Friday night starters in college baseball are the pitchers the team believes have the best chance to win the game against the opponent’s best.
For ASU baseball, that distinction no longer belongs to sophomore righty Ryan Burr, but rather sophomore lefty Brett Lilek, who will toe the rubber Friday night against No. 21 Tennessee State University.
Burr announced yesterday he would be returning to the bullpen after only three starts this year, which opened the door for Lilek to take the Friday night job.
Pitching coach Ken Knutson said Burr came to the coaching staff and said he wasn’t comfortable starting, that it messed with his routine and that he wanted to close again.
“It’s a totally different mindset and something you have to change when you’re a starter,” Burr said. “If you do bad, you have to sit there for a week and wait. That’s something I didn’t really like … last year as a closer was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life playing baseball.”
Friday nights are far from vacant. It’s hard to argue with what Lilek has done so far this season for the Sun Devils (6-4). His 1.29 ERA is best among ASU pitchers with at least four innings, as is his .106 batting average against and 17 strikeouts.
Burr, meanwhile, will return to a role in which he feels more comfortable. Last season he set an ASU rookie record with 12 saves, and complemented that with a 2.20 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 45 innings.
“One thing we have is arguably the best closer in America standing back there,” Knutson said.
Junior right-hander Darin Gillies will take Lilek’s spot on Sundays. Sophomore lefty Ryan Kellogg will continue to pitch on Saturdays.
Gillies has appeared in three games for the Sun Devils, starting two of them. He has an unsightly 6.75 ERA, but a more pleasant 13 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings.
Gillies looked his best last Thursday, going six innings against Santa Clara University. He allowed three runs in the first inning but settled in to pitch five scoreless after that. His six innings were a career-high.
It’ll be Lilek, Kellogg and Gillies against Tennessee, and they’d better be at their best against the undefeated Volunteers (10-0).
The Volunteers have 79 runs in 10 games this year and have not lost a contest. Six of the team’s nine regulars are batting better than .300. They even have three infielders with on-base percentages better than .500: senior Taylor Smart (.579), junior Will Maddox (.543) and freshman Nick Senzel (.525).
Of them, Maddox may be the most intimidating. He is hitting .385/.543/.692 on the year for an outstanding 1.235 OPS, tops on the team. He has a home run, three doubles and a triple, while not striking out and walking seven times. His 13 runs lead the Volunteers.
First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
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