(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
The reeling Arizona State Sun Devils will be out to prove that their first two series in Pac-12 play were simply an aberration when they travel to Pullman to play the Washington State Cougars.
It will be the second consecutive series that the Sun Devils will play a bottom-dweller in the conference, following last weekend against Utah. However, that series did not go according to plan, with ASU losing two out of the three. The lone highlight was Ryan Hingst throwing the 10th no-hitter in ASU history.
The big story for ASU this weekend will be focused on whether it can pitch well enough to pull out a series victory. With the opponents from now until the rest of the season far stronger than those the Sun Devils played prior to conference play, the emphasis on quality pitching will be stronger than ever.
Seth Martinez and Ryan Hingst are the two locks in the rotation. Opening Day starter Hever Bueno returned last weekend after suffering an injury, but was lifted after just one inning. It is possible he is be used out of the bullpen to ease him in further. If that becomes the case, it would leave Reagan Todd and Eli Lingos as the most experienced options to start on Saturday.
They would face a Washington State offense that has scored just 15 runs in six games in Pac-12 play, so if the Sun Devils struggle on the mound in these next three games, the problem will be even more glaring.
The Cougars, like the Sun Devils, are just 1-5 in conference so far, but have a far worse overall record at 8-14. Their schedule has been a lot easier than ASU’s as well, yet they have series losses to both Utah Valley and Texas State.
First-year head coach Marty Lees’ team lacks star power, with just two total hitters batting over .300 and a starting rotation that is mired with inconsistency. The starter with the best ERA, Ryan Ward at 3.60, has not proven he can go deep in games with just 20 innings pitched in six starts. Saturday night starter Ian Hamilton began the season in the Friday night role, as he was looking to make the transition from lockdown closer to ace. He’s fallen short of expectations thus far, mustering an ERA of only 4.14. Ryan Walker has established himself as a strong relief option, but the lack of save opportunities has limited his role.
Meanwhile, the ASU lineup is coming off an up-and-down weekend against the Utes in which they totaled 13 runs in three games. First baseman David Greer, shortstop Colby Woodmansee and second baseman Andrew Snow continue to anchor the lineup with their ability to get on base. It’s outside of those three that has head coach Tracy Smith searching to find the winning formula.
Smith will use this series to continue to find someone who can nail down the starting spot at both left field and third base. Tyler Williams and Jordan Aboites seem to be the preferred options right now, but due to their previous inconsistencies that could change soon. A candidate in left field is Ryan Lillard, who has raised his batting average to .286 and slugging percentage up to .360. The once-prized freshman has versatility too, as he can play both corner infield positions. Another option in left field is David Greer. The team’s hits leader has played everywhere from first base to pitcher.
The caliber of ASU’s opponent this weekend gives it a golden opportunity to address the holes plaguing it.
The series will begin on Thursday and conclude on Saturday. Game times are at 7 p.m. on both Thursday and Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday.