FAYETTEVILLE — Evan Lee’s plan to break and enter into the Fowler Indoor Center to work out when Dave Horn had ordered his Razorbacks to rest the remainder of last weekend didn’t surprise Arkansas’ baseball coach.
For as a pitcher-outfielder, freshman Lee of Bryant puts himself on a schedule to work twice as hard as anyone on this hard-working team improved from last year’s 26-29 and 7-23 overall and SEC records to 34-12 and 13-8 with nine SEC games to go starting with a Thursday through Saturday series at Tennessee.
“He can lock it up, I am going to find my way in here,” Lee said after the Razorbacks’ 9 games in 11 days in 4 cities, had Van Horn mandating rest after Lee helped the Razorbacks salvage a Friday doubleheader split preventing Arkansas from getting swept in a SEC series at Baum Stadium.
“One thing about Evan, he is a big time competitor,” Van Horn told Monday’s Swatter Club meeting of Razorbacks baseball boosters. “He’s a rare guy that’s a workaholic. He’s one of those guys you do have to kick out of the facility. It’s hard to be a 2-way guy.”
In practice when Lee’s not hitting, he’s pitching.
And in games expect to him doing more of both.
After closing a precarious ninth inning on behalf of relievers Jake Reindl and Cannon Chadwick to salvage Arkansas’ lone victory in three games against Ole Miss. Lee’s pitching stock went up.
And as mostly a DH or pinch-hitter, he’s hitting .325, 13 for 40, with two doubles, seven RBI and a knack as a pinch-hitter for fouling off pitches and working key walks.
So these last nine games, look for him being a lefty out of a pen or a lefty DH against right-handers or even pitching and DHing simultaneously. “You’ll see him more because he’s been doing a good job at the plate.” Van Horn said. “And I definitely think you are going to be seeing him on the mound a little more.”
Van Horn called that victory averting an Ole Miss sweep off losing 2 of 3 SEC games at Auburn, “the biggest game of the year so far” which means Lee recorded the biggest save.
Reindl had pitched 6 1-3 superb innings of winning relief but walked Ole Miss’ leadoff man followed by Chadwick hitting the next batter.
Enter Lee throwing pitches in the strike zone. Ole Miss hit three of them but all in the air for outs in the outfield.
“We haven’t been able to close out games very good as you know,” Van Horn said of nailing down the ninth since early-season closer Chadwick has struggled. “He (Lee) came in and just said, ‘I’ll get it done for you.’
So really good to see Evan Lee go out there. I told Evan, two men on, no outs. Don’t even look at the runners. Just get the hitters and throw strikes and if he hits you, he hits you.”
No nibbling. Just pitching.
“He came out there and pitched six pitches and got three fly balls,” Van Horn said. “One of them was hit really high. One was hit really hard and one was just a routine fly ball that was the last out and we got the win.”
Lee also relieved during the Razorbacks one at SEC victory at Auburn which his catcher, Grant Koch, took into account.
“ I was confident in him coming in because, I know he was thinking this when he came in,” Koch said. “He’s been there. They put him in at Auburn like that in a tough situation. He’s been there and he’s done it. This guy doesn’t lose any confidence, so him coming in the game, I knew he was going to pound the zone, which was all we need because his stuff is going to get outs. Just having that mindset and no hesitation, go right at guys, is big.”
Not that Lee lacked for motivation, but the fact as a hitter he popped up before Jax Biggers’ RBI single broke the 4-4 in the eighth followed by Eric Cole’s 2-RBI insurance runs single motivated Lee all the more to come right at the Rebels.
“Yes, that was part of it,” Lee said. “That was a little motivation. I was like, ‘I didn’t help my team in that situation, so I’m going to help them here.’ I was just going to try to attack those hitters and do the best I could to close it out.”
Lee’s a good outfielder apt to start in left or right next season when Jake Arledge graduates and hard-hitting junior Luke Bonfield likely will have signed after the major league draft.
But there’s not much room at the outfield inn with Arledge, Bonfield, switch-hitting Cole and superb fielding freshman center Dominic Fletcher on the premises.
However, there’s always DH, which for Lee’s pitch-hit penchant serves him best.
“Yeah, I think this weekend Evan will get a start or two at the DH spot,” Van Horn said. “Evan has been clutch for us whether it’s drawing a walk or getting a hit. I’d like to play him in the field, but it’s hard to play in the field when you can pitch. So if I can DH he can run down and get loose and throw during the game. And he can stay in the DH spot. But Evan might get a shot at starting offensively in some conference games coming up because he’s done such a good job and he’s such a tough out. And he really hustles and plays hard.”
And that, Van Horn says, is something to enjoy now and look forward to next year.
“We want him this year but we also want to get him ready for next year as well,” Van Horn said.