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ASU Baseball: Sun Devils, Musketeers set for opening series

(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)

Arizona State will kick off its season against Xavier in a four-game series at Phoenix Municipal Stadium this weekend.

For both teams, this weekend will serve as a means to feel out where they stand.

It will be head coach Tracy Smith’s second opening day with ASU. This year, though, the task will prove to be even more difficult.

For the Sun Devils, both the outfield and the pitching staff have undergone serious overhauls and will look far different than they did last season.

In the outfield, all three of last year’s starters have departed from the program.

Smith has all but committed to both freshman Gage Canning and sophomore Andrew Shaps right and center field, respectively. Left field, however, remains somewhat open.

Last season, now-sophomore Coltin Gerhart was the Opening Day starter. While he looks much improved physically this season, the job still won’t be handed to him. Junior college transfer Daniel Williams has provided not only a consistent presence from a performance standpoint, but also the experience for a team that boasts very few veterans.

Smith, who took the same approach with Gerhart last season, could at least give Williams the first series to prove that he belongs as a member of the starting outfield.

If he should underwhelm, look for Smith to go with either Gerhart or freshman Tyler Williams moving forward.

From a pitching standpoint, two of the three spots, again, are all but appointed. Junior Hever Bueno has warranted rave reviews after his drastic improvement in the offseason and will be the Friday night starter. For Saturday, expect the only returning weekend starter in junior Seth Martinez to toe the rubber.

Last season, Martinez started 15 games going 2-2 with a 4.03 ERA in that span.

While those numbers aren’t the greatest, Martinez’s veteran experience will be coveted on an unheralded staff.

The fact that this series consists of four games gives Smith an opportunity to kick the wheels on two pitchers for the third spot.

Eder Erives could potentially start either the Saturday night game or the Sunday game (though Smith has said using him in long relief would give this team a big luxury). Grant Schneider is among many who could start the other game.

Erives has the ability to stick around past this weekend as the third starter – last season the now-junior posted the third-lowest ERA (3.26) in 18 appearances, and brings the veteran experience that will be coveted on this team.

While this will be a series of feeling out unanswered questions for Arizona State, Xavier will enter the weekend looking to avenge their disappointing 2015 season.

Having gone 15-38 just two years removed from an NCAA tournament berth, head coach Scott Googins will be looking to right the ship.

After graduating 14 seniors last season, though, Xavier will be in a similar position as Arizona State.

The Musketeers, however, will have the luxury of an established staff.

The team’s projected rotation is comprised of sophomore Zac Lowther, junior Greg Jacknewitz and Trent Astle. All three are lefties.

Jacknewitz was sixth-best in the NCAA in hits allowed last season, giving up just 5.37 per game.

The lineup will look eerily similar to that of Arizona State, featuring a cast of untested outfielders and an established infield.

Sophomore Nate Soria, who hit for a .335 average and eleven doubles in his rookie season, will be a focal point of the Xavier offense.

Last season, he was the Big East Rookie of the Year, and is projected to slot in as the team’s designated hitter.

Preseason All-Big East catcher Daniel Rizzie will be returning from injury for his senior year and will also yield attention from the Sun Devils.

The weekend will look like a pilot run for both teams. Both will be searching for an identity throughout the early portion of 2016.

First pitch is Friday at 6:30 MT.

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