FAYETTEVILLE — When Dave Van Horn felt the Razorbacks were in trouble on Sunday he called the Kopps to keep the team at top of the SEC West.
Kevin Kopps did what he has done all season. With the series tied at 1-1 and Georgia holding a 3-0 lead in the top of the fifth, Van Horn went to the bullpen to get Kopps. The Bulldogs never scored again and the Hogs put some runs up the first three innings Kopps was in the game. Kopps worked 4.1 innings, allowed three hits, struck out five, faced 16 hitters, threw 57 pitches with 41 being strikes. Van Horn talked about turning to Kopps that early in the game.
“You know we were hoping to get him at least maybe the sixth inning but we had to bring him into the fifth with two outs,” Van Horn said. “But it was a hitter right on left and it wasn’t a good matchup and so we got Kevin. He’s a closer but he’s also just a finisher. He could start if we needed him to. He’s a little different than a lot of guys.
“We kind of knew that he had some pitches left in him. We didn’t have to throw him yesterday and that we probably could get 60 or 70 out of him today. He had pretty good stuff. They guessed early on him and had a couple of hits. He left a couple of pitches up and they got on them but for the most part he did a tremendous job. I don’t know what else to say about him. He’s just a competitor. He wanted the ball and just did a really nice job.”
Kopps (7-0) was the winning pitcher and seemed unconcerned about being called upon so early Sunday.
“I didn’t really think much about it,” Kopps said. “I felt good. I was in the bullpen yesterday. I felt good yesterday playing catch a little bit. I think that extra day off helped me to be a little better.”
Kopps talked about how he felt as the game moved on into the later innings.
“I usually feel better as the game goes on,” Kopps said. “I just started throwing harder and stuff like that.”
Kopps worked three innings on Friday night to earn his seventh save of the season. He talked about how he felt Sunday compared to Friday.
“My pitches were definitely better than the other night,” Kopps said. “The other night felt a little bit off. I was just able to throw more for strikes and locate a little better today.”
Van Horn didn’t disagree with Kopps that maybe he was sharper on Sunday than Friday.
“You know I would say you’re probably right,” Van Horn said. “He might have been a little bit sharper today than the first outing though he was pretty good for certain hitters on Friday. We used his fastball a little bit more today because they were just sitting on the slow stuff and trying to see everything up. He snuck a few fastballs by them, 90, 92 miles per hour, maybe a little more, I don’t know. I think that really helped that he was just able to throw that fastball when he needed to for a strike.”
Kopps wasn’t concerned when he entered the game if he would be asked to finish it.
“I don’t really think about that,” Kopps said. “I kind of just try to focus inning by inning. But I was feeling good so I was thinking I could finish it out.”
Obviously with pitchers being injured at all levels and managers as well as coaches being more and more cautious with them, what allows Kopps to pitch that many innings in a weekend series?
“The fact that he’s in incredible shape, No. 1,” Van Horn said. “Probably just his arm slot, arm action. It’s pretty classic. It’s not a lot of strain on his elbow or shoulder. Like we’ve mentioned many a time, he’s a workout-aholic basically. He gets after it.
“It would have been nice if we’d only had to throw him 30 [pitches] today, but the way it worked out, once he got hot and loose, it’s probably all the same. I think it’s just in his mindset. He wants to. He’s not worried about it.”
The same question was posted to Kopps.
“Beet juice,” Kopps said. “I worked a lot of forearm strength and I kind of pushed in the preseason lifting while I’m throwing more so I could life a little bit less now. I think that and beet juice has pushed me over the edge.”
With Arkansas struggling on the mound and looking lifeless at the plate, not only did Kopps make a difference on the mound, but Arkansas scored two runs in the bottom of the fifth, one in the sixth and two more in the seventh. It appeared Kopps provided energy to the entire team when he came in.
“I think after Kevin got that first out there in the bottom of the fifth, and we were still just down three, because it could have gone to five real quick, yeah, there was probably a little bit different feeling,” Van Horn said. “Like, we probably got a couple innings here where they’re not going to score, we’ve got to catch up. We promptly scored a couple runs that inning, and came close to scoring a third and a fourth. Yeah, I’d say so a little bit.”
Kopps was just pleased to see the Hogs take control of the game at that point.
“For sure,” Kopps said. “It’s always nice when your offense starts scoring runs when you’re in the game. I think as a team overall the morale starts coming up. You start gaining momentum in the dugout.”
For Kopps this has been a dream season. He is 7-0 with an ERA of 0.72, seven saves, made 22 appearances, 49.2 innings, allowed 30 hits, four runs (all earned), 13 walks and struck out 83 with opposing hitters batting .172 against him. He was asked if he envisioned this type season when he came back?
“I think God has blessed me beyond what I could’ve imagined this season,” Kopps said. “I don’t think I ever dreamed it would turn into something like this but I’m very thankful for that.”
Arkansas will be at home on Tuesday night to host Arkansas State at 6:30 p.m.