Diamond Hogs hope to dodge rain while upending Florida in weekend series

The weather forecast at Baum-Walker Stadium this weekend is stormy with a chance of intermittent baseball.

Bad joke?

Sure, but the threat of wet weather has the No. 2 Arkansas Razorbacks’ key baseball series with the Florida Gators sitting on its hands just hours before it’s scheduled to begin.

The opening game is set for 6 p.m. tonight, but it was originally scheduled for a 7 p.m. first pitch and to be televised by the SEC Network, but threats of storms prompted officials to move the game up an hour.

The move shifts the game’s coverage to streaming on SEC+. The loss of TV coverage isn’t ideal for fans without a ticket or rain gear, but it does increase the likelihood of the game not being interrupted by rain.

Currently, Saturday’s second game is scheduled for noon with television coverage by ESPN2.

Sunday’s game is still scheduled for 2 p.m. with coverage on SEC+ as I write, but Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said in his Thursday teleconference that there is a distinct possibility of finishing the series Saturday with a doubleheader, considering Sunday’s rainy weather forecast.

Weather aside, this should be a fun series.

No, the Gators (21-19, 8-10 SEC) haven’t performed up to their preseason expectations, but coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s squad is talented and dangerous. The Gators’ pitching staff has had more struggles than usual, but Florida has still played competitively all season in the SEC East.

It would be foolish for the Hogs to take anything for granted despite leading the Western Division by a game with 14-4 SEC mark and 35-6 overall record since they trail Kentucky (32-7, 15-3) by a game in the overall league race.

An injury to left-handed Razorback pitcher Mason Molina’s ankle in practice has him shelved for the weekend. Ace lefty Hagen Smith (8-0. 1.53 ERA) will start in his normal role on Friday. Right-hander Brady Tygart (4-1, 2.64 ERA) moves up to the second game in the rotation. Van Horn said the starter for the series’ third game will be determined later.

Up next for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Florida
When: 6 p.m. Friday, April 26
Where: Baum-Walker Stadium, Fayetteville
TV: SEC Network

Next few games:

April 27 – Florida, 12 p.m. (ESPN2)
April 28 – Florida, 2 p.m. (SEC+)
April 30-May 1 – Missouri State (SEC+)

Van Horn said Molina was probably 90%, but that it is more prudent to allow him to get healthy for the regular-season’s stretch run than to put him on the mound too soon. The injury also gives another Hog the opportunity to get an SEC start, which will be great experience for postseason play in the SEC and NCAA tournaments.

The Gators are expected to start southpaw Pierce Coppola tonight. The second game’s pitcher is to be determined. The SEC’s most versatile and perhaps most valuable player Jac Caglianone (5-0, 3.86 ERA) will be the Gator’s third-game starter.

The 6-5, 250-pound Caglianone is not only among the best pitchers in the SEC, but he is also one of the league and nation’s most dangerous hitters.

Caglianone is second in the SEC in batting average at .410, and he leads the league in hits with 74. He’s second in the SEC in home runs with 25, one dinger behind Georgia’s Brandon Montgomery.

Van Horn, who has coached his share of rangy athletes, indicated he felt small standing beside Caglianone when they shared an elevator ride last year during the SEC Baseball Tournament.

Caglianone, who mans first base for the Gators when not on the mound, has the potential to pitch or be an everyday player on the Major League level, but Van Horn said he understands the young man’s future is as a hitter because of his combination of eye and power.

While the Razorbacks are in the midst of a fantastic regular season, the Hogs have not hit this season like one would expect a top five team to do.

Arkansas’ team batting average is, well, average at .273. The Hogs have depended on their dominating pitching to propel them through the season.

After the Hogs 11-1 run-ruled victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Tuesday at North Little Rock, Van Horn talked up his squad’s explosive night at the plate as an encouraging sign.

It would be fantastic if Van Horn’s confidence speaks improved luck at the plate into existence. His Hogs do make good contact up and down the lineup, but the Razorbacks have had some trouble “hitting it where they ain’t,” as MLB great “Wee Willie” Keeler once said.

If the Hogs do get on a hot hitting streak as Van Horn indicated, the best is still yet to come for this already strong Razorback squad.