Freshman pitcher Ryan Kellogg found out via Twitter on Tuesday afternoon that he was selected to start this Saturday for No. 25 ASU baseball against No. 2 Arkansas.
Kellogg showed up to Tuesday’s practice grinning ear-to-ear, excited to face the Razorbacks (7-1) at the Coca-Cola Classic, which is held at Surprise Stadium.
“There’s going to be a lot of energy,” Kellogg said. “Guys are going to be excited to play in the MLB park against the preseason No. 1 team. If you can’t get excited for a game like that, you have to check yourself.”
He didn’t even imagine the opportunity to face Arkansas would present itself.
“I’m pretty excited about that,” Kellogg said. “I definitely wasn’t expecting to start against Arkansas. I was hoping to get a start, but I imagined it was going to be against Pacific or Gonzaga.”
The start against the Razorbacks will only be Kellogg’s second in his career, but the freshman’s confidence is sky high.
Kellogg has already racked up two wins in the early part of the season. Last Sunday, he grabbed the 5-1 win at Tennessee in which he pitched five innings and only gave up three hits, one run and struck out six.
“I feel pretty good right now,” Kellogg said. “I’m really happy with how the last two games have gone.”
The Sun Devils (4-2) also face the Razorbacks Thursday and fellow freshman Brett Lilek is slated to make his first career start.
Many assumed junior Trevor Williams would start against Arkansas ace junior Ryne Stanek, Williams’s fellow Team USA teammate.
Instead, ASU coach Tim Esmay is going with the freshman Lilek against an Arkansas team that is hitting .312 to begin the season.
Esmay believes the decision is best for the team.
“We are just trying to keep the rotation the same,” Esmay said. “I mean, it’s not fair to Trevor. He threw about 89 pitches on Friday. Yeah, it’s a good weekend for us, but it’s not for the sake of early in the season.”
Esmay is also confident in Lilek after he pitched two scoreless innings last Friday to close out Williams’s start.
“I think what’s good about him is that he’s been in the fire and he’s been out there, so it’s not anything different than what he’s done,” Esmay said. “He’s been a starter his whole career so we will give him a chance to go out there and see what he can do.”
Williams will get the nod Friday against Pacific. Esmay said Pacific has shown significant improvement since last year.
“Pacific is off to a decent start,” Esmay said. “They’ve won some big games and they have some decent pitching.”
ASU sophomore Adam McCreery will take over the Sunday pitching role against Gonzaga, who the Sun Devils swept last year.
Esmay said the result doesn’t tell the whole story and that the Bulldogs (4-4) will come out ready this weekend.
“Gonzaga is real good,” Esmay said. “They gave us everything that we could handle last year and the end of the season and they were trying to get into a regional.”
Junior second baseman James McDonald is also ready to face the elite competition that teams like the Razorbacks and Bulldogs bring.
“It’s an exciting weekend,” McDonald said. “We get to face some top-level teams like Arkansas and Gonzaga, so it should be good and be a good test for us.”
McDonald, along with reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week redshirt sophomore outfielder Trever Allen, provided the offensive spark last weekend at Tennessee with their home runs. McDonald knows it will take a lot to crank it off pitchers like Stanek and Bulldogs redshirt senior ace Tyler Olson.
“I just think we need to stay within ourselves and keep swinging and the balls will end up falling,” McDonald said.
Esmay believes his team ran into bad luck and loud outs last weekend in Tennessee. The Sun Devils totaled 11 runs over the three games.
“We are taking good swings and swinging at good pitches, so it’s just part of the situation,” Esmay said.
McDonald also noted that the depth of the lineup, most notably due to the heavy freshman impact thus far, will help the Sun Devils in case they struggle this weekend.
“I think it’s a good thing,” McDonald said. “It gives us a lot of flexibility, and we are able to use a lot of guys. We’re not just set on one lineup.”
Esmay said the MLB-sized fences will affect the games, but ultimately, it’s the play in front of the fences Esmay is focused on.
“We have to play defense,” Esmay said. “That’s the whole key. We have to get better on defense and not give away the freebies.”
Esmay said the main focus for the Sun Devils is Thursday’s game against Arkansas.
“It’s exciting for us to play a team of that caliber, and we’ve had some really good battles with them through the years,” Esmay said. “So we expect nothing less than that.”
Reach the reporter at email@example.com