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Pitching may be Sun Devils’ biggest strength

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Jake Barrett, beard on his face and 99 on his back, was the real deal. With a team-leading ERA of 1.79, the right-handed closer struck a chord of consistency in 2012, saving 11 games for the Sun Devils. That mark is tied for third most in ASU history. Barrett was drafted as the 120th overall pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Mesa native now chases his dreams at the big league level.

The ASU pitching staff will also miss starter Brady Rodgers in the spring, whose 2.39 career ERA placed second in school history. The Houston Astros drafted the right-hander in the third round.

With two key elements of the Sun Devils’ mound success gone, people might be pessimistic about the pitching side of things, especially once Pac-12 play starts. Senior reliever Matt Dunbar still expects pitching to be the strength of this team.

“Our strength is going to be our pitching staff this year,” Dunbar said. “We’re young and the young guys have got a lot of drive in them. They’re ready to step into some pretty big shoes to fill behind Rodgers and Barrett.”

Junior right-hander Trevor Williams not only played for Team USA this past summer, but also earned First Team All-American honors last season. He posted a conference low 2.05 ERA in 2012 and is expected to be ASU’s Friday night starter in 2013.

But, with the absence of the number two starter Rodgers, the Saturday night spot is still in question. Head coach Tim Esmay might turn to lefty sophomore Adam McCreery, whose injuries in the 2012 season prevented him from a breakout freshman year.

In addition, ASU enters the 2013 season without their primary closer, Barrett. The southpaw Dunbar says he can step into that position if the team needs him to.

“I feel like I can step into that role but it’s all up to the coaches,” Dunbar said. “I just want to be able to get out on the field and help the team win.”

Last year, ASU led the Pac-12 with 129 walks allowed. Even with Rodgers and Barrett gone this season, Dunbar clarified that the focus of the staff remains to “not give up freebies,” whether it’s from a hit by pitch or a walk.

Starting pitching will remain a strength of this team. With Williams locked up for the Friday night spot, Esmay and his coaching staff will need to find consistency for the Saturday and Sunday starters before conference play. That consistency could come from returners such as Gillies or McCreery. Likely, Esmay will need a freshman to step up for the Sunday role. Watch for freshmen left-handers Brett Lilek and Ryan Kellogg to be sprinkled in with the veterans as they fight for a starting spot in this talented rotation.

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