(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
A year removed from a sluggish offensive season and an inability to string together quality and situational at-bats, the 2015 Arizona State bats continue to mash.
The Sun Devils pounded out 13 hits on Friday night, and combined with the pitching tandem of Seth Martinez and Darin Gillies, earned a 6-4 win over Long Beach State.
It wasn’t one floodgate-opening inning, nor one swing of the bat that delivered a crushing blow to the Dirtbags. Rather, it was a spread-out, consistent and methodical shellacking of the LBST pitching staff that paved the way to ASU’s eighth win of the season.
“We really hunt fastballs,” catcher Brian Serven said in regards to the offensive transformation that’s taken place between seasons. “We did that last year, but this year we’re really getting after it. It doesn’t matter if we swing at three straight fastballs and get out one-two-three. Skip wants us swinging if it’s there. Fastballs early, hitting. I think everyone’s taking a good approach to that and everybody’s getting the barrel on the ball pretty well.”
Dirtbag ace Kyle Friedrichs had been dealing prior to Friday night—owning three consecutive outings with at least ten strikeouts, a 1.80 ERA and a shiny 34:3 K:BB ratio—but ASU wasted little time in building an early lead off him.
Johnny Sewald led the game off with an infield single and then promptly scored on a moonshot triple from Colby Woodmansee. One pitch later, the Sun Devils logged a 2-0 lead, courtesy of an RBI groundout from RJ Ybarra.
The lead was then extended to three in the third, as Jake Peevyhouse laced an RBI single up the middle to score Sewald.
“For the most part, I thought we had a really good offensive approach,” said head coach Tracy Smith. “There numbers were very impressive as a staff. I don’t know if it was just one of those nights, I don’t think it’s going to be that easy tomorrow. That’s what we said to the guys, this is a very good baseball team, very good pitching staff.”
Blessed with a 3-0 lead, it was at this point that the outing of newly-appointed Friday night starter Seth Martinez turned interesting.
Carrying a no-hitter through three innings, Martinez was humming along nicely, in large part due to his first-pitch fastball, put-away-pitch curveball approach. Through 3.2 innings, Martinez had poured in 11 (of 14 possible) first-pitch strikes, eight of which came via a fastball. He had also amassed six strikeouts, five of which came on an offspeed offering.
The speed bumps hit with two outs and the bases loaded in the fourth when he mystifyingly deviated from what had been working throughout the night. Eric Hutting inflicted the damage, as he blasted a hanging first-pitch curve from Martinez over the left field fence. The grand slam put the Dirtbags up 4-3.
“That’s going to happen, but I thought Seth did a really good job of doing what he’s done up to this point, which is competing in the strike zone. He left the one pitch up, and the guy, to his credit, made him pay for it,” Smith said.
Martinez, however, was able to get through the fifth—throwing fastballs for three first-pitch strikes and registering his seventh strikeout with a curveball, essentially reverting back to what had been so dominant before the grand slam. All told, Martinez earned his first win of the season and the sixth of his career, going five complete innings and allowing four hits and four earned runs.
“Getting ahead with the fastball and then just trying to get them to swing at the slider late in the count really helped today,” Martinez said. “At the time (of the grand slam), I knew that that was the pitch that needed to happen in that situation, bases loaded, two outs. Just didn’t come out right, I hung it a little bit and he put a good swing on it. That’s what’s going to happen.”
After his offense picked him up in the fourth to knot the game at four runs apiece, three consecutive doubles from Colby Woodmansee, RJ Ybarra and Trever Allen in the fifth plated two runs and gave the Sun Devils a 6-4 lead.
Three scoreless innings from Darin Gillies followed—a fitting occurrence considering it has been the success of Gillies that has kept Martinez out of a weekend role. Nevertheless, the tandem worked in unison tonight to keep a scrappy Dirtbags lineup at bay.
Ryan Burr allowed a walk in the ninth, but struck out two to earn his fifth save of the season.
ASU will strive for its fourth straight series win over the Dirtbags tomorrow at 6:30 MT when left-hander Ryan Kellogg takes the bump against LBSU right-hander Tanner Brown.
- Third baseman Dalton Dinatale was injured while taking infield before Tuesday’s game against the Diamondbacks. The junior suffered a fractured thumb, yet played through the discomfort. The severity of the injury is unknown at this point, but the initial evaluations indicate that he won’t require surgery. He will be held out of the remainder of this weekend’s series, and an update will be given on Monday.
- Freshman Ryan Lillard suffered a concussion on Tuesday after being hit in the helmet with a fastball. He will remain out of the lineup until he passes concussion protocol. Also working his way back from Tommy John surgery during the summer, he still won’t be cleared to throw for a while.
- Andrew Shaps (who is also a relief pitcher) made an appearance in left field tonight and Smith indicated that he will likely slot there late in games due to his sound defense and due to depth issues off the bench.