Thu April 25, 2024

By Lance Hawley

Hogs vs Gators Preview
By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE -- No. 2 Arkansas is home to battle both Florida and the weather this weekend for a three-game series with some bad injury news as well.

Arkansas (35-6, 14-4) will take on Florida (21-19, 8-10) without Saturday starter Mason Molina. Dave Van Horn provided an update.

"He has a twisted ankle so he is injured," Van Horn said Thursday. "Yeah, he twisted his ankle doing some drill work, Coach (Matt) Hobbs and him and a few other pitchers. We’re going to give him this week off to let that heal. We could probably put him on the roster. We could probably pitch him. He’s probably 90%. But we want to make sure that next week and going forward he’s at 100%."

Molina is 3-1 on the season. In 10 starts, he has an ERA of 3.47, worked 46.2 innings, allowed 29 hits, 28 walks and 68 strikeouts.

"We’re going to go Hagen (Smith) game 1, then Brady Tygart game 2 and we’re going to go TBA game 3," Van Horn said.

Arkansas seems to have good pitching depth and may be better able to handle this injury to Molina than in some past seasons.

"Yeah, I mean we’ll go with the best option," Van Horn said. "We could staff it, we could pitch it like a Tuesday game. We’ll figure it out after we’ve finished a couple of games on who we’re going to throw, at least start. It’s really who we’re going to start. Whoever we start is probably just going to go a few innings anyway."

It's not the Gators that is on Van Horn's mind, the forecast for the weekend isn't positive.

"Yeah, so I’m thinking tomorrow on Friday as of now we have a window to play: 7 to 10 or 5 to 10 or whatever it looks like where it’s not quite such a big percentage," Van Horn said. "Now that could change obviously tomorrow and then closer to game time. You know if the percentages go up and storms are going to roll in we won’t start that game. But we’re planning on playing tomorrow at 7. I think it’s a TV game. That’s why we’re playing at 7. And then Sunday does not look good at all. It looks like it’s anywhere from 80 to 90% all day. So it looks like there’s a window on Saturday most of the day where we could probably play two. So basically looking to try to play tomorrow and then we will try to figure this out today if we’re going to move the Sunday game to Saturday. Because I know there’s a lot of fans coming. 

"We’re probably going to … I think the SEC rule states that if you’re going to make a decision to move a game, say a day and a half out, you’ve got to have at least 80%. And we’re definitely at 80 and 90 and just listening to the local people speak about the weather on Sunday, they said it probably is not going to go away all day. We’ll do what we can to get three in, so I think for us to do that, it sounds like we definitely gotta get a game in tomorrow if we’re going to get three in. Then kind of go from there. If we played one Friday and we only got one in Saturday due to weather or we didn’t play Friday and we played two Saturday, then we’ll just have to sit on Sunday and see if we can get it in. But right now I would say decisions will be made later on today about what we’re going to try to do on Sunday."

In addition to the weather, the Gators present problems as well.

"They’ve played an extremely tough non-conference schedule," Van Horn said. "They’ve played Florida State, I think, three times, and Miami. And they haven’t done great against Florida State, who’s really good this year and maybe had a little more pitching depth. That’s where some of their losses have come, against some of the really good midweek teams.

"League play, it’s been up and down with their pitching.  Offensively, they’re strong. They’ve hit a bunch of home runs. I think, like, 90. Their first baseman and pitcher [Jac] Cagliaone, he’s unbelievable when you look at his numbers. He’s hitting .410 with 25 homers and he’s only struck out 14 times. It’s amazing. I mean, he swings at pitches that are eye high and hits them over the lights. He swings at bad pitches, but he hits them, and he hits them hard. 

"They’re really dangerous and they’ve very talented. They’ve just had some young pitchers that maybe are a year away that they’ve tried to depend on in midweek games that have hurt them. In league play, it’s just a good league. You can say this team is better than that team, or they’re supposed to do this. I don’t look at that way. Man, they’re all good. There are some teams that struggling that you kind of shake your head, like Auburn or whoever. But they can hit or they can do this. But they don’t finish games on the mound. But I look at them [Florida] as one of the more talented teams in the SEC. They have a lot of pro talent, guys are going to sign for a lot of money this year, next year."

Ben Bybee and Colin Fisher have been the midweek starters. Bybee only threw two innings against UAPB on Tuesday when he obviously could have gone deeper into the game. Van Horn was asked if he knew about Molina at that time and was behind the decision to pull Bybee that quickly?

"Yeah, that was exactly what went on," Van Horn said. "Because we would have thrown Bybee more. That was a good observation."

Van Horn also offered injury updates on Jared Sprague-Lott and Kendall Diggs.

“He’s going to play," Van Horn said of his third baseman. "I don’t know if he’ll ever be 100%. But he hit with the team yesterday and he looked good. We’ll get him back in the lineup this weekend.

“If [Diggs] is pain-free, he’s good. He’s had some swelling and inflammation in there. He had some treatment and a few days off. He seems to be swinging the bat as good as he was earlier in the season. We’re excited to get him back.”

Friday's game is currently scheduled for 7 p.m. on the SEC Network. Van Horn was asked could that change?

"I think it would be, it’s something we’re going to look at too," Van Horn said. "But as of now, looks like we do have a window later in the day. But yeah, I would think move it up. I think it’s the (SEC) network. I mean, we got to get these in. If it was just — I would say if we have a beautiful day on Saturday and Sunday, we’d just try to play it normal time because of TV, but with the Sunday issue, two days to get three in possibly, we got to do what we got to do."

Saturday is slated for noon on ESPN2 and then Sunday at 2 p.m. on SEC Network+.