ASU baseball has dug a hole for itself through 19 games. The 10-9 Sun Devils needs a series win this weekend to guarantee that they stay above the .500 plateau.
The problem is they head to Oregon State to play the No. 4 Beavers (18-3, 3-0 Pac-12).
Oregon State has been rolling as of late, and it will defend its home turf against ASU having won its last 10 games, including a series sweep of conference-rival Utah. The Beavers are also 9-1 in Corvallis, Ore.
ASU, meanwhile, is trending in the opposite direction. After splitting a mid-week series against Wichita State, ASU has now lost five of its last eight games.
Despite the struggles, the Sun Devils have still been able to score — almost six runs per game — but they haven’t had to face what they will Friday night in senior left-hander Ben Wetzler.
Wetzler was suspended earlier this year after the Philadelphia Phillies drafted him and he chose to return for his senior year at Oregon State then details about the process became public. According to an NCAA statement, Wetzler “sought help from an agent who attended meetings where Wetzler negotiated contract terms with the team.” Wetzler missed 11 games.
Now he’s back with a vengeance. The senior lefty will toe the rubber with a 0.76 ERA, a .093 batting average against and 20 strikeouts to only five walks in 23 2/3 innings.
It’s not as if it gets any easier for ASU if it can outlast Wetzler on Friday night. The Beavers closer, freshman left-hander Trent Shelton, has yet to allow a run in 8 2/3 innings so far this year.
From the other dugout, ASU will counter with a southpaw of its own in sophomore Brett Lilek, who statistically matches up with Wetzler as well as anyone can.
Lilek will take the mound on a Friday night for the third time this season after replacing now-closer sophomore Ryan Burr. All season though, Lilek has been the Sun Devils’ best option.
He comes in with an .096 ERA, .129 batting average against and 26 strikeouts in 28 innings. His strikeout total is good for seventh in the Pac-12.
Friday night could be the pitching duel of the year. Among qualified Pac-12 pitchers, Wetzler and Lilek rank first and second, respectively, in ERA and batting average against. Wetzler has allowed seven hits, best in the Pac-12, while Lilek has allowed 12, third-best in the conference.
Oregon State’s weekend starters don’t get much easier than that. Excluding Lilek, both have ERAs better than anyone on ASU, with sophomore right-hander Andrew Moore sporting a 1.01 mark and junior lefty Jace Fry holding strong with a 1.56 figure.
Moore and Fry will be opposed by ASU sophomore lefty Ryan Kellogg and junior right-hander Darin Gillies.
First pitch Friday night is set for 7 p.m., Saturday at 1:35 p.m. and Sunday’s finale is at noon.
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