(Photo: Kimmy Davis/WCSN)
This weekend will mark yet another three-game set hosted by the Sun Devils at Phoenix Muni, with the opponent this time being the Long Beach State Dirtbags.
ASU is coming off a 3-1 showing at the Phoenix Muni Classic, in which its only loss was against Bakersfield. After finishing 34-26 last season, Long Beach State is off to an 8-4 start in 2015 and swept Wichita State at home last weekend.
Despite the team’s early success, ASU’s perceived starting pitching strength has looked like a weakness so far. Brett Lilek failed to make it out of the third inning against Purdue, which consequently raised his season ERA to 5.40. Ryan Kellogg has had his ups and downs throughout the early going, and currently has an ERA of 4.35.
In an interesting development, Tracy Smith revealed to azcentral’s Jeff Metcalfe that sophomore Seth Martinez will be pitching Friday, while Lilek will be pushed back to throw on Sunday.
Shifting to the bullpen, junior closer Ryan Burr has somehow exceeded already-sky-high expectations, posting an astonishing 19 strikeouts in just nine innings.
The Sun Devils offense has also been a pleasant surprise. R.J. Ybarra has been tearing the cover off the ball and is hitting .464 in nine starts. Johnny Sewald and Colby Woodmansee have been fixtures at the top of the order, and just recently, Brian Serven has caught fire and is now hitting over .400.
On the other side, the Dirtbags are starting to get some recognition despite the expected rebuilding year. And much of that is due to the efforts of fourth-year head coach Troy Buckley.
Despite losing five of their top six hitters from last season, Buckley still has the Dirtbags playing at a very high level.
Garrett Hampson and Zack Rivera have filled the void and been catalysts at the top of the order. Each are hitting .326 and have started all 12 games.
While their amount of additional offensive threats is somewhat limited, an intriguing storyline in the series is that Dirtbags’ third baseman Jonathan Serven is the brother of Sun Devils’ catcher Brian Serven. The older Serven has posted a .412 OBP in his nine starts for Long Beach State.
The Dirtbags have made their mark on the mound this season as well. They have found a solid weekend rotation of Kyle Friedrichs, Tanner Brown and Chris Mathewson.
Upperclassmen Friedrichs and Brown have had their ups and downs throughout their college careers, but have started the 2015 season off very well. Friedrichs, a senior, has posted a 1.80 ERA and ranks second in the nation with 34 strikeouts, while the junior Brown has an ERA at 1.40.
Perhaps the biggest revelation is freshman Chris Mathewson. The right-hander has taken over the Sunday starter role and made an early statement last week, throwing seven hitless innings en route to the Dirtbags first no-hitter in program history.
Long Beach State is proving that it is not a team to be taken lightly, and with its strong trio of starting pitchers, the Dirtbags should give the Sun Devils all they can handle come this weekend.
First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 MT on Friday, with Martinez taking the bump for the Sun Devils against Friedrichs for Long Beach State.