Eric Melbostad settles into setup role for ASU baseball heading into final Packard showdown vs. UA

Sophomore right-handed reliever Eric Melbostad has quietly solidified himself as the setup man ahead of sophomore righty closer Ryan Burr.

“Last year, I wasn’t as comfortable as I am now,” Melbostad said. “Now, I’m used to the system and the way college baseball works as opposed to high school.”

Pitching coach Ken Knutson was impressed with Melbostad’s three scoreless innings of work Saturday and Sunday against USC.

 

 

“He threw well,” Knutson said. “His command was so-so, but he came back from some bad counts and got guys out. He never gave in.”

Knutson said Melbostad’s heightened confidence enabled his successful start to the season.

“He gives us good innings, and he’s been one of out most consistent guys out of the pen,” Knutson said.

Knutson praised the versatility of his new setup man, who has yet to surrender a home run this season.

“He’s a jack-of-all-trades. He can come in and throw long or short. We can use him in a lot of different ways,” Knutson said.

“Me and Knutson are on a better page working this year,” Melbostad said. “I spent my offseason with him and my summer ball coach in Bend, Ore., getting some good work in. We just seem to be working really well this season.”

The results of
Melbostad’s adjustments are easily quantifiable, and coach Tim Esmay has taken notice.

Midway through the season, the home-grown Pinnacle High School pitcher has registered 27 innings, almost three times more than the seven he threw as a freshman.

“He was a different kid when came out here in the fall,” Esmay said. “Before, he was freshman trying to figure it out, and now he’s a guy we go to whenever we need him.”

Esmay was adamant about Melbostad earning his spot in the bullpen, citing his maturation and improved fastball command.

“You’re not entitled to come out and play. It’s performance-driven,” Esmay said.

Additional notes:

—The Sun Devil offense has heated up as of late, averaging almost seven runs per game since March 26.

Sophomore left-hander Brett Lilek praised the offense for the recent boost in run support.

“We just have to have more confidence in our stuff, and just let the hitters put in in play,” Lilek said. “More often than not, it’s going to be an out.”

Lilek and Melbostad both agreed that the pitching staff ultimately sets the tone for the offense.

“It’s the pitcher’s responsibility to get the momentum going in our favor,” Melbostad said .”I just wanna be out there pitching. We’re confident once we get to Burr that we’re gonna win, so it’s my job to get us there with a win.”

Esmay said he looks forward to tomorrow’s game versus UA, the final time UA will play against ASU at Packard Stadium.

“It’s part of playing UA. You don’t need any added incentive, but we definitely talk about it,” Esmay said.

Esmay added that winning the Territorial Cup point is rewarding for himself all of the other coaches, and there is an obligation to “hold up our end of the bargain” to compliment the success of the football and basketball programs in that regard.

The Sun Devils (17-12, 7-5 Pac-12) take on UA (14-19, 4-7 Pac-12) at 6:30 p.m. at Packard Stadium.

Reach the reporter at smodrich@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @modrich_22