FAYETTEVILLE - DJ Baxendale will make the first road start of his career Saturday at Ole Miss and Brett Eibner will move out of the starting pitching rotation, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said Monday at the monthly Swatter's Club meeting.
The No. 14 Razorbacks (35-10, 14-7 SEC) have lost two straight series, punctuated by a 13-2 loss to Auburn at Baum Stadium on Sunday. The league's top-ranked offense tortured starters Randall Fant and Eibner, and several members of the Razorback bullpen by scoring a combined 21 runs and hitting seven home runs over the final two games of the series.
But Baxendale was a bright spot out of the bullpen, pitching 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief Saturday. His outing helped Arkansas make its way back into the game before stranding two runners in scoring position in the ninth inning of an 8-7 loss.
"That definitely helped and I thought his start a couple of weeks ago he did a good job," Van Horn said. "We just want to put some guys out there that will get after it. He's a great competitor and he wants the ball. This will be a big test for him in that environment this weekend."
The freshman from Sylvan Hills High School has started twice this season and looked good in both. He pitched five scoreless innings in a no-decision against New Mexico on April 13 and allowed just two runs in another no-decision against Georgia five days later.
Eibner started the season well with back-to-back wins against Ball State and Troy but he has been sporadic since. His conference ERA reached 5.50 after giving up three fourth inning runs to Auburn on Sunday. It was the second consecutive outing in which the opposition touched up the right-hander in the fourth inning as Florida scored six runs in the frame to chase Eibner a week earlier.
"Almost every outing he's had three to four innings of quality work," Van Horn said. "But it seems like the second time through I think he's just starting to miss his spots and they've seen him a little too much. I think that has to do with not being a full-time pitcher. A lot of times when you have a two-way player he's a reliever and he'll come out of the pen or off the field to close a game. It's tough being a starter and then also working all week on offense and defensive drills and hitting. I just think that's what is going on. One time through is maybe all he's conditioned for."
The junior will continue to start in his center field position where he leads the SEC with 16 home runs and leads the team with 55 RBIs this season. In an effort to keep the same hitting lineup, Van Horn has retooled his defensive alignment the last several weeks when Eibner is on the mound with five players playing out of their regular position.
"It worked for a few weeks but I think yesterday between not being able to make a few plays and then Brett not having a real good outing, we just feel like defensively it's going to help us," Van Horn said. "He can focus more on his hitting and playing defense, and we'll still have an option to bring him out of the bullpen and tell him, 'Hey, one time through the lineup just go get them.'"
Van Horn said other pitching changes will include moving freshman left-hander Randall Fant back to the Sunday starter and designating junior right-hander Jordan Pratt as the team's closer.
The coach said he continues to be impressed with redshirt sophomore Drew Smyly. The left-hander has won five consecutive outings, including four straight since being moved to the Friday night role. Since returning from a blister injury that forced him to miss a regularly scheduled start, Smyly has struck out 35 batters in 39 innings of work, including two complete games in the last three weeks.
He will face his toughest opposition yet this weekend when he goes up against Ole Miss left-hander Drew Pomeranz, believed by many MLB Draft analysts to be the best left-hander in college baseball this season.
"It's two of the best lefties in the league and I don't think either have a loss," Van Horn said. "It's going to be a great pitching match-up and it might be a quick game. I always say this, 'The team that makes the least amount of mistakes will win.' It could be a real low-scoring game."
Both the Friday and Saturday games will be televised by ESPNU at 7 p.m.