(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
In 2016, no starting pitcher was as reliable as Seth Martinez.
Hever Bueno was expected to be the ace coming in, but injuries derailed him and Martinez stepped in to fill the Friday night role. The junior finished with 111.1 innings pitched and a 9-4 record in 16 starts, which caught the eye of the Oakland Athletics, who drafted him in the 17th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft.
With Bueno also being taken in the draft, head coach Tracy Smith was left with multiple holes surrounding the starting rotation heading into 2017.
At the first practices of the season, senior Eder Erives appeared to be a shoe-in for the Friday night starter spot, considering his consistent success in 2016 at the back end of the bullpen and the flexibility he offers. However, the righty’s willingness and ability to pitch in any situation also gives Smith, who is handling the pitching coach duties in 2017, the choice of using Erives at the back end of the bullpen once again. But for the veteran, a specific role is not a concern.
“Whatever my role is this season, I’ll embrace it again and do my best so that I can help the team win.” Erives said. As long as I get the ball and pitch and help the team win, that’d be my role and I’ll embrace it and get the win or the save, whatever it is.”
Erives, who has been a mentor to the eight freshman pitchers on the staff, is likely to be slotted in the closer role to start his final season with the Sun Devils, opening up his presumed spot in the rotation. With Erives out of the opening weekend rotation equation, the Friday night starter spot was available for the taking and has been grabbed by southpaw junior Eli Lingos, who started 12 games in 2016 and finished the season with a 3-5 record and 4.50 ERA. He will start the first game of the doubleheader on Friday afternoon against Northwestern.
Lingos, who simplified his mechanics over the offseason, saw himself as the Opening Day starter, even while Erives was still in the picture.
“That’s the plan right now,” he confidently stated. “Hopefully we can hold that through the rest of this [preseason] and get going into the season with it.”
At the start of spring practices, Smith was not hesitant to name Erives and Lingos as the probable starters, along with junior Ryan Hingst. Less than a week away from Opening Day, Smith has given Hingst the nod to start what was originally going to be the Saturday afternoon contest and is now considered to be the Friday evening game.
With Hingst moving from the third to second starting spot, one more game was still up for grabs this weekend and Smith seems to know exactly who will fill that role.
“I’ll tell you who’s really, really come on is Spencer Van Scoyoc,” Smith told the media on Monday. “He’s just gotten better and better every week, so as we roll into the weekend, Spencer will be our Sunday guy with Hingst sitting at number two.”
This does not come as a surprise to many, as Van Scoyoc was named the No. 1 overall recruit in the state of Iowa and No. 8 overall left handed pitcher in the country by Perfect Game Baseball.
Hingst pitched in 15 games last season, only starting two of them. However, one of those two starts saw the junior throw the 10th no-hitter in school history on March 25 against Utah. Hingst had a career-high nine strikeouts in his first career Pac-12 start. The no-hitter earned him Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week, Louisville Slugger National Pitcher of the Week and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association National Pitcher of the Week honors.
Removing Lingos, Hingst and Van Scoyoc from the equation, there are still a plethora of pitchers on the staff for Tracy Smith to turn to if in need of a start, making this the deepest staff Skip has had in his tenure at ASU.
“We’re deeper on the mound.” Smith said this past week. “We don’t feel like we have that top, first-round guy coming out, or at least we haven’t seen so far on a Friday night, but what we do feel like is we have eight to ten guys who are all about the same. All about the same, but that being pretty good.”
One of those eight to ten guys includes junior Jake Godfrey, who likely will insert himself into the equation sooner rather than later. Command and consistency in the strike zone have been issues for the transfer from who originally played at LSU and that is something the righty has been working on, dating back to last year.
“My freshman year, I was a little wild, [last year] got a little bit more mature and threw a lot more strikes,” Godfrey recalled.
The offseason saw him focus on throwing strikes, as well as his secondary pitches, from his changeup to throwing the breaking ball over the plate.
Despite the control issues, Smith says Godfrey is one of the team’s best pitchers in terms of his arsenal, but Smith also believes he, among others, can be vital out of the bullpen moving forward.
“Godfrey probably has some of the best stuff on our team,” Smith was quick to say. “Guy slips up or guy’s not on his game, some of these guys we’re bringing out of the pen, definitely have starter stuff. Godfrey being one of those. Zane Strand has thrown the ball really, really well. Zach Dixon, I think, arguably had two of our biggest starts last year and is a proven starter at this level, so it’s going to be fun to see how this all evolves and so what you’ll probably see from me.”
With arms like Godfrey, Strand and Dixon in the bullpen, as well as the aforementioned Erives, Smith knows that options are a luxury ASU has if a starter does not have their best stuff on any given night, especially considering the doubleheader the team plays to open up play in 2017.
“In the past where I’ve gone a little longer with somebody, I don’t have to do that anymore,” Smith said. “Guy doesn’t have it, boom we get him out of there and turn it over to somebody else.”
While the rotation for the season-opening Northwestern series appear to be set, manager Tracy Smith still has plenty of options in terms of starting pitchers to choose from this season. The flexibility and depth that this year’s pitching staff is far greater than last year’s and puts the Sun Devils in a comfortable position moving forward.