CWS Notebook: Tech considering Kilian and Bonnin, injury updates, more
HawgBeat's coverage of the Razorbacks' Road to Redemption in Omaha is brought to you by Arkansas Oral Surgery, which has offices located in Conway and Russellville.
OMAHA, Neb. — Texas Tech has yet to announce a starting pitcher for Monday’s elimination game against Arkansas.
Junior right-hander Caleb Kilian is the Red Raiders’ usual No. 2 starter, but head coach Tim Tadlock said after their practice Sunday afternoon that they hadn’t officially decided on a guy.
The other pitcher being considered is sophomore right-hander Bryce Bonnin, who played for the Razorbacks last season before transferring to Texas Tech during the offseason and becoming its third starter in the weekend rotation.
“I think there’s some comfort level with him pitching against their guys, probably five or six times, maybe even more,” Tadlock said. “I would think there’s some motivation there for him. … I think there’s some human element there that wants us all to kind of give the ball to Bryce.”
Those emotions aside, Kilian would be the logical choice for the Red Raiders. In addition to being their second starter throughout most of the season, he was also a part of their rotation last year and a key bullpen arm as a freshman.
An eight-round pick by the Giants, he is 8-3 with a 3.93 ERA, 80 strikeouts and only 19 walks in 89 1/3 innings this season. Kilian has been pretty consistent at Texas Tech, with a 3.61 ERA in nearly 200 career innings, earning the respect of his teammates.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Caleb,” reliever John McMillon said. “He’s a hard worker and a great teammate. He’s going to throw three pitches for strikes and every time he’s on the mound, he’s going to lay it out there for his teammates.”
However, with Bonnin’s experience against the Razorbacks, it’s easy to see why Tadlock is intrigued with pitching him Monday. He played with six of Arkansas’ nine starters last year, facing them throughout fall and preseason intrasquad scrimmages.
Although his numbers aren’t as good overall, Bonnin has been pretty solid for the Red Raiders down the stretch. In his last six starts, he has a 2.53 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 32 innings. Command is still Bonnin’s biggest issue, as he’s issued an incredible 41 walks in 59 innings this season.
Tadlock didn’t want to give any indication one way or the other on his starting pitcher, but said he was confident in either Kilian or Bonnin.
“You’d like to think your whole team is built for moments like this,” Tadlock said. “You worked throughout the whole year, put yourself in this position. … These guys have prepared, they’re ready for this moment. They just need to go out and trust what they do.”
Oregon State Example
It was at their expense, but Oregon State did last year exactly what the Razorbacks must do this year to capture the national championship.
The Beavers dropped their opening game against North Carolina only to battle back through the loser’s bracket with four straight wins to advance to the College World Series finals, where they beat Arkansas.
Head coach Dave Van Horn used that as an example in his postgame talk with the team after they lost a heartbreaker 1-0 to Florida State on Saturday.
“That was the first thing I said, that Oregon State lost last year and they came back through the loser’s bracket,” Van Horn said. “Then I quickly flipped it to, the way they did it is they worried about the next game.”
With the games spaced out across a few more days, coming through the loser’s bracket in Omaha doesn’t put quite as much pressure on a team’s pitching staff as doing it in a regional. Instead, the key is not letting the mind wander past the next game.
It’s cliche, but the Razorbacks seemed to buy in to Van Horn’s message of taking it one game at a time ahead of Monday’s matchup with Texas Tech.
“We have a game tomorrow and it’s all we’re really worried about,” center fielder Dominic Fletcher said. “We’re not worried about the big picture right now. We’re just worried about going out there and competing tomorrow.”
Arkansas has only one more game guaranteed this season, so it will approach the game with a sense of urgency while also staying loose.
“The teams that get comfortable in the winner’s bracket, they don’t always stick around there,” catcher Casey Opitz said. “The teams that kind of give up after that first loss, they go home. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to come out, we’re going to be ready to go, we’re going to be fine.”
Both teams in Monday’s elimination game are dealing with injuries to key players, albeit one more significant than the other.
Luckily for the Razorbacks, shortstop Casey Martin doesn’t seem to have any lingering issues after the ninth-inning collision with J.C. Flowers on Saturday.
The play took his glove off his hand, allowing Flowers to reach and eventually score the game-winning run. It also hurt Martin’s shoulder, but he was able to stay in the game.
He had ice on the shoulder after the game and admitted after Sunday’s practice that it was still sore. Van Horn doesn’t expect it limit him Monday, though.
“He seems to be fine, I didn’t say anything (to him) today,” Van Horn said. “I figured he would tell me if it was bothering him. He iced it last night after the game. I’m sure it’s just a little bit stiff because it got jammed.”
Texas Tech right fielder Gabe Holt isn’t as lucky. He has a thumb injury that’s kept him out of the Red Raiders’ last two games - the final game of the Lubbock Super Regional and Saturday’s loss to Michigan - and required surgery last week.
Tadlock said that he has yet to practice since getting hurt and didn’t sound particularly encouraged he’d be able to play against Arkansas.
“He’s a guy that’s played a lot of baseball at a high level,” Tadlock said. “If we can get to that point, it’d be cool, but right now the guys need to pick him up and do everything we can to play good without him.”
By getting shutout Saturday, the Razorbacks have now played 22 consecutive scoreless innings at the College World Series. The streak began after they took the lead in the fifth inning of Game 2 of last year’s finals and now includes shutout loss to Oregon State and Florida State.
It matches a scoreless streak Mississippi State had across its 2013 and 2018 appearances and three innings shy of matching Rice’s streak from 2006-2007, which is the longest since at least the early-1980s.
When asked about it Sunday, Van Horn said he didn’t think there was a mental block or anything of that nature that was keeping Arkansas off the board.
“I think it’s just a fact that we ran into a couple of really good pitchers and we haven’t gotten the big hit,” Van Horn said. “It’s just kind of the way it works… I don’t think there’s an issue. It’s just a matter of not getting it done.”
Adjustment at the Plate
The only player who had any type of success against Florida State’s Drew Parrish was freshman Christian Franklin, who went 2 for 3 with a double. The rest of the team combined to go 3 for 27.
It was a surprising breakout performance for the Razorbacks’ 9-hole hitter, who was in the midst of a miserable stretch at the plate. Over the previous five games, he was hitless with nine strikeouts in 14 at bats.
The difference was a tweak Franklin made with hitting coach Nate Thompson.
“Me and Coach Thompson worked on trying to keep my leg kick more quiet, so we switched to a toe-tap to kind of replicate my swing at the beginning of the season,” Franklin said after the game. “It’s helped a lot and I’ve been able to see the ball a lot better.”
Van Horn said he definitely noticed that it helped his timing, as he actually notched Arkansas’ first hit of the game with a leadoff single in the third inning.
“His timing was not good for the last couple of weeks,” Van Horn said. “I think him getting that first hit really helped his confidence and he had a really good at bat there in the eighth where he got behind in the count and hit a ball down the right field line for a double.”
Plunkett the Pitcher
As a fifth-year senior, Zack Plunkett is Arkansas’ backup catcher behind Opitz. He’s started 16 games and is hitting .260 with five doubles, two home runs and nine RBIs.
Despite his lack of playing time the last two years, Plunkett - who began his career at TCU - was drafted in the 20th round of this year’s MLB Draft by the Dodgers. Interestingly, they drafted him as a pitcher - a position he has not played in college.
Plunkett was seen getting some mound work in with pitching coach Matt Hobbs at Sunday’s practice in addition to his normal work at catcher, but Van Horn said he’s “probably not” going to pitch in Omaha. That work was more getting ready for his professional career than the present.
However, Van Horn didn’t completely rule it out.
“I would never tell you we’re not using him,” Van Horn said. “If we stay here long enough and we need an arm, we’ll put him out there.”
The rules for home and away designations at the College World Series are the same as the regionals after the opening round of games. Teams that have been home fewer times are given that distinction.
Because Arkansas and Texas Tech were both the home team Saturday, though, it was decided by a coin flip. The Razorbacks lost that flip and will be the road team against the Red Raiders, despite having a higher seed.