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May 2, 2013

Baseball ready for Arkansas after recovering at Ole Miss

UK baseball found the turnaround it needed in Oxford last weekend. Now it's a matter of moving forward down the stretch.

No. 23 Kentucky (26-17, 9-12 Southeastern Conference) had lost seven straight games, including their last five SEC contests, before taking two of three last weekend at Ole Miss. After losing three straight SEC series, Kentucky coach Gary Henderson was happy to regain momentum for the final three weeks of the regular season.

"Anytime you have a good weekend it creates confidence and gets you back to being optimistic about what you're doing," Henderson said. "We're always optimistic, but certainly the kids feel good after the win."

They'll face a stout challenge against No. 14 Arkansas (30-15, 13-7 SEC) this weekend. The Razorbacks' three weekend starters -- senior Randall Fant and juniors Barrett Astin and Ryne Stanek -- all have ERAs under 2.4 and boast a combined record of 12-4. The Razorbacks are riding a five-game win streak.

"Arkansas can really pitch," Henderson said."… It will be another one of those weekends, you would anticipate -- you've got no crystal ball, but you would anticipate -- it's another weekend of close games, 3-2, 5-4, 2-1, those types of games. We've played plenty of them, but that's exactly what I would think that we're looking at."

Kentucky's pitching has some question marks. After struggling throughout April, starter Jerad Grundy is expected to be replaced on Saturday in the rotation by freshman Kyle Cody. Jon Hale of KyForward.com first reported that Cody would make the start in Grundy's place.

Cody has started seven games this season, but all have come in midweek contests against nonconference opponents. He's 2-2 as a starter, while Grundy has gone 5-5 on the season. Grundy's ERA has risen from 1.99 to 5.27 over his last five starts, going 0-4 in that stretch.

"(Grundy's) best pitches are as good as they've been all year, but he's missing up and he's missing flat," Henderson said. "I think as you look at any level of baseball, when a guy struggles on the mound, as long as he's healthy -- and Jared is -- those are the issues."

Cody, a 6-foot-7 righty, will be asked to help keep the Wildcats' momentum rolling forward with just three more weeks until the SEC tournament begins.

After breaking back into Baseball America's top 25 following the series at Ole Miss, there's still time for the Wildcats to catch South Carolina and Florida, sitting at second and third place in the SEC East. UK sits just 3.5 games out of second place, but also is only three games ahead of Tennessee for sixth place in the division.

"It seems like you sit here and we do the interviews and every weekend is the most important weekend of the year," Henderson said. "I think you feel that way. They're all important, and we still have a chance to do everything we set out to do. But we've got to play well."

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