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Going Deep with Nate Olson – June 5

Van Horn Makes Brilliant Pitching Change, Rotation Decision Next

One of the marks of a great baseball manager is mastering the art of a pitching change. Knowing when a pitcher has nothing left after a long start. Reading the matchups. Understanding when a starter just doesn’t have his best stuff that day.

It seems easy, but it’s not. Ask the likes of former Red Sox manager Grady Little. I screamed at the TV during the 2016 World Series when Cubs manager Joe Maddon rode Arlodis Chapman like a rented mule and nearly cost the Cubs the World Series (I still don’t know how Chapman made it through the 9th inning of Game 7 unscathed).

Pitching changes were key during the college baseball regionals last week. Florida State’s Mike Martin made a horrible decision and Arkansas’ Dave Van Horn rolled the dice and hit the jack pot.

Speaking of riding a rented mule. During a regional game with Mississippi State Saturday, Martin kept Drew Parish in the game to pitch the ninth inning after a 150-minute rain delay. Parish had thrown over 100 pitches but still Martin left him in the game. Mississippi State rallied for three runs and won the game on a walk-off home run. Just like that, Florida State’s season is over.

Much like when Maddon left Chapman in the game, this move defied the manager’s handbook. Almost no manager, or in this case coach, would go back to a starter who had thrown that many pitches after a long delay. Does FSU not have a closer? What a head scratcher, and the folks in Tallahassee will be talking about that for a long time.

Then, a day later in Fayetteville the opposite. Van Horn saw No. 3 sophomore starter Isaiah Campbell struggling mightily against Dallas Baptist in the regional final. Campbell walked the bases loaded in the opening frame on 13 pitches. It’s not an ideal situation to yank your starter in the first inning. If you polled managers/coaches on what to do here, it would be split. Even if you’re talking a postseason situation. However, not every team has he bullpen that Arkansas has. A bullpen that was fresh after two easy wins earlier in the weekend.

So, Van Horn brought in junior Jake Reindl. Brilliant move. Reindl escaped the inning with a 1-0 deficit and pitched through the seventh inning. Matt Cronin came on in the eighth to old off DBU 4-3.

Some may have stuck with Campbell fearing that if Arkansas didn’t win the game, he’d be unavailable for an elimination game on Monday. Sometimes you can’t worry about tomorrow and have to do what you can to adjust to the current situation. Van Horn didn’t want to risk the chance of Campbell giving up a grand slam and digging a big hole. It’s not an ideal spot for a reliever, even a long reliever, to enter the game, but it shows the confidence Van Horn has in Reindl.

When you are a great coach you understand your team. He knew Campbell probably wasn’t going to regain his composure or his stuff. He knew that Reindl could pitch deep into the game, and he knew if Reindl could escape with little damage the Hogs’ bats could pick up the slack. The entire scenario worked the way he envisioned when he walked to the mound to relieve Campbell.

Could this have gone terrible awry? Yes, and it could have cost them on Monday if things didn’t work out, but Campbell’s woes really didn’t give him much choice. Not necessarily a slam dunk, but Van Horn sensed a lot more risk waiting to see what Campbell would do.

When decisions like that work, those are the seasons you win big. Like the Cubs in 2016. You need breaks along the way to win in the postseason. Arkansas got one Sunday night. 

The question now is, what does this mean for this weekend’ Super Regional against SEC foe South Carolina? Did the early exit signal the end of Campbell’s starting role? Will Reindl take his spot? Hogs fans are hoping there won’t be a Game 3, and the way Blaine Knight and Kacey Murphy are pitching a sweep is possible. After what happened last week fans have faith that Van Horn will pull the right strings.