Arizona State Keeps Playing Despite NCAA Ban …
By CB360 Contributor Kevin Kennedy
The Arizona State University baseball team needed to take advantage of having six straight conference home games in the grueling Pac-12. The Devils got off to the perfect start by sweeping No. 20 Oregon State in Tempe last weekend. The No. 27 Sun Devils jumped back into the conference race, improving to 6-6 in the Pac-12. ASU, which had been swept the previous weekend in Eugene by the Oregon Ducks, improved from a tie for 9th in the conference to a tie for 4th, three games behind 1st-place Arizona.
The Sun Devils dropped to 19-13 overall after losing at New Mexico 15-6 on Monday night, in the first game of a two-game series.
The Devils defeated the Beavers 8-2, 3-2 and 5-1. In each of the victories, ASU was able to get timely hits and won by close margins in the final two games. Those were two factors that contributed to their earlier conference defeats. In Saturday’s win, ASU had many opportunities in the early innings before breaking through with five runs en route to the 5-1 win.
Before last weekend, ASU was 16-12, their worst start to a season since 2005 (that year ASU still made the CWS and finished third). The 3-6 conference start this season was their worst since 2004.
With ASU banned from the NCAA postseason for 2012, a big question with the team entering the season was the squad’s motivation for a season that will end in late May.
Though the team was off to its worst start in seven years, their motivation seemingly has never been questioned. Instead, the reason has been the inability to win close games, not getting timely hits and having a roster that features half of the players being newcomers (17 of 34). There have been some struggles as these players try to adjust to their first Pac-12 season.
Nine of ASU’s losses have been by 1-2 runs. Other than Monday’s loss to New Mexico, every defeat has been by no more than four runs. Those losses include 6-5 and 4-2 defeats at UCLA, plus the three-game sweep at Oregon in which the Devils lost 1-0, 3-1 and 4-3.
With the Pac-12 being so competitive this season, it makes the road even tougher for a team with so many young players to try and win a conference title.
The team’s strength is on the mound, where the Devils boast the best staff ERA in the Pac-12 (2.62, entering this week). They currently are the only team in the conference with an ERA below 3.00.
Junior righthander Brady Rodgers has lived up to his Friday-night starter role with a record of 5-1 and a conference-best 1.12 ERA. Rodgers has allowed only eight earned runs in 64 innings. He also has a 48-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His only loss was a complete game 1-0 loss to Oregon on March 31, his third complete game of the season.
Sophomore RHP Trevor Williams is right behind Rodgers with the second-lowest ERA in the Pac-12 (1.65). Williams is 6-2 while allowing 10 earned runs in 54.2 innings this season. Rodgers and Williams are the only Pac-12 pitchers with sub 2.00 ERAs.
Finding production from a third starter has been an issue for ASU. Besides Williams and Rodgers, six different pitchers have started games for the Sun Devils in 2012. The team began the season freshman LHP Adam McCreery as their number three, but he has been out since the early part of the season because of injury. McCreery has made only two starts for the Devils, but in those games he was 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA.
Freshman RHP Darrin Gilles has started the past three Sunday games, failing to go more than five innings in any of those starts. Gilles is 0-3 with a 4.30 ERA.
Besides Rodgers, Williams and McCreery, junior LHP Matthew Dunbar is the only pitcher who has started while compiling a lower ERA (all other starters are 4.22 or higher). Dunbar has posted a 1.27 ERA through 12 appearances, but he has started only once.
The SU bullpen has pitched well in 2012, with their main relievers all having ERAs below 3.2. The ‘pen is lead by junior righthanded closer Jake Barrett, who is 1-2 with a 1.56 ERA and five saves.
Offensively, ASU has only three hitters with averages over .300. Junior second baseman Joey DeMichele once again is one of the top hitters in the conference. DeMichele is hitting .361 with 16 extra-base hits, including five home runs and team high 32 RBI. The veteran is hitting .273 in Pac-12 games.
Junior shortstop Deven Marrero – considered one of the top collegiate prospects for the 2012 MLB draft – is hitting only .276, lowest among the team’s regular starters. Marrero has two home runs with 14 RBI. Prior to going 4-for-13 against Oregon State this past weekend, Marrero barely was hitting above .200 in Pac-12 games. Despite his inconsistency at the plate, Marrero still had some clutch hits versus the Beavers and still is a valuable commodity as a stellar defensive shortstop.
Senior first baseman Abe Ruiz, a first-year starter, is the top power hitter with eight bombs this season. Ruiz is second on the team with a .324 average and 29 RBI. He also leads the team with 12 doubles and is hitting only .263 in conference play.
The other starter batting over .300 is redshirt freshman outfielder Trevor Allen, third on the team with a .316 average and 18 RBI – but in conference play, Allen is hitting just .235.
Junior center fielder Andrew Aplin, the third returning starter along with Marrero and DeMichele, is the only starter with a average over .300 in Pac-12 play (.326). He has shaken off his slow start by upping his average to .293.
ASU is tied for fifth in the Pac-12 with a .292 batting average. They also lead in the conference with 23 home runs.
At times this season, there have been issues in the field for the Devils. ASU is in the bottom half (8th) among Pac-12 teams in season fielding percentage (.967) and has committed the third-most errors in the conference.
These statistics do not include the five errors they committed in Monday’s loss to New Mexico, bringing their total to 46 Es for the season. Five players have committed at least five errors in 2012. The miscues have lead to 19 unearned runs.
The Devils will need to clean up some of their problems if they want to win the Pac-12, a goal set by the coaches and players before this season.
ASU hosts USC this weekend in Pac-12 play but they still have to play highly-rated Stanford and Arizona on the road. They also will visit Washington State.
Other than the Trojans, ASU still will host Utah and Washington in Tempe along with two non-conference games against Arizona.
Cory Hahn Update:
Sophomore Cory Hahn – who was paralyzed from his chest down after suffering a C-5 fracture to his spinal cord at the start of the 2011 season – has returned to the team as a student coach. Hahn returned to ASU this semester and has resumed taking classes.
The Cory Hahn Fund continues to collect donations to help him with rehabilitation and medical costs. The fund’s website can be found here https://secure.edlio.com/ssl/coryhahnfund/index.jsp?ech=www.materdei.org
CLICK HERE for recent article written by Jeff Metcalfe of the Arizona Republic, with the story further detailing Hahn’s incredible journey to get back to school and to the team.