FAYETTEVILLE — No. 4 Arkansas will finish up the home portion of its regular season schedule this weekend when they host No. 24 Vanderbilt for three games beginning on Friday.
Arkansas (36-12, 16-8 SEC) holds a two-game lead over Texas A&M and LSU in the SEC West while Vanderbilt (32-15, 12-12 SEC) sits in third place in the East. Vanderbilt reportedly plans to start 6-foot-5 freshman lefty sensation Devin Futrell on Friday night. Dave Van Horn is aware of the report in the Nashville newspaper this week stating intentions to start Futrell.
“I’m sure they’re preparing him mentally for that,” Van Horn said Thursday. “I mean, he’s pitching for one of the top programs in the country. His numbers are great. What is he, like 8-1? The game he lost, they got beat 1-0 (May 3).
“He can pitch. He’s left-handed and he’s awfully talented. Who’s to say what’s going on that end. Our job is just to try to prepare to play good baseball and take on what’s in front of us.”
Futrell lost against Louisville. In that game, he pitched six innings, gave up a half dozen hits, one run, earned, struck out five and hit two batters. Van Horn went on to talk about what makes Futrell so good.
“He throws strikes,” Van Horn said. You look at his strikeouts to walks (55 to 6). I don’t know how many innings he’s thrown (48.2), but he’s got nine decisions. That means he’s pitching well into each game. The games leading up to [Louisville], he was giving them more, and he really saved their bullpen, and they won a lot of midweek games.
“Velocity and all that, 90 miles an hour. Good off speed stuff, and just comes at you. That’s about all we know. Then just watching video.”
Van Horn also talked about what else he has seen from the Vanderbilt starters.
“They started Christian Little last week, too,” Van Horn said. “They’ve got a lot of starting pitchers. They have a lot of high draft choices. They’ve got a good bullpen. They have a lot of velocity. They’ve got a lot of talent on that pitching staff. So they just keep coming at you. You’ve got to fight them.”
Vanderbilt is also very talented offensively. Leadoff hitter Enrique Bradfield Jr. is hitting .297, six home runs, 24 RBI, walked 32 times and is perfect stealing 34 bases in as many attempts.
“He’s the best leadoff man in the country,” Van Horn said. “He just continues to get better and better as far as base-running, stealing. He hasn’t been thrown out this year, 30-plus stolen bases. He can bunt, he can work a walk. He’s also showing power this year. He’s just a really, really good player. Then he’s a top-notch center fielder too. He can cover a lot of ground.
“He can put a lot of pressure on your defense. I think that showed up in their game the other night against Indiana State when he hit a three-hopper to the second baseman in like, the 11th inning, or whatever inning they ended up winning the game (8-7 in 11). And he booted it on turf. And it was just a ball that I think he rushed it a little bit, watching it. And he immediately stole second, they threw the ball into center field, and then they got a base hit and won the game. You’ve got to play the game right and a clock in your head when he’s up, that’s for sure.”
Another pair of Vanderbilt standouts are catcher Dominic Keegan and right fielder Spencer Jones. Van Horn was impressed with both.
“Really good,” Van Horn said. “You know, one hits right, one hits left. They both have power. They hit back to back in the order. Jones got six hits the other night. He hit a couple of them really hard. He’s also a big kid but he can run. He beat out an infield hit at a crucial time. You know, you’ve got two guys in the middle of your lineup hitting almost .400. That’s a weapon. You just hope when those guys are up you don’t have too many on base or nobody on base.”
Keegan is hitting .392 while leading the team in both home runs (11) and RBI (51). Jones is hitting .386, seven home runs and 41 RBI. Jones has 18 doubles and Keegan 14.
Friday starter Connor Noland only worked four innings against Auburn last Friday. Van Horn was asked if his ace is fresher for this game?
“Well, we talked about that in the dugout,” Van Horn said. “I think he threw like 78 pitches or something along that line. We just thought, let’s take him out. They’ve got – what – a five-run lead at the time. We’ll rest him a little bit and get him ready for this weekend. Fortunately for us we had some guys come in and do a great job and we came back and won the game and Connor got to save a few pitches.”
It seemed that freshman lefty Hagen Smith, Arkansas’ Saturday starter, might have had his velocity down some against Auburn. That doesn’t seem like anything that concerns Van Horn.
“No, I think they got that worked out in his bullpen,” Van Horn said. “He was just maybe getting a little bit – his mechanics weren’t quite right and they fixed it. Coach (Matt) Hobbs was very – I don’t know the word to use – he was just kind of excited about what he saw in Hagen’s bullpen and they made a few adjustments.
“It happens though. It doesn’t matter if he’s a freshman or a fifth-year senior. A lot of times when you get to this point in the season if you’ve thrown a lot of pitches you’re going to have some of those days where you’re down a couple of miles an hour. Hopefully that will go away. We’ll keep an eye on it.”
Freshman first baseman Peyton Stovall hasn’t played since the Ole Miss series due to an injured finger. He has appeared in 37 games this season while hitting .263 with three home runs and 16 RBI. Van Horn provided a favorable injury update on Stovall.
“Stovall, he looks like he’s good to go,” Van Horn said. “He swung the bat good yesterday and I know coach (Nate) Thompson and him worked on a few things, coach (Bobby) Wernes, they did a little extra (to) try to get him going swinging the bat with a little more authority. He looked good yesterday. Fielded well, threw well. That finger nail is still kind of messed up, but he seems to be fine throwing and hitting. He looks like he can grip the bat with that middle finger on his right hand, so he can feel the bat a little better, have a little more power.”
Redshirt pitcher Will McEntire went from being the midweek starter to an ace out of the bullpen on Sunday against Auburn. He worked 3.1 innings in the 7-4 Arkansas win. He allowed six hits, one run and walked a batter and fanned a half dozen.
“I thought he did great last week,” Van Horn said. “I thought he threw pretty well against Missouri State, just made one mistake on a 2-0 pitch. He pitched three innings. We could have thrown him three more, but we knew we were going to need him on the weekend and we wanted to save him for Sunday. I think he went through their lineup, which is one of the best lineups that we’ve faced, he went through it, I think he threw to 11 or 12 hitters and did really well. So we feel real good about him. I don’t know what his role will be, but he pitched last Sunday, he’s available tomorrow if we needed him. No midweek games and all hands on deck now. You don’t save anybody. You just try to win the one in front of you.”
Friday and Saturday games will begin at 6:30 p.m. and then 2 p.m. on Sunday. All three games can be seen on the SEC Network+.