FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A lot of times Sunday games are the ones that light up the scoreboard. Arkansas and Bucknell decided to go against type in their series finale.
The Diamond Hogs pulled off a sweep in their first series of the year, beating Bucknell on Sunday, 3-1. It was surprisingly low-scoring given Arkansas had rolled up 46 runs in the first two games. The fifth-ranked Razorbacks get back after it Wednesday for a four-game road trip in California.
Most importantly Sunday was not the final score. It was the return of right-hander Keaton McKinney. The junior missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery. The year before that, McKinney played through a hip injury that ultimately required surgery, too. It had been a difficult two years for the team’s ace since his freshman year, the year Arkansas went to the College World Series.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn named him the Sunday starter late in the week, much to the surprise and happiness of the Diamond Hogs faithful. Once Van Horn announced how many pitches McKinney would throw it became clear he wanted to see where the pitcher was on his way back.
It went about as expected, results-wise. McKinney threw 44 pitches in two innings of work. He walked 2, struck out 2 and gave up a run. He looked somewhat tentative, but loose. Twenty-two of his 44 pitches were strikes. Matt Cronin, who is in the running to become the team’s Sunday starter during SEC weekends, followed.
Bucknell scored that run in the second inning, but Arkansas responded in the bottom half to tie the game, Carson Shaddy’s RBI single plating Grant Koch. An inning later, the Diamond Hogs went ahead. Luke Bonfield had an RBI single to score Dominic Fletcher.
Mostly it was that sort of game. Dinks and outs, not even dinks and dunks. Arkansas had 9 hits, which felt miniscule after the offensive outburst in the first two games. Bucknell had 5 hits.
Eric Cole hit a moonshot solo homer in the seventh to make the game 3-1. He ultimately went 3 for 3 with a walk on the day.
Grading the Hogs
McKinney isn’t quite there yet, but simply playing in a live game was a positive step forward in his ultimate return (which, honestly, is probably going to be more focused on next season). Cronin was fine, so was Caleb Bolden, who relieved him. Intriguing was the 6-foot-8 freshman Jackson Rutledge. He sat at 96 miles-per-hour mostly, but his command is not SEC ready.
A bit of a rested day. The Diamond Hogs had 9 hits, drew 4 walks. Could have had more, including a home run from Heston Kjerstad, but a strong wind blew in from the south, keeping the flag out in right field whipping toward the field.
The Big Stick + The Arm
The freshman from Texarkana was a late addition to the recruiting class last offseason. Sunday was his first career appearance. Bolden didn’t blow anyone away, but he stated his case to be a useful option in midweek games later this year. He worked three innings and gave up just a hit and a walk. Decent.
No one else reached more than once, except Evan Lee, who played first base. His two came on walks.
What’s next for Arkansas?
The Diamond Hogs head out west. Four games in southern California, the first coming Wednesday against Arizona.