Dave Van Horn decided to save his weekend pitchers during a 16-4 loss Saturday night. Turns out, Van Horn only needed to save Keaton McKinney.
McKinney went the distance, giving up three runs in the ninth in a 7-3 victory Sunday that gave the Razorbacks their third straight SEC series. Arkansas improved to 20-16 overall, 7-8 in the SEC. Kentucky is at 19-15, 5-9.
McKinney, 6-5 freshman from Ankenny, Iowa, had a two-hit shutout through eight innings on just 90 pitches. He gave up one run after two hits and catcher's indifference to allow a couple of stolen bases. There was a two-run homer by JaVon Shelby after it looked like McKinney deserved strike three, drawing Van Horn's disdain from the dugout and earning a warning from home plate umpire Eddie Newsom.
"Two pitches before (the home run) should have been strike three," Van Horn said. "When a guy is painting like that, you should be rewarded."
Indeed, McKinney (2-1) was painting. McKinney showed the command of the fast ball and changeup which made him a 28th-round draft pick by the New York Mets last summer. He was so good with those two pitches that he ditched the breaking ball.
"I threw one curve ball, in the dirt in the second inning," McKinney said. "That's the first time I've done that. Last game, I was probably double digit breaking balls."
Van Horn said there was never a time he thought about going to the bullpen. Jackson Lowery was up in the fifth inning and was joined by two others later in the game.
"They were guessing," Van Horn said of the UK hitters. "Five or six innings would have been great, but he pitched well last week at Auburn.
"The complete game? He rolled through the sixth, seventh and eighth on hardly any pitches. I didn't even ask the guy charting pitches how many he had. If he was not throwing strikes, maybe I would have taken him out. But he wasn't tired and he wasn't wild."
Van Horn said McKinney's complete game makes things easier for the two midweek games against Stephen F. Austin. James Teague, Josh Alberius, Lance Phillips and Lowery all are rested. After walking 11 batters and hitting six in the Saturday loss, McKinney issued only one walk and didn't hit a batter on Sunday.
"That helps us a lot," Van Horn said. "We feel a lot better about what we've done than after last weekend coming out of Auburn."
The Hogs scored one in the first, three in the third and got some insurance with three in the eighth. The bottom end of the batting order did the most damage. Rick Nomura had three hits, two RBI and scored twice. Michael Bernal added two hits and two RBI with as sacrifice bunt.
Andrew Benintendi extended his hitting streak to nine games with two hits, including an RBI single the opposite way in the first. Tyler Spoon had two hits, two runs and a solo homer in the eighth.
"It was just a good job by our team to come back after getting whipped last night," Van Horn said. "Nomura had some big hits to drive in some runs, along with Bernal, at the bottom of the order.
"But it was just a great performance by McKinney. He got some fly balls early, then a lot of ground balls."
Bernal handled six assists at short, Nomura four at second and Bobby Wernes had three at third.
"Everything from Keaton was down and with that changeup, that's going to get ground balls," Bernal said. "He was ahead of most of the batters. That is a big confidence boost for our team and for Keaton."
McKinney had been sidelined during the summer with a minor hand injury and was held back in some of the fall workouts. His velocity was down when he came back in January, but it's slowly coming back.
"He was 92-93 as a junior," Van Horn said. "It is starting to come back. I don't know what it was today, but I think up. He's fluctuated from 88 to 85 to 89. I bet it was around 90 today."
McKinney shrugged his shoulder on the velocity.
"I never know what it's going to be," he said. "It might have been a little better today."
There wasn't a complaint from McKinney about the call that didn't go his way in the ninth. Was he squeezed?
"I don't know," he said. "It was an expand-away fast ball and it hit exactly where the mitt was. It was borderline."
There was nothing borderline about McKinney's performance. It was a restful day for the UA bullpen.
Arkansas 7, Kentucky 3
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