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Franklin delivers for top-ranked Razorbacks

by Tom Murphy | May 5, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE — Christian Franklin was in a 2-for-23 lull when he came to the plate with runners on second and third with one out in the seventh inning of a scoreless game at LSU last Friday.

LSU ace Landon Marceaux quickly got ahead of the University of Arkansas junior with a 1-2 count. Then, on his 96th pitch, Marceaux made a mistake by leaving an ineffective breaking ball high in the strike zone.

Franklin made him pay. The Razorback center fielder lashed a top-spin single into center field to score Matt Goodheart and Brady Slavens and give No. 1 Arkansas a 2-0 lead.

“Just a great job of Franklin doing what you’re supposed to do with an off-speed pitch, especially when you’re down in the count,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said that night. “Just hit it right back where it came from.”

Franklin’s night was far from over.

In the next half-inning, the preseason All-American charged Cade Doughty’s one-out single to right-center and fired a strike to third baseman Jacob Nesbit to nail Gavin Dugas, who was trying to go from first to third on the hit. Instead of two on with one out against Patrick Wicklander, the Tigers’ aggression backfired.

“That was a good ball for them to try to attempt to go first to third,” Franklin said on Friday. “It’s not an easy throw. A lot of times it can get away, so it has to be perfect. Just keeping my eye on the runner, I saw that he was running hard rounding second. I just tried to make a good throw to third base.”

The peg to third fired up the Arkansas dugout.

“Yeah, that was really cool,” Arkansas assistant coach Nate Thompson said on Tuesday. “He’s got a strong arm, he works on it and he just put that thing on the money and that was beautiful.

“That just killed the momentum, man. I mean killed it. He killed the inning. They’ve got a chance to have a runners on second and third, one out, or a runner on second and two outs.”

Relief ace Kevin Kopps fanned Giovanni DiGiacomo on three pitches to end the threat.

His next time at the plate in the eighth, Franklin followed Slavens’ bases-loaded two-out single with a three-run shot to left field on a fat 3-1 fastball, turning a 4-0 game into a 7-0 rout for the game’s final runs on his 10th homer of the season.

Mini-slump over for Franklin as the linchpin in another series victory for the hot Hogs.

The 5-11, 195-pounder from Overland Park, Kan., went 6 for 11 against the Tigers, drove in 10 runs, including five on Friday, and pocketed SEC player of the week honors on Monday to recognize the sizzling weekend on the bayou.

Franklin is the No. 47 overall prospect and the No. 11 outfielder in Baseball America’s latest MLB Draft rankings out this week.

Heading into the LSU series, Franklin had gone 0 for 6 in the two previous games at South Carolina, opened the South Carolina series with a 2 for 5 performance, but had gone 0 for 10 in the Texas A&M series before that.

“I don’t think he’s really slumped all year,” Van Horn said on Saturday in Baton Rouge, La. “I think he’s had some bad luck and maybe a game or two where it didn’t go so well or he struggled. But as far as an extended slump, I haven’t really seen it.

“I’ve just seen a guy that goes about his work every day and keeps his head down and he’s starting to get rewarded a little bit.”

Generally a stoic performer while in the field, Franklin’s personality comes bursting out around his teammates in the clubhouse and dugout, and occasionally after a big hit.

“He’s awesome,” Thompson said. “He’s a fun kid, a fun guy who’s got a great personality and sense of humor. You know, he’s a work-ethic competitor too. It’s really cool to see him like managing everything.”

Thompson pointed out how Franklin had a solid freshman season (.274, 6 HR, 34 RBI, 3 outfield assists) on a College World Series team full of stars, then was off to a scorching start in 2020 (.381, 3 HR, 11 RBI, .619 slugging) before COVID-19 shut down the season.

“I thought he was well on his way to having a special season, kind of like he’s having now, with really great numbers,” Thompson said. “He was still not the guy in the lineup that everybody was targeting. You had [Heston] Kjerstad and you had Casey Martin, who had done more in the past.

“So Christian was benefitting also from having those guys in the lineup. Now this year he’s kind of the target man, he’s the marked man. He’s getting pitched tough and people are singling him out in their scouting reports, saying ‘We can’t let this guy beat us.’

“So I think he’s managed it very well, and the whole draft thing to go along with it. Credit the head on his shoulders and just his day-in and day-out bringing it.”

Van Horn’s assessment of Franklin during his virtual Swatter’s Club meeting on Monday reflected the Arkansas coaching staff’s lofty views of their dynamic center fielder.

“He’s just had a tremendous, tremendous year in my opinion,” Van Horn said. “I’ve said this a lot this year. I think he’s been a little bit of the unlucky hitter. Hitting a little bit over .300 but he’s leading our team in doubles [11], has 10 home runs, 45 RBI.

“I think he’s been Mr. Consistent. You take away one stretch there where he was 2 for 20-something, again I feel like there were five or six balls in that stretch that easily could have dropped. They were hit right on the nose.”

Franklin, who has batted in the two hole (22 games) or five hole (18) almost exclusively this year, will enter this weekend’s home set against Georgia with a .303 batting average, team highs with 22 extra-base hits, 10 hit by pitches, and 8 steals, 3 outfield assists and no errors.

He has four three-hit games and one four-hit affair — in a 9-3 win over Southeast Missouri State on Feb. 27 — as well as 10 multi-RBI games.

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