 4-2 mark. The Red Wolves travel to Miami for a three-game series starting tonight with Florida International. ASU looks to snap a three-game losing streak. The Red Wolves dropped the last two games of their series with Florida Atlantic, and fell 10-4 Wednesday at Ole Miss.

UALR is struggling at 0-6 in Sun Belt play, but the Trojans defeated Stephen F. Austin on Tuesday and host Louisiana-Monroe for a weekend series at Gary Hogan Field.

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