FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said Monday that second-year pitcher Jaxon Wiggins will remain in the starting rotation for the Razorbacks’ third series at 18th-ranked Auburn.
“If it goes well, so much the better, because we need him; if not, we’ll have someone ready to go,” Van Horn said. “That’s what you have to do – you have to support these guys. He’s had a few tough weeks in a row, so maybe it’s going to be a really good week for him.
Wiggins (5-1, 5.75 ERA), who has been the No. 3 starter in the weekend rotation all season, has struggled in recent starts against Texas A&M and Ole Miss. He allowed 5 runs and recorded 1 against the Aggies, and allowed 3 runs in 3 innings against the Rebels.
His .240 batting average is the highest of three Arkansas starters, but within 16 percentage points of the team’s other weekend starters, Connor Noland and Hagen Smith.
Wiggins struggled with command far more than other starters, leading Van Horn to call his struggles “self-inflicted.” In 51 1/3 innings, the right-hander walked 31, hit 6 batters with a pitch, and threw 8 wild pitches.
He walked six in 3 1/3 combined innings against Texas A&M and Ole Miss.
Wiggins was snappy early in the SEC game. He pitched 6 innings against Kentucky, 7 1/3 innings against Missouri, and 5 innings against Mississippi State in late March and early April. In his first three SEC starts, his conference-only ERA was 2.95.
“We know it’s in there,” Van Horn said. “Maybe he goes through that a bit in the middle of the season, towards the end of the season.”
Wiggins allowed 9 hits and 7 earned runs in a 4-inning Florida start on April 9, beginning a streak of shaky outings. He was hit 9 times, but also struck out 9 and held LSU to 2 runs in 5 innings on April 16, and allowed 3 hits and 3 walks in each of the most recent starts against Texas A&M and Ole Miss. .
Van Horn said the coaching staff had a plan in place for how they would react if Wiggins didn’t start well. Sunday against Ole Miss, relievers Zack Morris and Brady Tygart each threw three scoreless relief innings and Arkansas won 4-3.
“I just feel like he’s going to flip the switch,” Van Horn said. “His stuff is good. He actually threw some really good breaking balls (against Ole Miss), but you need to land more of them because there are two philosophies against him – take until you get a strike early or skip that first fastball and try to hit her as hard as you can.
“The key for him is being able to throw off-speed pitches early in the count and finish guys with fastballs and not just fastballs every time. More than anything, you just need to throw strikes. If he does that, he’ll be good.
Wiggins spent most of his first season last year as a reliever. He made his first weekend start in the regular series finale against Florida, and also started twice during the playoffs, including the SEC Tournament Championship Game win over Tennessee.
Van Horn suggested a move to the bullpen could be in store if Wiggins doesn’t pitch well at Auburn.
“If he continues to struggle, we’ll just reassess him and maybe come up with a plan where we get him second,” Van Horn said, “and see what he can do in the middle of the game.”