FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas ace Ryne Stanek’s second start of the season didn’t go as planned in Baum Stadium on Friday.
The staff’s ace struggled from the start, allowing a single on a full count. He walked the next batter, too, setting the tone for another slow start. By the time he left the mound after the third inning, Stanek had thrown 76 pitches.
“He was just wild,” Van Horn said. “It was not a good outing on his part.”
The good news for Van Horn? He had his change of pace pitcher ready.
Junior Brandon Moore came out of the bullpen to settle the Razorbacks in what eventually proved to be a 10-4 win against Evansville in front of an announced crowd of 1,587. The Van Buren native stepped on the mound to start the fourth inning with the game tied 2-2 and it didn’t take long for Arkansas (5-1) to take control behind him, eventually building a 7-2 lead before his departure.
Moore (1-0) finished allowing two runs on four hits in 3 2/3 innings against the Purple Aces (1-3). The performance led Van Horn to call him the afternoon’s most valuable performer as the Razorbacks won the first game of the three-game series.
“When your guy gets in trouble early and it’s still a tight game, you’re thinking we’ve got to get some quick innings,” Van Horn said. “He finds a way to get you some quick innings. … He’s the one that gave us a chance to get back in that game. The way the game was going, we were in big trouble. And he slowed it down.”
Moore — whose first appearance this season came Sunday in place of struggling starter Trent Daniel — threw more than three innings of relief for the second straight outing. He quickly retired the side on eight pitches in the top of the fourth, then watched from the dugout as Arkansas took the lead for good.
Catcher Jake Wise — who hit a two-run home run off Evansville starter Kyle Freeland (1-1) in the second inning to tie the game — gave the Razorbacks the lead with an RBI single. Arkansas added another run in the inning, moving ahead 4-2.
Wise went 3-for-4 with 3 RBIs and 3 runs scored Friday.
“I was able to get some pitches elevated out over the plate and some hitting counts,” said Wise, who equaled his career-highs in hits and RBIs. “I was able to capitalize, which I wasn’t able to last week. It was just good to get the swing going a little bit.”
Arkansas added to its lead in the sixth inning when outfielder Tyler Spoon hit a bases loaded single. Two runs scored on the hit and the third crossed home plate while Spoon was caught in a rundown that eventually ended the inning.
Moore ran into his toughest stretch in the seventh, when Evansville’s Shain Showers and Michael Eckstein led off with singles. Both eventually scored in an inning helped by a throwing error on Arkansas shortstop Bret McAfee. But it was all Evansville could get, finishing with 4 runs on 10 hits off a staff led by Moore’s performance.
“They did a great job on the other side of taking pitches,” Van Horn said of Evansville’s lineup. “Until they got a strike they were taking 2-0 pitches, 3-1 pitches.
“So we brought in a different type of pitcher. We brought in somebody who has consistently thrown strikes. He did a tremendous job.”
Arkansas, meanwhile, finished with 11 hits off three Evansville pitchers.
Wise, Spoon and second baseman Jordan Farris — who hit the first home run of his Arkansas career in the seventh inning — all finished with three RBIs on Friday.
“The three-run home run was the big hit,” Van Horn said of Farris’ blast in the seventh inning. “It kind of put that game away.”
Said Farris: “It felt really good to finally get that home run and get all the jitters out. I had a tough couple at-bats before that, but capitalized on the last one.”
The effort helped offset Stanek’s rough outing against the Purple Aces.
Van Horn said he met with the right-hander earlier this week to talk about his slow starts, but it didn’t work. It’s a topic Van Horn has mentioned numerous times when asked how Stanek could improve on his sophomore season.
“It was about location and command,” Van Horn said of Friday’s struggles. “It’s the same story for a third year. Slow starter. I don’t know what else to say.”
But Van Horn said he’s not overly concerned because of the way Stanek has finished the past two seasons. He remains confident Stanek will be fine as he begins to prepares for his first big test of the season against Arizona State next week.
“He’ll be fine,” Van Horn said. “He’s frustrated. He knows that it gets into our bullpen and it’s tough. But he’s got a little bit more time to rest and hopefully he’ll be ready to go and have a great game next Thursday in Surprise, Ariz.”