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Bullpen holds off UNLV late to give ASU a 20th victory

(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)

The Arizona State Sun Devils have lacked two things during their losses in 2014: timely hitting and strong pitching from their bullpen. They had both on Tuesday night as three scoreless innings of relief and four two-out runs helped lead ASU to their 20th win of the season with a 5-2 victory over the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.

Seth Martinez got the start for the Sun Devils and lasted a career-long six innings, allowing two runs on six hits and striking out three along the way.

“Seth Martinez was outstanding tonight,” ASU head coach Tim Esmay said of his mid-week starter. “He just absolutely pounded the zone, made his pitches, and didn’t panic and didn’t chase the scoreboard.”

Justin Jones opened the scoring in the fifth for the Rebels on an RBI-single to right field. Patrick Armstrong stepped up an inning later and blasted a home run to left field, his fourth of the season, to put UNLV up 2-0. He led his team with two hits on the day.

The Sun Devils offense came to life in their half of the sixth though, responding with two runs in the inning to knot things up. Dalton DiNatale lined a two-out double that scored Trever Allen, while Brian Serven followed with a double of his own to bring in DiNatale.

DiNatale and Serven each had two hits for the Sun Devils, which led the team.

Trailing 2-0 heading into the inning with just two hits on the board to that point, Esmay was looking for his team to step up.

“We needed to respond,” he said of the sixth inning. “We found a way to grind out some at-bats late and got some big knocks when we needed it, and actually some confident at bats that we were looking for. We just needed to get confidence back up there and attack.”

Drew Stankiewicz left the game after the fifth and was replaced at second base by Tucker Esmay, who led off the seventh inning with a single. He would score later in the frame on a sacrifice fly from Colby Woodmansee that put the Sun Devils ahead for good.

Esmay stepped up again in the eighth inning, this time ahead by a run and with the bases loaded, and nailed a single up the middle, scoring DiNatale and Nate Causey to provide ASU closer Ryan Burr with some insurance runs.

Coach Esmay said that there was nothing wrong with Stankiewicz and that the move to replace him with Tucker Esmay was merely a strategical move.

“I felt like we just needed a spark,” Coach Esmay said. “[Tucker’s] been out, he was playing well for us early in the season but had a bad weekend against Tennessee and he’s been fighting to get back in ever since, like everybody does in this program.”

Burr allowed a one-out double in the ninth but nothing more on the way to earning his seventh save of the season.

Tuesday marked one of the better outings for the Sun Devils’ bullpen this season, as Eder Erives, Hever Bueno, who was credited with the victory, and Burr combined to throw three scoreless innings and gave up just one hit.

Arizona State will hit the road later this week to take on the Stanford Cardinal in a Pac-12 Conference matchup. The two teams will begin a three game series on Thursday night at 6:00 p.m. The road trip marks the first action away from home for ASU since a 6-5 victory over UCLA in Los Angeles on March 30.

The Sun Devils have won four consecutive conference series and 10 of their last 14 games overall.

“I think we just need to keep playing our game,” Tucker Esmay said about their hot play of late. “Our offense has been doing a great job (and) our pitching has been keeping us in the game.”

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