(Photo: Nicole Hernandez/WCSN)
2016 College Baseball World Series participant Oklahoma State (2-2, 0-0 Big 12) lit up Arizona State (3-1) 18-4 on Tuesday afternoon.
Sophomore left-handed pitcher Zach Dixon took the mound for the Sun Devils in game four of the 2017 regular season at Phoenix Municipal Stadium against the Oklahoma State Cowboys and from the third inning on Dixon didn’t look comfortable.
The sophomore left-hander got through the first and second innings with relative ease giving up only one baserunner but in the third inning he surrendered two walks and a hit-by-pitch to load the bases for Oklahoma State’s designated hitter Michael Neustifter.
With Dixon in a jam, he relied on the defense behind him to help him get out of the inning. But like other ASU pitchers have experienced early on this season, he didn’t get any support for his defense.
With the bases loaded, Neustifter hit what should have been a been an inning-ending groundout to ASU shortstop Jeremy McCuin but the sophomore from Gilbert, Arizona made a low throw that bounced before it reached first baseman Lyle Lin, who couldn’t squeeze the ball all the way in to his glove. OSU scored its first run of the day by way of McCuin’s throwing error.
McCuin’s error was the seventh miscue by the ASU infield in the first four games of 2017.
“Even with Zach pitching himself into trouble he still gets out of it if we make a routine play behind him,” Head Coach Tracy Smith said. “We’ve got to cut down on those mistakes defensively.”
McCuin later made another fielding error in the sixth inning, his third on the season.
Dixon’s confidence appeared to be lost after the third inning as he gave up a leadoff triple to OSU’s Jon Littell followed by a Ryan Sluder RBI single. ASU’s pitcher then threw two consecutive wild pitches, followed by a walk which is when head coach Tracy Smith pulled Dixon.
Garvin Alston Jr. was the replacement and the left-handed reliever gave up another wild pitch before the Devils got out of the inning, now down 3-0.
From there, the pitching spiraled out of control as the Sun Devils used nine pitchers that eventually gave up 18 runs. Smith was especially bothered with the motivation of his pitchers.
“As pleased as I was about that [competitiveness of the ASU hitters], I was equally disappointed with the lack of maturity on the mound where nobody would go out and pitch with a purpose to shut it off,” Smith said. “The results were terrible, but more importantly to me was the lack of competitiveness on the mound even in a game like that.”
For the Cowboys, freshman right-handed pitcher Jonathan Heasley took the hill making his first career start. Nobody would have known that Heasley had never started a NCAA game by the way he commanded the zone on Tuesday afternoon. The freshman threw five shutout innings giving up only two hits and one walk while striking out two Sun Devils.
Heasley threw 44 strikes to 22 balls, while throwing 14 first-pitch strikes to the 18 ASU batters he faced.
The Cowboys hitters got plenty of hits against the ASU pitchers during the day game. Littell, Garrett McCain and Cameron Dobbs were the big hitters for OSU as they combined to bat 10-for-14 with nine runs scored and eight RBI’s.
ASU did see two runs come off home runs by sophomore outfielder Tyler Williams and freshman second baseman Carter Aldrete.
The Sun Devils will try to forget about this game as the team gets ready to travel to Fort Worth, Texas to take on top-ranked TCU in a three games series.
Rob Werner is a baseball beat reporter for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network. You can follow him on Twitter @robwerner28