(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
Arizona State (6-7) is in the middle of a “rough patch.” The team is struggling after losing its fourth straight game and second of a two-game series against No. 7 Cal State Fullerton.
The Sun Devils will need to recover quickly from the losses against Fullerton, as it’s a quick turnaround for ASU. The Long Beach State Dirtbags (6-5) will be playing the Sun Devils over the weekend in the last series before ASU begins Pac-12 play.
The Dirtbags took a three-game series against the Sun Devils in 2016 at Blair Field, but this year’s series will be in the Devils’ home at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
ASU’s pitchers haven’t been doing well as of late, as they have given up a combined 34 runs over the four game dry spell.
Wednesday night at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, sophomore pitcher Fitz Stadler was given the start for the Sun Devils. With the pitching staff struggling, Stadler felt invigorated to help the team and asked for the ball to start.
Unfortunately for ASU, Stadler didn’t perform nearly as consistently as he had in his previous appearances for the Sun Devils. Stadler lasted just two innings giving up seven runs (four earned) on seven hits.
Smith did say that Stadler was dealing with a bit of an oblique strain, but wanted to pitch anyway and try to give the team a quality start.
“He’s going to be a guy that’s going to help us out on the weekends,” Smith said on Stadler’s role going forward. “Maybe starting isn’t the best role for him but I appreciate the fact that he wanted the baseball despite being injured tonight.”
It has been walks and errors that have caused the Sun Devils into the four game losing streak they are currently in and the same continued on Wednesday night.
Two crucial errors made a difference in the game as freshman catcher Lyle Lin couldn’t hold on to a third strike and shortstop Jeremy McCuin mishandled a flip that could have started a double play to get ASU out of trouble. Both errors by the underclassmen directly resulted in runs for the Titans.
“We’ve got to eliminate those,”Smith described the errors and the team’s overall struggles saying. “You’re going to hit rough patches in a season, you’re absolutely going to hit rough patches in a season. We’ve hit one clearly.”
LBSU is no weak opponent and is coming off a series win last weekend against No. 13 North Carolina. The Dirtbags won the series in large part due to quality pitching by the Friday and Saturday starters.
Darren McCaughan, the Dirtbags ace, pitched seven innings strong against the Tar Heels allowing only two runs. He will square up against Eli Lingos in the series opener on Friday night. McCaughan has struck out 20 batters in 19 innings and has held opposing hitters to a meager .236 batting average. He will pose a tough test for the ASU lineup in game one of the three-game set.
John Sheaks, who earned his first win of the season last Saturday against UNC, and freshman Matt Fields, who has been a pleasant surprise with a 2-0 record, both look to start for Long Beach State following McCaughan on Saturday and Sunday.
In order for ASU to be successful against the Dirtbags, the starting pitchers need to be steady and give the lineup a chance to not have to come from behind.
The Sun Devils pitchers have yielded the first run of the game seven times this season and if the Sun Devils lineup can get on the board first in each game, ASU will clearly have a better chance to take the series.
Smith described in the post-game press conference following the team’s 13-4 loss to Cal State Fullerton that it’s tough mentally to pitch from behind and also to have the lineup need to come back to win a game.
“We have to get more consistent on the mound,” Smith said after Wednesday’s blowout loss to Cal State Fullteron.
With all the struggles facing this team, the head coach isn’t worried this early in the season.
“I’m not losing confidence in this group,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of baseball left, with a young talented team and when we get it right and stacked up on the weekend I think we’re going to be fine.”
It’s worth noting that the Sun Devils have been competing against some of the best teams in the country in non-conference play in 2016 College World Series participant Oklahoma State, top-ranked TCU, No. 7 Cal State Fullerton, and upcoming against a formidable team in Long Beach State.
ASU decided to create a tough non-conference schedule against some of the best teams in college baseball rather than start off the season with a relatively easy schedule as some top teams do.
Eli Lingos (0.89 ERA) will be the starter for the Sun Devils on Friday evening as he looks to earn his fourth straight win to open up the season. Lingos performance early in the season has been a big boost to a rotation that has struggled with a combined 5.71 ERA.
Spencer Van Scoyoc will be the Saturday starter but there is no set starter for Sunday’s game. Smith said the third starter position is “up for grabs” since nobody on the Sun Devil pitching staff has separated himself from the others.
First pitch for the series opener on Friday night is set for 6:30 pm MST at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.