(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
After a rocky start to conference play, the Sun Devils (18-12) look to be, albeit every ever so slightly, turning the tide. Their five-game losing streak is well behind them, and they’ve now alternated wins and losses for the past nine games.
This weekend’s series with No. 17 California (20-9) will be an indication of how much progress Tracy Smith’s team has made since starting 1-5 in the conference.
It will be just the second time Arizona State has played a team ranked within D1Baseball.com’s top 25 since the team was swept by Oregon State back in March.
This time around, the Sun Devils have some conference victories under their belt and are looking to win on a more consistent basis – they haven’t won two consecutive games since sweeping UC Davis on March 13.
“We talk about consistency every night, seems like we’ve been win one, lose one,” Smith said. “I think we’ve just got to focus on doing the little things, competing in the zone. Their pitching staff, one of the best pitchers in the country [Daulton Jefferies], we’ve got to find a way to win, as I said the other day, to piece together and try to win two games a weekend, try to win the series.”
Cal was dealt a serious blow when it was announced that Jefferies wouldn’t play in the series due to a lingering calf injury. Jefferies ranks 17th in the nation in ERA entering the weekend, a mark that sits at 1.29 in 42 innings pitched. He has started in six games and yet to lose a decision.
“If he’s not pitching this weekend, I think that’s good for the home team,” Smith said. “Not to say that even if he was pitching we wouldn’t have beaten him, but let’s be real here, that guy’s really, really good. Would I rather be facing him than somebody else, I’ll take somebody else.”
To be fair, that somebody else will likely be Ryan Mason, a senior who boasts a 2.26 ERA to go with 41 strikeouts and a 5-1 win-loss record.
“I know we’ve got our hands full,” Smith said. “But our guys are confident.”
On the mound for ASU, Smith will send Seth Martinez, who has started in four conference games. While he has been proficient in terms of limiting runs (1.98 ERA) and base runners (1.21 WHIP), the wins haven’t followed suit, as he has won just one out of his four decisions.
In his three conference losses, Martinez has had an average of 1.3 runs to work with. If the hits can play second fiddle to Martinez on Friday, a pressing task up against one of the elite pitchers in the country, the team could improve to 2-3 in conference games on Friday nights.
Beyond Friday, Eder Erives can be expected to earn the nod on either Saturday or Sunday.
Erives has started in the last two series’ and has posted 20 strikeouts and allowed four earned runs in 14 innings.
The duo will have their hands full with Cal’s lineup, a group that features the trio of Brett Cumberland, Mitchell Kranson and Nick Halamandaris.
Cumberland in particular has been a force at the plate, accounting for a .398 average, 31 RBI and 10 home runs.
It’s going to be on Colby Woodmansee, David Greer and Andrew Snow to spark the offensive attack and provide the pitchers with a luxury that can be, at times, a foreign concept – run support.
Should ASU steal the series from Cal, it could be a turning point in a season that has been a roller coaster to say the least.
All Smith is asking of his team is two games.
“There’s a lot of baseball season left, a lot of conference games left and we can do that [win two games per weekend],” Smith said. “But we need consistency.”
First pitch is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on Friday, with two matinee games scheduled at 12 p.m. and 12:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday respectively.