ASU baseball hosts USC for three-game series

 Freshman catcher Brian Serven swings at a pitch at a home game against Baylor on Feb. 15. (Photo by Mario Mendez)


Freshman catcher Brian Serven swings at a pitch at a home game against Baylor on Feb. 15. (Photo by Mario Mendez)

Pac-12 play didn’t start so great for the ASU baseball team.

The Sun Devils dropped the conference-opening series to Washington, then lost a tight battle against Oregon State on March 21, which saw them fall to 1-3 in conference games.

 

 

Then, something clicked. ASU won four of its next five Pac-12 games, including series wins against a red-hot Oregon State team and the defending national champion UCLA.

Next up on the docket is a three-game set with USC.

The Trojans’ (13-13, 3-6 Pac-12) season hasn’t gone exactly how they’ve wanted it to go. USC enters the weekend series against ASU with a 3-6 Pac-12 record, which puts them ninth among 11 schools (Colorado does not have a Pac-12 team).

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous.

Offensively for the Trojans, five regulars have gotten on base with a percentage better than .350, led by junior catcher Garrett Stubbs and his .398 clip. Stubbs is hitting .311 — third on the team — but is aided by six walks and a team-high seven hit-by-pitches.

On the mound, ASU sophomore lefty Brett Lilek is looking to rebound from two rough starts. In those two starts, in which he lasted only a combined 7 2/3 innings, he gave six runs, raising his ERA from 0.96 to a still-respectable 2.27.

Both of those starts for Lilek were on the road. He will return home Friday night for a duel with USC junior Wyatt Strahan.

Strahan has struggled so far this season, pitching to a 4.57 ERA this season in seven starts. He averages better than 6 1/3 innings per start, but they haven’t all been pretty. He has given up 49 hits in those innings, which, coupled with 17 walks, totals out to to almost 1.5 base runners per inning.

But if Strahan and the rest of the starting rotation can get the ball to the Trojan bullpen, the team will be in good shape.

Sophomore right-hander Kyle Davis has allowed only one run in 19 1/3 innings, junior righty Nigel Nootbaar has allowed two runs and senior righty James Guillen has allowed three. Combined, the trio has a 1.25 ERA in 45 1/3 innings and has all three of the team’s saves.

If it were to come to facing the USC bullpen with the game on the line, ASU would love nothing more than to send sophomore catcher RJ Ybarra to the plate. He pinch hit Sunday afternoon and laced the game winning hit against UCLA, his third career game-winning hit. Ybarra is hitting .298 this season and is second on the team with 35 total bases.

First pitch of the series is Friday at 6:30 p.m., followed by a Saturday game at the same time. Sunday’s finale begins at 12:30 p.m. All games will be at Packard Stadium in Tempe.

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