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Arkansas baseball changes pitching rotation for series at Texas A&M, Gage Wood to start Game 2

FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn announced changes to the Razorbacks’ pitching rotation this week for the regular-season finale at Texas A&M.

Van Horn announced Wednesday that left-handed pitcher Hagen Smith will start Game 1, right-hander Gage Wood will start Game 2, and the Game 3 starter won’t be decided until the day before’s game.

Van Horn spoke highly of Wood during the Razorbacks series at Kentucky two weeks ago, saying the sophomore was “getting ready to take someone’s job.” He has started one game, a win over Missouri State, in which he pitched 3 scoreless innings with 1 hit, no walks and 4 strikeouts. He has an ERA of 3.77 and WHIP of 1.33 in 9 SEC appearances.

The move comes after rough starts from right-hander Brady Tygart and left-hander Mason Molina in Arkansas’ recent series. Both pitchers had their shortest starts of the season last weekend in games against Mississippi State: 1 2/3 innings for Tygart in Game 2 and 1-plus inning for Molina in Game 3.

Tygart also struggled in his previous start against Kentucky. In his last two starts, he threw a total of 5 2/3 innings with 9 hits, 9 earned runs, 8 walks and 4 strikeouts. He has a SEC ERA of 5.40, the highest among starters.

Tygart’s fastball velocity has dropped in recent games. Van Horn said the staff has had coaches “look at him.”

“We’re told everything is clean,” Van Horn said. “So maybe we’ll give him some time off.”

Molina has also had a string of lackluster outings. He hasn’t lasted more than 3 1/3 innings since April 13 at Alabama. In his last three starts, he has thrown 7 1/3 innings with 9 hits, 9 earned runs, 11 walks and 7 strikeouts. His ERA has increased from 3.47 to 4.44 during that period.

“It’s his battle,” Van Horn said on Sunday after Molina’s start. “We can’t fix it. We can’t fix (his mind). He has to fix it. He needs to relax, know that he is doing well. We have spoken to him, we work with him, mechanics… It has all been discussed. He is an experienced starter at the Division I level. He has to turn the corner. We must have him.”

A combination of Smith, Molina and Tygart has been Arkansas’ rotation for all but one series this season. Molina missed the Florida Series with an ankle injury, and second-year right-hander Ben Bybee started in his place.

Van Horn said Wednesday that Molina and Tygart are both still in the mix to start Game 3, otherwise they could come out of the bullpen. Molina in particular could be a bullpen option if the Razorbacks want to give Tygart more rest.

“If we get him out of the cage and he throws well, he can stay there and get back into that starting job,” Van Horn said. “He just needs to go out there and throw the ball better. That’s obvious. I think this is a good spot for him, and he needs to embrace it and go after it.”

Arkansas’ series at Texas A&M begins Thursday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.