Three home runs – including a grand slam by Jacob Nesbit – highlighted a nine-run eighth inning in the Razorbacks’ 14-1 win over Memphis at Baum-Walker Stadium.
It was the third straight victory for Arkansas, which improved to 15-3, while the Tigers fell to 9-9 on the season.
“It took us a little while to get it going there, obviously, with a big inning in the eighth,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “But we put together some innings earlier that were maybe one hit, some walks, some hit by pitches, getting pitch counts up. … It was nice to see a little bit of pop there in that eighth inning and put that thing away.”
Two-out singles by Cayden Wallace and Charlie Welch in the first two innings played a big part in the Razorbacks jumping out to a 4-0 lead.
The first of those hits was a hard line into center by Wallace to start the scoring in the first, while the other was a blooper by Welch that found the grass in shallow left field to drive in a pair of runs in the second.
Welch actually had Arkansas’ only hit in the second inning, as Memphis starter Dalton Kendrick issued four free passes – including a bases-loaded walk to Christian Franklin – before giving up the hit.
That was all the offense the Razorbacks needed, but Nesbit beat out an infield single with the bases loaded to tack on another run in the seventh before the nine-run explosion in the eighth.
It started with a first-pitch home run by Braydon Webb and then, a few batters later, Wallace crushed a two-run homer deep into the Hog Pen.
“I was hoping he’d throw another curveball like he did because I had just chased one and watched one before that and fouled one,” Wallace said. “So I assumed he was going to go back there. He did and left it hanging. I just tried to stay through it.”
A grand slam by Nesbit turned it into a true blowout before back-to-back RBI doubles by Franklin and Zack Gregory – who pinch ran for Welch earlier in the inning – capped the scoring in an inning that saw 14 Arkansas batters come to the plate.
“It was a good game up to that point and everybody was just pulling for each other,” Webb said. “That’s what our offense is capable of and you never know when we’re going to explode like that.”
Great Day for Webb
Webb’s final stat line may show only one hit, but it was an impressive one. The aforementioned first-pitch homer landed beyond the seats behind the left field bullpen.
He said afterward that he was just looking for something over the plate that he could do damage with and luckily reliever James Muse threw an off-speed pitch in his wheelhouse. It was Webb’s first home run of 2021 and seemed to spark the eighth-inning outburst.
“He had a great swing,” Wallace said. “I kind of felt like it was going to come at some point. It fired us up pretty well and the dugout was electric.”
While that was his lone hit, it was also his lone official at bat. In four previous plate appearances, he was hit by a pitch and drew three walks.
Memphis pitchers threw him only two strikes in those three walks and then he walked a fourth time later in the eighth inning after fouling off a couple of pitches.
“I’m just trying to take what the game gives me,” Webb said. “It’s a little bit (frustrating), but you can’t force the action because once you start doing that, you kind of get out of control of yourself and that’s when it kind of spirals downward.”
Things hadn’t been going so well for him before Tuesday night. Entering the game, Webb was just 2 for 31 (.065) on the season. Some of it had been tough luck on line drives right at fielders, but he also had 13 strikeouts.
“What I appreciate about his game today was that, I had him leadoff, and he wasn’t up there trying to get five hits,” Van Horn said. “He was up there playing baseball and taking what they gave him. He was just playing. He wasn’t pressing and that was really good to see.”
Van Horn said he plans to play Webb again Wednesday afternoon.
Starting pitching has been a little hit-and-miss for the Razorbacks so far this season, with some great outings and some when the starter fails to get out of the second inning.
The latter was the case the first two times right-hander Caleb Bolden got the nod, but he flipped the script against a light-hitting Memphis team.
Aside from four free passes (three walks and one HBP), the Texarkana, Texas, native was almost perfect. Bolden allowed one hit – a two-out triple to preseason All-American catcher Hunter Goodman in the first – and was charged with only one run in 4 2/3 innings.
“When he got ahead of the hitters, he was really good,” Van Horn said. “It seemed like he had his slider the first inning or two, and then it kind of went away, the command on that. He could have finished off some hitters if had thrown it a little closer to the zone. It seemed like they wanted to chase it a little bit.”
Had he landed that pitch more, Bolden probably would have been able to get through the fifth and been eligible to earn the victory.
Instead, after a walk – his second of the inning – he was pulled with two outs in the fifth and his earned run scored on a single allowed by reliever Ryan Costeiu.
Bolden threw only 58 pitches, but that was close to the pitch count the coaching staff had set for him ahead of time and Van Horn said they got him out so he’d be available for an inning or two this weekend.
Getting Pallette Back on Track
One of those games when Arkansas’ starter failed to get through the second inning happened just last Friday, as Peyton Pallette recorded only three outs before Van Horn went to his bullpen.
The right-hander displayed command issues that hadn’t popped up during his time with the Razorbacks. He faced only nine hitters and walked three while plunking another. Only 16 of his 41 pitches were strikes.
To get him back on track, Van Horn decided to fall back on a strategy that’s already worked twice this season with Zebulon Vermillion and now Bolden: A move back to the bullpen.
Pallette was warming up in the bullpen at the end of Sunday’s game and likely would have pitched if Jaxon Wiggins hadn’t finished off the game and actually did pitch in relief Tuesday.
Although he gave up a one-out single, Pallette bounced back to strike out Memphis leadoff man Jaylen Wilbon and then got Ben Brooks to fly out to deep right field. Van Horn said the plan was for him to throw no more than 20 pitches and he finished with 19 – with 12 of them for strikes.
“He obviously had a live arm, 95, 96, 97-mile an hour fastball,” Van Horn said. “He located some of them, some of them were just-miss type pitches, which you can’t complain about that. He landed a couple breaking balls. We just wanted to get him back out there, maybe just to kind of get him over the hump, get that last game behind him and he can move forward.”
The lineup Arkansas used against Memphis was unlike any it had used this season.
Four regulars – second baseman Robert Moore, designated hitter Matt Goodheart, catcher Casey Opitz and third baseman Cullen Smith – were given the day off so the Razorbacks could get a look at some of their younger players.
Welch, whose listed position is catcher, was the starting designated hitter, while freshmen Dylan Leach and Zac White started at catcher and right field, respectively. Veteran Jacob Nesbit made his 82nd career start, but just his second at second base.
Those moves also allowed Wallace to get his first collegiate start at third base, his natural position, after his first 16 starts were in right field. The only other time he’s gotten action at third was on Opening Weekend, when he moved there late in the first and third games of the season.
“I just felt like for team morale and really for the guys that hadn’t played much, it was time to get those guys in the game,” Van Horn said. “They’ve been good teammates and they’ve continued to work. They had just watched.”
Freshman Ethan Bates pinch hit for shortstop Jalen Battles in the eighth inning and played second base in the ninth, bumping Nesbit over to shortstop. Van Horn said he’ll play Wednesday and that Leach will likely get a second straight start.
Before returning to SEC play with a road trip to Mississippi State, Arkansas will play one more game against Memphis at 3 p.m. CT Wednesday. It will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus, which means it can be watched online on ESPN3.com or the ESPN app.
Neither team has announced its starting pitcher for the game, with Van Horn declining to reveal his starter during the postgame press conference.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Van Horn said with a laugh when asked who would get the nod. “We’re still thinking about it. I don’t know. I guess I don’t want to say right now.”
~Arkansas has now won seven straight games against Memphis and 13 of the last 14 games in the series, dating back to 1994. The lone loss during that stretch was a tough 5-4 loss at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock during the 2015 season. The Razorbacks lead the all-time series with the Tigers 27-13-1.
~Van Horn reached another milestone in his illustrious coaching career Tuesday. It was his 1,300th career win, including his time in the junior college and Division II ranks. He is now 1,300-632 (.673), with 715 of those wins coming at Arkansas, his alma mater.
~With another three-hit game, Wallace raised his batting average another 11 points to .273 on the season. Just two weeks ago, he was hitting .176. Starting in the Louisiana Tech series, the freshman shortened his swing and it’s resulted in him going 13 for 32 (.406) over the last eight games. “I just feel like he’s confident right now,” Van Horn said. “He’s doing a great job of not trying to do too much. He’s gotten a lot of two-strike hits. Really has a good approach with two strikes.”