Instead of ending games for the Sun Devils this season, sophomore right-hander Ryan Burr will be starting them.
Burr excelled as a closer for ASU baseball last season, collecting 12 saves and 60 strikeouts in only 45 innings with a 2.20 ERA. But he hinted to coach Tim Esmay that he wanted to start, despite enjoying the closer’s role.
“I had the most fun of my life being a closer last year,” Burr said. “I’m going to miss that, but it’s also an opportunity for me to work hard for eight innings, so I can get back to the ninth inning and have an opportunity to close a game out.”
Esmay made the decision while he coached Burr on Team USA during the summer.
He said moving a reliever to a starter is something the Sun Devils have done frequently, mentioning the transitions of former ASU pitchers Jake Barrett, Brady Rodgers and Trevor Williams.
“I feel good about it, the way (Burr) has prepared himself and the way he is kind of getting after it,” Esmay said. “He’s earned the opportunity to be a guy that we give the ball to in the front end.”
Burr said he expects the typical drop in velocity that comes along with changing from a reliever to a starter. Because relief pitchers don’t need to throw more than one or two innings, they come out firing as hard as they can. Starters need to pace themselves more.
Esmay said he isn’t worried too much about a drop-off because of Burr’s body type: 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds. He’s built like a power pitcher, which should help his transition, Esmay said.
Burr said he has been working on pacing himself with his fastball, as well as indicating a reliance on his secondary pitches.
“That’s been a big thing for us this offseason is getting my confidence back in my other pitches, being consistent with them,” Burr said. “I don’t have to get everyone out with my fastball. Throwing to contact, letting my defense play, those kind of things.”
Esmay agreed, and said the key is pitch efficiency.
“Sometimes strikeouts are sexy, but they’re not exactly what you need, especially early in the game,” Esmay said.
Burr will join lefties Ryan Kellogg and Brett Lilek to form a trio of sophomore starters, all of whom Esmay called “Friday night guys.”
Kellogg completed a fantastic freshman campaign with a 3.15 ERA and a no-hitter on March 23 at Oregon State as the team’s No. 2 pitcher. Kellogg is expected to be ASU’s Friday night starter this year.
Lilek had an injury-plagued season and only made one start, but it was a big one, pitching five innings en route to an upset victory against then-No. 2 Arkansas. Lilek came out of the bullpen 10 times and only pitched 20 innings last year.
It’s a young rotation, and Burr said he is excited to be a part of it.
“Stack us three up against any other starting weekend rotation — not only in the Pac-12, but in the rest of the country — we have three very dangerous weapons that, if used correctly, we can beat anybody,” Burr said.
Reach the reporter at Justin.Emerson@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @J15Emerson