ASU baseball set to switch up lineups in opening weekend against Baylor

After a long offseason which followed a heartbreaking exit from regionals, the 2014 ASU baseball season begins Friday afternoon.

“It feels different this week,” coach Tim Esmay said. “Anytime you start a season, that’s why we do this thing.”

There are plenty of position battles left to be decided, including second base and third base. Esmay said he wants to use the opening weekend to test a couple of players out and said he doesn’t expect the lineups to be the same for any of three games.

 
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But he did hint at one player in particular. He said he likes the idea of sophomore center fielder Johnny Sewald in the leadoff spot.

“He’s a kid that got some playing time last year, but he’s grown,” Esmay said. “I feel very comfortable with him out there.”

As for ASU’s opponent, last season the Bears finished 27-28, fifth in the Big 12. They were picked to finish sixth in the conference this year in the Big 12 Conference Preseason Coaches’ Poll. Baylor went only 6-14 on the road, and hits the road to open its season this weekend in Tempe against the Sun Devils.

Baylor is hoping to improve upon last year, and look to rely on last year’s star, senior outfielder Nathan Orf.

Only one Bears’ hitter finished with a batting average better than .300, Orf and his .377 mark. He also had identical on-base and slugging percentages of .470.

On the mound, the Friday night matchup is expected to feature sophomore right-hander Ryan Burr for the Sun Devils opposite senior right-hander Dillon Newman for the Bears.

Newman has been drafted twice, by the New York Mets in 2010 and by the Houston Astros in 2013. Newman’s calling card is his control: only five walks in 77.1 innings last season while striking out 52 with a 2.91 ERA.

Esmay said the coaching staff has been working on a game plan to counter his impeccable command.

“He’s definitely won the freebie war last year,” Esmay said. “If you’re going to beat him, looks to me … like you’re going to have to swing the bat.”

Saturday will be a pair of left-handers: ASU sophomore Ryan Kellogg versus Baylor redshirt junior Brad Kuntz, while Sunday will see ASU sophomore lefty Brett Lilek meet Baylor junior righty Austin Stone.

First pitch of the season for both clubs is scheduled for Friday at 2:30 p.m. at Packard Stadium. Saturday’s game will be at 1 p.m., and the finale will begin at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

“It’s that time again in Tempe,” Burr said. “The Devils are back.”

Reach the reporter at justin.emerson@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @J15Emerson