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Arkansas hung on to a midweek win Tuesday thanks in part to the work of its bullpen.
Three relievers – Ryan Costeiu, Caden Monke and Zack Morris – combined to throw the final 4 1/3 innings of the Razorbacks’ 7-2 win over Little Rock at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Considering its inconsistent starting pitching throughout the season, Arkansas has leaned on its bullpen this year and it has come through in a big way recently.
Over the last four games, the bullpen has allowed just three runs on nine hits and six walks over 18 innings, while also striking out 22 batters. That works out to a 1.50 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 11 strikeouts per nine innings.
No one was more dominant out of the pen over the weekend than Kevin Kopps. On Thursday, the right-hander went three innings, allowing no runs on one hit and a walk and striking out eight. Only one of his recorded was was not a strikeout.
“His performance was great,” head coach Dave Van Horn said after Thursday’s loss. “We brought him in and we had three innings left. We felt like we were down a run, we were going to be able to score a run or two. Kevin was the right one to bring in at the time. We didn’t want to look back and say, ‘Hey, we gave up a run here or there, we should have just gone to Kevin,’ because we felt like we were going to score, but we didn’t.”
The bullpen went 6 1/3 innings on Friday after a rough start by Zebulon Vermillion. Peyton Pallette came in and threw 4 1/3 innings and allowed just one run on two hits and two walks and struck out five.
“I think it was huge, coming in, collecting outs and quality pitches,” Pallette said of his performance Friday. “It was huge for the team and I’m glad we came out there in the sixth or seventh where we scored those five runs. It was really big. Overall, I thought my performance was pretty well.”
Wiggins gave up a rare run in his one inning of work. It was just the second he has allowed this season, but his ERA is still just 1.86. Kopps pitched a perfect ninth with two punchouts to earn the save.
On Saturday, the bullpen also went 4 1/3 innings. The first pitch Monke threw was a home run, but after that, the bullpen allowed no more runs and only one more hit and a walk. Costeiu, Kopps and Wiggins went four scoreless innings to end the game.
Costeiu had two perfect frames and Kopps allowed a leadoff single in the ninth, in his third consecutive night of work, but finished off the next three hitters. Wiggins walked the leadoff man in the 10th, but got the next three out.
This season, Kopps has a 0.82 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP over 22 innings, with 40 strikeouts. He has a 4-0 record with three saves as well.
“I thought our bullpen really did a nice job,” Van Horn said Saturday after the series win against Auburn. “Think about it, we lose 2-1 first game. Pitching did a tremendous job up and down. Yesterday, Palette comes in holds them down 4 1/3 innings, only gives up one run, so he keeps it fairly close. We were down four, we come back and win.
“And then today, the same thing. They jumped on us for two runs before we got an out. That’s all they scored till the sixth. All the runs they scored today were on two swings. Other that that, I thought our pitching staff did a great job.”
Against the Trojans, the bullpen allowed just two hits and two walks in its 4 1/3 innings. Costeiu got out of a two-out jam created by starter Kole Ramage, Monke struck out three over two no-hit innings and Morris closed the game out.
“Costeiu did a great job,” Van Horn said. “We could have sent him back out. He got us four outs on 11 pitches. And then Monke had really good stuff. He held them down for a couple innings. He had one walk, but held them hitless. He did a really nice job. Obviously, we could have sent him back out, but we need to save him. That was the gameplan. Morris, in the ninth, I thought his stuff was really good. He had a really good breaking ball, but he needed to get ahead in the count.”
“I think it was really good,” Ramage said of the bullpen’s performance. “Costeiu came in right after me with the runner on second and got that big out to get out of that. And then Monke came out, and he was a little shaky at first but then once he was able to locate that fastball, I don’t think any of those kids had a shot at hitting his movement that he has. And then Morris at the very end, just competing. Kind of the same way, was struggling a little bit at first, got off to a lot of 3-2 counts, was able to just compete and throw strikes and get those ground balls to end the game with a double play.”
The bullpen kept the Razorbacks in all three weekend games against Auburn, allowing them to make two comeback victories.
Without solid pitching from the relievers, Arkansas would have been in deep trouble this past weekend.
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