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FAYETTEVILLE — Connor Noland could return to the mound in the next 2-2.5 weeks, head coach Dave Van Horn told the Swatters Club during a virtual meeting Monday afternoon.
The right-hander hasn’t pitched since March 5 because of a forearm strain that HawgBeat first reported two weeks ago, but he has resumed throwing in practice and is on a routine.
“I’ve been talking to Connor a little bit, he says he feels good,” Van Horn said. “We don’t want to rush him. Obviously we need him. If we could get him back and healthy and pitching the way he’s pitched in the past, it could really help us down the stretch.”
A weekend starter on the 2019 College World Series team as a freshman, Noland earned the Friday night role last year and posted a 2.00 ERA with 19 strikeouts and four walks in 18 innings across three starts before the season was cut short by the pandemic.
Although he was expected to have a major role on the staff again this year, Noland not only didn’t earn a spot in the weekend rotation, but he didn’t pitch at all on opening weekend. He has made only two appearances so far this year.
His mother, Angie Noland, told HawgBeat last month that the injury has bothered Noland since that first week of the season. He played through it and pitched well against SEMO, allowing just two hits and one unearned run while striking out five in 4 2/3 innings, but his second outing didn’t go as well.
As the first guy out of the bullpen in Game 1 of the Murray State series the following weekend, he recorded a quick out and then – in a span of three pitches – gave up a single and two-run home run that put the Racers up. He was pulled after a four-pitch walk to the next batter and hasn’t played since, as he’s been rehabbing and trying to get healthy.
If he can get back on the mound, Van Horn didn’t rule out the possibility of him earning a spot in the weekend rotation, which is still in flux halfway through the season, or even a midweek starter role.
Another pitcher who could return from injury and get some action later this season is hard-throwing right-hander Jacob Burton, who has yet to play in 2021 because of an arm strain suffered just before the start of the season.
Like Noland, he is back throwing in practice, but not quite 100 percent. Van Horn said they aren’t count him out yet.
“He’s probably not a starter, he’s more of a reliever, but don’t be surprised if you see him out there before the season’s over,” Van Horn said. “It might end up being a situation where he tells us, ‘Hey, I’m good using this year.’ We could use a redshirt on him, but I think if he’s ready to go, he’s going to want to pitch.”
Someone the Razorbacks won’t have available until the fall and the 2022 season, though, is right-hander Issac Bracken.
A graduate transfer from Northern Colorado, he was a four-year weekend starter for the Bears who was able to play for Arkansas this year because of the eligibility relief granted by the NCAA after last season was canceled.
Van Horn said he and his staff have been really cautious with the elbow injury he suffered during the fall and the decision was just made for him to have a minor procedure, which he had Monday. The plan is for him to be ready to go in the fall.
“He was going to be more of a middle- to end-of-the-game guy for us,” Van Horn said. “He’s a 92, 93, 94 mph right-hander with a little bit of an attitude. Good stuff. He was throwing really well (until) he tweaked his elbow. … He’s going to come back and pitch for us next year and continue to work on that master’s. Issac was a kid, he would have helped us this year.”
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