FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas baseball team finally has a completely healthy bullpen again going into its final regular-season series at Texas A&M.
When No. 4-ranked Arkansas (39-13, 19-8 SEC) opens a three-game series against the No. 17 Aggies (34-18-1, 14-12-1) at 6 p.m. Thursday in College Station, Texas, all of the Razorbacks’ top relievers will be on the roster.
It’s the first time Arkansas hasn’t been missing at least one reliever since Ole Miss took two of three games against the Razorbacks at Baum-Walker Stadium the last weekend in March.
“It feels a lot better than being one or two short,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “Because we’ve been two short a couple of times.”
Junior right-hander Jacob Kostyshock missed series at Auburn and Vanderbilt because of elbow inflammation.
The Razorbacks then had to deal with the loss of redshirt junior right-hander Cody Scroggins — a starter earlier in the season — against Auburn and Mississippi State because of arm soreness.
Sophomore right-hander Zebulon Vermillion missed series against Tennessee, Kentucky and LSU because of soreness in the front part of his shoulder.
Van Horn said Vermillion — who hasn’t pitched since throwing a scoreless inning against Northwestern (La.) State on April 23 — likely won’t go more than an inning at Texas A&M and two innings at the most.
“He’s usually only a one-inning guy anyway,” Van Horn said. “Maybe four or five outs at the most. That’s really what we want out of him. … He can go in there and bridge it one game.”
Van Horn said that ideally he hopes Vermillion (4-0, 3.05 ERA in 20 2/3 innings) can help the Razorbacks get to closer Matt Cronin.
“He’s throwing bullpens, he’s throwing fine and feels good,” Van Horn said of Vermillion. “He was close to being ready to go this past weekend, but … I didn’t even put him on the roster so we weren’t tempted to do that. But he’ll be ready this weekend.”
Kostyshock (1-2, 2.55 ERA in 24 2/3 innings) has allowed just 1 run in 4 2/3 innings in five appearances in SEC games since his return.
Scroggins (2-0, 4.62 ERA in 37 innings) held Kentucky scoreless in 1 2/3 innings in his only appearance against the Wildcats, then allowed LSU 2 runs in 2 innings last Saturday.
The Razorbacks went 13-5 in SEC play in games with at least one reliever out thanks to strong starting pitching — especially from junior Isaiah Campbell (9-1, 2.57 ERA) — and by averaging 7.8 runs. In nine SEC games during that span they scored 9 or more runs.
“Thank goodness our offense kicked it in those weekends or we got good outings from Campbell, who would give us seven-plus innings and get us out to a good lead so we didn’t have to burn guys,” Van Horn said. “We’ve had to recycle a couple of guys a couple of times. but it’s not the ideal thing to do.”
While Arkansas’ pitching staff is back to full strength, Texas A&M will be without it’s No. 2 starter — sophomore left-hander Asa Lacy — against the Razorbacks.
Lacy is serving a four-game suspension after being ejected in the fifth inning of Alabama’s 2-1 victory over the Aggies last weekend because he was arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Ryan Broussard.
Arkansas right fielder Heston Kjerstand served a one-game suspension earlier this season when he was ejected for arguing a called third strike against him. The suspension is longer for pitchers because they don’t play every day.
Texas A&M coach Rob Childress, an assistant coach for Van Horn at Texarkana Community College and Nebraska, told reporters in College Station he was surprised by Lacy’s ejection.
“He’s an incredibly well-respected kid and very respectful as well,” Childress said. “For that to happen, there’s nobody that’s more broken-hearted about it than Asa Lacy.”
Lacy is 7-4 with a 2.13 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 76 innings.
“Well, it’s certainly a big loss, but it is what it is,” Childress said. “We’ve got a very deep and talented pitching staff. It’s an opportunity for the next guy to step in there and do what he’s capable of doing.”
Childress said freshman left-hander Chris Weber (4-0, 2.79 ERA) will take Lacy’s spot in the rotation and start Thursday night’s opener so junior left-hander John Doxakis (6-3, 1.93 ERA) can start Friday night on his normal amount of rest.
Weber has made six mid-week starts and made 14 relief appearances. In his most recent start, Weber went 5 innings and held Sam Houston State to 1 run, 5 hits and I walk with 4 strikeouts in Texas A&M’s 15-5 victory on April 30.
“Chris Weber has been as hot as anybody we’ve had on the mound the last six or seven weeks,” Childress said. “He gives us a chance every time he takes the field. He certainly will on Thursday.”
Van Horn said Weber is part of a talented Texas A&M pitching staff.
“I know that they have depth and they feel good about it,” Van Horn said. “They have a lot of big arms. They have a lot of guys that throw really hard.
“There’s just a lot of good pitching in the state of Texas and A&M is going to get their share. They do a great job recruiting.”