COLUMBIA — Missouri pitcher Brett Graves walked off the mound slowly.
The black bill of his cap stayed pointed at the ground as he trudged toward the dugout. He received the obligatory high-fives from his teammates without breaking stride or lifting his head.
The trip from the mound to the third-base dugout had a somber tone to it. It could be the last time Graves completes that walk during a game: The junior right-hander is projected to be picked in the first two rounds of the MLB draft, which could net him a seven-digit signing bonus.
But the circumstances at Taylor Stadium on Thursday night didn’t help, either. Graves again strayed from the dominance he exhibited early in the season, and he gave up nine hits and five runs in eight innings as Missouri lost 9-4 to No. 24 Arkansas.
“Overall, I felt pretty good, so, I mean, I can’t hang my head too much,” Graves said. “But there’s obviously a few pitches I’d like to have back.”
Thursday’s outing was Graves’ fourth straight in which he has given up five or more runs.
For the first six innings, though, he was perfectly effective.
His fastball hovered in the 88-90 mph range, slower than its usual low-to-mid-90s velocity, and his spotty control often let the Razorbacks' hitters get deep in the count.
The first pitch that Graves would want back came in the fourth inning. He let a fastball get high enough and catch enough of the plate for Arkansas second baseman Brian Anderson to put a hard swing on it and hit a high fly ball to right. The ball got an extra boost from the gusting winds and disappeared into the pine trees beyond the fence.
Anderson haunted Graves again in the sixth inning. This time, he hit a high fly ball to left that dropped on the warning track for a triple. Razorbacks first baseman Eric Fisher defied Missouri’s shallow infield depth and hit Graves’ next pitch to left for a double.
Missouri (20-31, 6-22 Southeastern Conference) tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth, but Arkansas took the lead for good in the seventh. Graves allowed a leadoff walk, then tried to put a fastball in on designated hitter Clark Eagan’s hands.
Eagan pulled the pitch over the right-field wall for a home run.
Graves threw one more inning, in which he allowed another run on a sacrifice fly. Barring extraordinary circumstances, it was the last inning he will throw this season.
It’s unlikely that he left the contingent of scouts getting a late look at Graves in advance of the early-June draft with a strong last impression, though.
“There’s been games that I’ve pitched better than I’ve pitched in some, and there’s some games where maybe I got a little luckier than I did in some other games,” Graves said. “When it came down to it (tonight), they just hit some mistakes and made me pay for it tonight.”
It was hard for Missouri coach Tim Jamieson to deal with another loss, his team’s 13th straight in SEC play. To see it come at the hands of his ace starter certainly doesn’t help.
“You want to see him (Graves) have success, because he has worked really hard,” Jamieson said. “You want to see him feel good about — not feel good about his performance, but feel good about his contribution to his teammates.
“And he ends his career, more than likely, on a sour note, and you hate to see him go out that way.”
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