(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
Two left-handed pitchers pitchers sporting the number 15 on their back squared off Thursday night in a contest that ended up resulting in a pitcher’s duel.
After sweeping Long Beach State to close out their non-conference slate, the Arizona State Sun Devils kicked off Pac-12 Conference play at home against the No. 2 ranked Oregon State Beavers, falling with as loss by a score of 2-0.
Eli Lingos recorded the first two outs of the first inning, but then proceeded to issue a full count walk to OSU’s KJ Harrison, which lead to designated hitter Trevor Larnach doubling him in and putting the Beavers on the board early. Andy Atwood ripped an RBI single to left field for the second run of the inning, putting ASU down 2-0 before their first at-bats of the inning, the fifth straight game the Devils had allowed at least two first inning runs.
“The two-out walk certainly was not something that we wanted to do, they got the two big two-out hits in the first inning, but other than that, I thought he did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Tracy Smith said after the game. “That’s a very lethal offense, if you take it to the eighth inning, only giving up two runs, to me the starter’s done his job. We certainly would loved to have had a better start to that thing in the first inning, but you can’t. He can either hang his head or move forward and I thought he did an excellent job after that, just giving his team a chance to win.”
After allowing two first inning runs for the fifth straight game, Lingos settled down, as he shut down the Beavers over his next six innings, allowing four hits and no runs in his final six innings of work. In the seven innings thrown, the southpaw struck out five and walked three too.
“It was both ways, I thought it was a pretty tight zone, and they came back even after the first inning, so there were some pitches, so borderline stuff,” Smith said on Lingos’ performance. “I just think it was him getting used to the umpire. He likes to live on the corners and maybe he was nibbling a little bit too much in the first inning and not getting the call. And again, that’s not a slight on the umpire, I mean he was tight both ways. I think it was just kind of feeling his way with him and once he was more aggressive in the zone, the biggest thing in that was just the two-out walk. I think if he had to do it all over again, he probably wouldn’t have nibbled on that one.”
Despite allowing two runs in the first inning and taking the loss, Lingos felt confident as the game went on.
“It’s been kind of, at least with these last two outings, I kinda get a little better as the game goes on so like those last couple innings, I’m not worried about pitch count, I’m just trying to get guys out,” Lingos said. “Later in the game, like when I know like I’m getting up there, it’s kind of just put everything I have into it and finish off strong.”
The junior mixed his fastball, curveball and change-up on a very consistent basis all game long, putting the OSU batters off balance throughout the night. For him, the curveball consistency was key to his victory and was something he had been working on in the past few weeks, a difference he saw in comparison to last year.
“I feel like I’m more consistent, I had more confidence on the mound,” Lingos said. “I’ve just kind of simplified my mechanics, last year a little too much was going on so my arm action wouldn’t be the same, or my leg lift or something would be off, and that could throw off my whole outing so I just made sure I focused on simplifying my mechanics and being repetitive with it.”
The Sun Devils only managed two hits in the contest, with Andrew Snow breaking up the OSU no-hitter in the fifth and Andrew Shaps singling in the sixth inning. Lefty Luke Heimlich, who started the game for the Beavers, was strong from start to finish, as he pitched eight innings en route to picking up his fourth win of the season.
“The guy’s 4-0 and he’s got a 0.25 ERA. So he’s pretty good,” ASU’s head coach said when asked where his hitters struggled. “The name of the game is pitching, this guy tonight was throwing 92-95 at some points and able to locate down in the zone consistently with his fastball and his breaking stuff, that’s going to make it very difficult on you offensively. I don’t think it was as much as maybe we weren’t doing, it’s just sometimes somebody’s doing a little bit better against you and I thought he was definitely on tonight and he shows why he’s one of the top pitchers in the country.”
Heimlich walked only two batters in the game, both in the second inning, the only inning where the Sun Devils had more than one base runner stranded.
While the junior from Corvallis was nearly unhittable, the Sun Devil bullpen kept their team in the game as well, with Ryan Hingst being the first pitcher out of the bullpen to relieve Lingos. Hingst got four outs and allowed two hits, before turning the ball over to Connor Higgins, who recorded the final two outs in the ninth.
“I’ll tell you, the big stuff from me in the last few games is the emergence of Connor Higgins,” Smith mentioned after the loss. “I think if Connor can give us that consistently out of the bullpen, that’s going to help us. But we feel like we’re in good shape. We’re going to mix and match anyways as we get later into the game, the key tomorrow, clearly, is how deep can Spencer get, can we eliminate the walks, pitch aggressively in the zone. I think it’s time for him to do that and I think he’s ready to do that, it’s been good preparation. But we feel confident in the guys backing him up too. But I like what I’m seeing with Connor lately, that’s really good.”
OSU closer Max Engelbrekt set ASU down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning as he earned his fifth save of the year. With the 2-0 victory, Oregon State improved to 15-1 and 1-0 in conference play, showing why they are one of the country’s top teams. The ASU loss moved their record to 9-8 and 0-1 in conference play, putting them at risk to fall to .500 tomorrow afternoon in the second game of the series.
“You don’t like to take consolation in losses, but we’re close and we know that. It’s just putting it all together at the right time, Smith admitted Thursday Night. “We’ve got a very young team, we know we’re going to go through some growing pains. We don’t want to lose confidence but I’m going to tell you, that’s a really really good baseball team we played tonight. They got two big two-out hits and they beat us… But we’re not satisfied with losing a baseball game, but it’s one of those things where I don’t feel we beat ourselves, I don’t feel the effort wasn’t there, we ran into a really, really good pitcher tonight. Plain and simple. Our guy was pretty good, their guy was really good.”
Nick Badders is a baseball beat writer for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network. You can follow him on Twitter @BadderUpSports.