ASU baseball hurt by continued bullpen woes in 3-2 loss to Cal

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Darin Gillies releases the ball in a home game against California on April 13. (Photo by Mario Mendez)

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Darin Gillies releases the ball in a home game against California on April 13. (Photo by Mario Mendez)

California escaped with a 3-2 win over ASU baseball in its final visit Packard Stadium on Sunday.

The Sun Devils (19-14, 9-6 Pac-12) wasted a sensational bounce-back outing from junior right-handed starter Darin Gillies (1-2, 5.30 ERA).

“I was keeping the ball down,” Gillies said. “I changed my arm angle a little bit on fastballs and changed my release on my slider. ”

 

 

Gillies said he and sophomore starters Brett Lilek and Ryan Kellogg all used similar approaches in their starts against the Golden Bears (15-17, 4-8 Pac-12).

“I think we just committed to throwing strikes, trying to pitch to contact,” Gillies said. “We’ve got a good defense, and we trust the guys behind us.”

Coach Tim Esmay was thrilled to get a quality outing from his Sunday starter.

“Darin was awesome today,” Esmay said. “He gave us every opportunity to win that game, and unfortunately, we didn’t score more runs early enough to make him more comfortable.”

ASU had an excellent chance to break the game open in the first inning, or at the very least, score first, as they had in the first two games.

The Sun Devils had the bases loaded with one out, but couldn’t manage to bring home a run.

ASU and Cal combined for 15 hits in total, and 10 of them belonged to the Sun Devils.

While the Sun Devil outfield made a couple of run-saving diving catches, five errors breathed life into a weak Cal offense.

After six scoreless innings from both sides, ASU finally capitalized on a golden opportunity in the seventh.

Sophomore designated hitter RJ Ybarra labored through an at bat in which he appeared to injure his lower back.

Despite it, he delivered in the clutch, driving in freshman shortstop Colby Woodmansee with a two-out single up the middle.

Esmay said he was impressed by Ybarra’s toughness, and could not immediately verify his designated hitter’s status.

“We’ll see on Tuesday,” Esmay said. “It was gritty, to get in the box and take that swing a big situation.”

Sophomore third baseman Dalton DiNatale followed with a single to right-center, scoring junior first baseman Nate Causey.

Cal’s bats were dormant for the majority of the weekend, but they finally answered the bell in the eighth inning Sunday.

Senior first baseman Devon Rodriguez was ice cold in the series, hitting just .181 before his third at-bat of the game.

He finally broke out of his slump with a one-out single to center, tying the game at 2-2.

The Golden Bears weren’t finished yet.

After sophomore reliever Eric Melbostad walked the first two hitters he faced in the ninth, a sacrifice fly off the bat of freshman third baseman Lucas Erceg scored Brian Celsi.

“That’s baseball. That’s how it goes sometimes,” Gillies said.

ASU answered on DiNatale’s single to center, but couldn’t put it away in the ninth.

“The story of today was, inevitably, somebody always had a bad at-bat,” Esmay said. “That’s why it was tough to score.”

Sophomore closer Ryan Burr came in in relief of sophomore Jordan Aboites after he came on to bail out Melbostad.

Esmay said Burr looked better than he did in his previous outing, even after starting off with another hit-by-pitch and a walk, surrendering two runs that ASU would not get back.

“We’ve won our last five series in the Pac-12, and that’s not easy to do,” Esmay said. “But when you have a chance to sweep in this conference, and don’t score a run until the seventh inning, (it hurts).”

ASU hosts UNLV at Packard Stadium on Tuesday, April 15, at 6:30 p.m.

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