After an opening weekend filled with more runs than innings, the ASU baseball team is looking forward to facing a tougher test.
Not that the No. 13 Sun Devils (3-0) didn’t enjoy outscoring visiting Western Michigan 40–2 last weekend, but they know their makeshift preseason schedule will conclude Friday when UC Riverside comes to Tempe for a three-game series.
Last year, when the two teams met in Surprise for the Coca-Cola Classic, the Highlanders (2-2) held a 4–1 lead in the sixth inning before the Sun Devils stormed back to win 5–4 in 11 innings.
“We remember them very well,” ASU coach Tim Esmay said. “This week will be a challenge for us. I want to see how we respond to it. We can’t count on being up 9–0 in the second inning anymore.”
The depth in UC Riverside’s starting rotation makes them a threat each night.
The Highlanders’ ace, sophomore left-handed pitched Dylan Stuart, threw a complete game, five hit shutout in his team’s season opener last Friday against Brigham Young University, earning him Big West Pitcher of the Week honors.
Saturday’s starter, senior right-handed pitcher Eddie Orozco, boasted a 2.29 ERA in 2011 while Sunday’s starter, junior right-handed pitcher Trevor Frank, threw six innings against the Sun Devils in their last meeting, only allowing three runs.
“They are going to try to commit to playing for one because they have a deep pitching staff,” Esmay said. “That’s how a lot of Pac-12 teams do it. Anytime we can play somebody who does the same things as Pac-12 teams, it’s good in the big picture.”
Trying to knock UC Riverside’s pitchers out of the games early will be the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week and ASU senior first baseman Abe Ruiz. Ruiz scored seven runs, drove in six and hit two homers against Westen Michigan.
“Everyone wants to get off to a good start, but I never had that good of a start in my mind,” he said. “I didn’t want to get too high or too confident, but you have to be confident to play this game. You can fail seven times out of 10 and still be an all-star.”
Ruiz credited his teammates, juniors Deven Marrero and Joey DeMichele, for the work they do in front of him in the lineup to make his at bats easier.
“They are always on base,” Ruiz said. “They are great players, so I know I’m going to get good pitches. My job is to just protect them.”
On the mound for the Sun Devils this weekend will be the same starting rotation as last week, with junior right-handed pitcher Brady Rodgers (1-0) throwing Friday, freshman left-handed pitcher Adam McCreery (1-0) on the bump Saturday and sophomore right-handed pitcher Trevor Williams (1-0) capping the series off on Sunday.
“We want efficient outings from our guys,” Esmay said. “We want to build their innings up as we go, but we also want to give our guys in the bullpen some work too. It’s more about these guys getting into a routine and making changes if we have to.”
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