FAYETTEVILLE – The early key to Arkansas' baseball season is simple: get hot fast.
That was the method Arkansas used to win Friday against Ball State and the No. 17 Razorbacks used the same formula Sunday, scoring four runs in the first inning of a 9-3 win over the Cardinals at rainy Baum Stadium.
"We talked about getting ahead of them today," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "I thought we competed real well at the plate. We got hit by pitches, took walks. We've still got some guys that are fishing a little bit at balls out of the zone but it's early. They'll start recognizing that and when it happens I think we'll start to put together some more big innings.
"We didn't want to lose back-to-back games. That team is going to win a lot of games and will have a good RPI, and that will help us. This is a big series win for us."
Brett Eibner pitched three scoreless innings in his first outing of the season, striking out five batters and allowing just two hits on a limited pitch count. Eibner struck out all three batters in the first inning and worked out of a jam in the second with runners in scoring position and one out.
"I thought Brett threw the ball extremely well," Van Horn said. "He went down 3-0 to his first batter and came back and struck him out, and that kind of set the tone for his three innings. He looked good and was pretty smooth."
Eibner threw just 35 of his scheduled 40 pitches in his first game since injuring his throwing elbow last summer in the Cape Cod League.
"That's what rehab does for you; it makes you feel good," Eibner said. "My adrenaline was flowing a little bit as I came out. Mostly I was trying to relax because I usually get into trouble when I'm too anxious."
The Razorbacks (2-1) set the offensive tone in the first inning, starting with Zack Cox' RBI single and followed by a 3-run home run by James McCann. Just one day after leaving 12 runners on base in a loss to the Cardinals (1-2), McCann's blast was a sight for sore eyes.
"That was good because we're looking at maybe leaving a couple on in the first inning and only scoring one run," Van Horn said. "Him popping that ball like that was nice."
Thanks in part to an injury to second baseman Bo Bigham, Eibner starting on the mound and the inability to plate runners Saturday, Arkansas shuffled its lineup Sunday. Cox, the starting third baseman, played at second; Saturday's second baseman Tim Carver started at short stop; Friday's starting left fielder Collin Kuhn started in center; and Travis Sample and freshman Derrick Bleeker made their first career starts at left field and third base, respectively. Van Horn also tweaked the batting order significantly, most notably with Andy Wilkins moving to third in the order and designated hitter Monk Kreder to the clean-up spot.
The changes worked as the Razorbacks recorded 11 hits. Kreder finished 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs.
"I didn't like the way the lineup gelled Saturday," Van Horn said. "I wanted to split the two left-handed hitters up and I thought Wilkins was batting pretty good so we moved him up. Kreder can back him up and if they don't want to pitch to Kreder they have to pitch to Zack."
Arkansas got solid work out of its bullpen. Drew Smyly pitched four innings, allowing one run and struck out five batters. Junior college transfers Jordan Pratt (Arkansas Fort-Smith) and Jason Fuqua (Alvin Junior College) closed the final two innings.
"We wanted to try to get some guys at least one inning on the mound maybe just get the nervousness out and see what they can do," Van Horn said. "It gives us an idea to how they can respond in a game and it was good."
Arkansas 9, Ball State 3
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