Arkansas Razorbacks shuffle rotation ahead of Murray State Racers series - Peyton Pallette, Caleb Bolden, Lael Lockhart
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Hogs shuffle rotation ahead of Murray State series

Peyton Pallette has not allowed a run in 9 1/3 innings so far in 2021.
Peyton Pallette has not allowed a run in 9 1/3 innings so far in 2021. (SEC Media)

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has shuffled its starting rotation ahead of its three-game series against Murray State, head coach Dave Van Horn announced Thursday morning.

After back-to-back scoreless outings, right-hander Peyton Pallette has slid up into the No. 1 spot in the rotation and will start Friday afternoon. He’ll be followed by right-hander Caleb Bolden on Saturday and left-hander Lael Lockhart on Sunday.

Van Horn said the starters will have a pitch count around 80 or “maybe a little bit more,” but they could throw less than that depending on how stressful their innings are.

The odd man out in the rotation is right-hander Zebulon Vermillion, who struggled with his command in just three innings last week against Southeast Missouri State and is headed back to the bullpen.

Pallette made the decision even easier by striking out eight in five scoreless innings the next day against SEMO, needing only 65 pitches to do so. The second-year freshman has now struck out 16 batters and held opponents to a minuscule .125 batting average in 9 1/3 innings this season.

“It’s always going to be a work in progress, as far as the mental part of being able to handle pitching Game 1, if that’s where he ends up,” Van Horn said. “I think he’s ready for it. We didn’t just give it to him. He had to earn it. He’s thrown well his first two outings, so here we are Week 3 and we just put him up there.”

Bolden followed up his four hitless innings of relief against Texas on opening weekend by failing to get out of the first inning in Game 1 of the four-game series with the Redhawks.

Pitching on three days rest, he put three of the first four batters on base via free passes and was ultimately charged with three earned runs in 1/3 of an inning. Despite that poor showing, Van Horn said he still believes Bolden deserves the Game 2 nod based on his performances in the fall and preseason.

“We didn’t give him enough time to get ready,” Van Horn said. “Unfortunately he kind of talked us into that. The way it turned out, he didn’t have the stuff or command that he had against Texas down there in a tough spot.”

The Razorbacks didn’t get a great start out of Lockhart last weekend, either, but Van Horn didn’t seem too concerned about it afterward.

The graduate transfer from Houston zipped through the first two innings on only 21 pitches, but then lost his command as a steady rain made the mound muddy and slippery. Before that, Van Horn said he threw as well as he has since arriving in Fayetteville, so it’s not a surprise that Lockhart remained in the rotation.

Murray State is the Razorbacks’ penultimate non-conference weekend series before entering SEC play and next week’s series is on the road at Louisiana Tech, so there aren’t too many more opportunities for the starters to cement themselves in the rotation moving forward.

“We need to see those guys throw well,” Van Horn said. “Anybody that's out there needs to continue to prove they're a guy we need to put out there in conference play. I'm thinking they will.”

Arkansas’ bigger concern in its rotation last week was Vermillion. In his two starts this year, he has walked six batters in seven innings. The right-hander had issued only nine walks in 39 innings during his first three seasons with the Razorbacks.

The hope is that the switch back to the bullpen will help Vermillion regain the stuff that made him a draft prospect last year before the draft was shortened to five rounds because of the pandemic.

“He usually throws with a little more velocity than he’s thrown with in the first couple of outings,” Van Horn said. “It’ll give him a chance to see the game and realize exactly what he needs to do when he goes in. I hope when he gets in there he has a good outing or two this weekend.”

The Razorbacks’ bullpen also includes Elijah Trest, who hasn’t pitched since the season-opening win over Texas Tech on Feb. 20. Van Horn said he had some soreness after his three innings of relief that day, but he was available to pitch Saturday and Sunday against SEMO. He’ll be ready this weekend, as well.

One pitcher Arkansas hasn’t used at all this season is right-hander Blake Adams, who actually began the 2020 season in the starting rotation as a true freshman. He was likely going to pitch Sunday before the game was cut short because of the weather.

“We had Adams loose the other day and the rain got us,” Van Horn said. “He’s one of the guys that hasn’t thrown yet. He should have, but he hasn’t. It just hasn’t worked out, so we’ll get him out there.”

The three-game series with Murray State is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. CT Friday, followed by a 1 p.m. CT first pitch on Saturday and Sunday. All three games will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus, meaning they can be watched online on ESPN3.com or the ESPN app.