FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas won Friday night’s series opener by jumping on Vanderbilt ace Tyler Beede, scoring six runs on 10 hits off the 2011 first-round pick.
The Razorbacks were on base nearly as much against Vanderbilt’s Carson Fulmer on Saturday night. But the closer — who was starting for the first time in his career — made sure Arkansas didn’t match its run production in the second game.
Fulmer pitched a career-best six scoreless innings to lead Vanderbilt to a 2-1 win in front of an announced crowd of 6,731 in Baum Stadium. The right-hander allowed six hits and got into some tight spots during his stint, but found a way to work out of trouble to help the Commodores even the series with the Razorbacks.
“He was outstanding. He has electric stuff,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “His fastball jumps on you and had a really hard breaking ball. He started using his changeup a little bit towards the end and it was a very good pitch.
“He got into some jams, but he got out of them. Probably a lot of experience he has gained by being a reliever, he used. That experience to get out of those jams.”
Vanderbilt (29-11, 8-9 in SEC) didn’t declare a Saturday starter entering the game and officially decided to start Fulmer after the loss in the opener.
There’s no doubt he was used to pitching in tight spots. He was tied for the SEC lead in saves entering the weekend series (nine). So Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said they started Fulmer (1-1), hoping the sophomore would give them five innings.
“We just felt like he was the right guy to do it,” Corbin said. “We were thinking about it in the middle of the week. We just were hesitating a little bit, because we were unsure what to do. And also if you’re going to make that move, you affect the thinking of the team. So we just wanted to be able to do the right thing.
“But he’s a very reliable young man and he’s very, very competitive. So we knew what we were going to get from him. Not necessarily shutout baseball, but we knew we’d have a chance to win if the ball was in his hand.”
Fulmer never cracked against Arkansas (24-16, 8-9), which suffered a 2-1 loss for the sixth time this season and also fell to 5-9 in one-run games.
The first significant threat came in the third after consecutive singles by shortstop Michael Bernal and center fielder Tyler Spoon. But Fulmer got right fielder Andrew Benintendi to fly out and left fielder Joe Serrano to ground out to end the threat.
He returned to the mound with a 2-0 lead in the fourth and got into another jam when Brian Anderson and Bobby Wernes singled. He walked Jake Wise to load the bases with two outs, but Bernal grounded out to third base to end another inning.
Arkansas stranded eight runners Saturday, seven of which where when Fulmer was on the mound. He left the game after six innings, allowing six hits on 101 pitches.
“He’s kind of a bend but don’t break kind of guy,” Corbin said. “I mean, you may find your way on base with him, but he’s tough to score against. He really proved that toward the tail end of last season. … He just doesn’t give in.”
Arkansas starter Jalen Beeks (5-3) wasn’t at his best Saturday, either, but managed to help the Razorbacks stick around during his seven-inning stint.
Vanderbilt stranded a runner in the second and two more in the eighth before taking advantage of Beeks’ big mistake. Vanderbilt’s Vince Conde led off the fourth inning with a single, then John Norwood hit a two-run home run to make it 2-0.
It was the second home run Beeks has allowed this season.
“It was a hit and run,” Van Horn said. “The ball was up and he clubbed it and it got out of the park. You look back and you think, ‘Wow, that ended up being the game.’”
Arkansas did break through after Fulmer left the mound and was replaced by Hayden Stone. Serrano reached first on an error in the eighth inning, stole second, then scored on designated hitter Blake Baxendale’s two-out single.
Vanderbilt went back to the bullpen to put left-hander Ben Bowden on the mound to face Eric Fisher, who had homered in four straight SEC games. Bowden got Fisher to pop out to end the threat and preserve the Commodores’ 2-1 lead.
Brian Miller worked a scoreless ninth inning to wrap up the win and even the series.
“You don’t like going into Sunday 1-1, but it’s the SEC,” Serrano said. “All games are going to be close. You could say (tonight) was decided by a pitch left up that was taken for a home run. You could say it was decided by us not swinging with guys in scoring position. … It just comes down to, I guess, who can execute at the right times and who can get the big outs and who can get the big hits.”
Arkansas is confident it will rebound today, though, when the teams meet in the series finale at noon. The Razorbacks are 4-1 in the final game of an SEC series this season, including last week’s 10-4 win at LSU.
Vanderbilt will start right-hander Tyler Ferguson (5-2, 2.88 ERA) looking for a series win after consecutive losses to Texas A&M and Tennessee. Arkansas, meanwhile, will send Chris Oliver (4-3, 2.41 ERA) to the mound trying to extend its streak of five consecutive SEC series wins at Baum Stadium intact.
“It’s just the way it is in the SEC,” Van Horn said. “Teams are so close and, just like I told the team, a lot of times it’s one pitch, one play, win or lose. (Saturday’s) game went that way. I’m sure (today’s) game will be a great ballgame.”