(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
The transition from Ryan Burr in the closer role to someone else was expected to be tough for Arizona State, but it probably didn’t think that more than halfway into the season it would still be without a player they could trust to insert in the ninth inning.
Prior to the season, left-hander Andrew Shaps was expected to fill the role of closer after an impressive freshman campaign on the mound. However, a preseason injury has lingered on throughout the season and has continued to set him back.
“He isn’t conditioned to do a traditional rehab and shut it down and do a throwing program,” head coach Tracy Smith said. “He has proved too valuable for us in center field. He gets to a point where his arm is feeling pretty good, and then he will have to cut one loose in a game. It puts us back to square one. Our hope would be to have him close, but I don’t think it is a realistic goal.”
Smith mentioned that if 100 percent were a healthy pitching arm, Shaps is at about 20-30 percent right now. His inability to be a go-to guy in the ninth inning has opened the door for others, particularly Eder Erives, Eric Melbostad and James Ryan.
Erives has pitched everywhere from the rotation to the ninth inning this season for ASU. He has been the Sun Devils best pitcher outside of Seth Martinez, and although he is scheduled to start on Saturday, pitching coach Brandon Higelin mentioned that if it is save situation in the ninth inning, Erives would likely be the pitcher.
He leads the team with three saves, and has a 3.38 ERA in 42 and 2/3 innings.
While Erives is undoubtedly the favorite of the coaching staff, another guy who is likely going to continue to fit into the late inning picture is Eric Melbostad, who leads the team with 13 appearances.
Melbostad is the veteran of the group and is one of four seniors on the team. Most of his appearances have come in the later innings, but he has yet to prove that he can nail down the closer spot. Smith said they haven’t gotten the results from him at times late in the game, but the coaching staff as a whole appreciates the intangibles he brings to the team.
“He’s one of the leaders of the group,” Higelin said. “He works hard and is available for anyone at all times to help out whenever it is needed.”
So far this season, Melbostad has pitched to the tune of a 3.48 ERA and did not allow a run in 10 of his first 11 appearances. He has three career saves in a Sun Devil uniform.
Ryan is a player that was name-dropped by Higelin as someone who has had a strong season so far. The freshman has received more work on the mound than any other newcomer and has been serviceable, although at times inconsistent. His ERA is at 4.02 in 15 and 2/3 innings.
His role as closer may be up for debate, as he has been stretched out and shown potential as a starter as well. He did earn a save on February 26 against Long Beach State.
“They got me ready (to pitch in relief) in the fall,” Ryan said. “I had lots of training and that was one of the biggest adjustments.”
Because of the promise he has shown, Ryan is likely to have a more expanded role if some of the bullpen uncertainties continue.
If nobody can nail down the closer role, it may be increasingly difficult for the Sun Devils to pull Erives from the rotation just so he could pitch in the ninth inning. For now, the closer role remains up for grabs, and is a hole Smith and his staff would like to fill sooner rather than later.