After a disappointing road series loss at Stanford, ASU baseball returns with an opportunity to avenge its loss to rival UA back on April 9.
Several questions have arisen in light of the lackluster performance of star offensive players, which have been partially answered by two unheralded role players who get looked over because they often do not stack up statistically.
As a team, the Sun Devils (21-16, 10-8 Pac-12) hit an abysmal .176 against the Cardinal, a significant drop from their 2014 season average of .285.
Astute ASU baseball fans likely observed a few key changes and developments over the course of the three-game series against Stanford, as well as some takeaways going forward as the regular season winds down.
Sophomore designated hitter RJ Ybarra and junior first baseman Nate Causey combined for just five hits in 22 at-bats.
Perhaps it was the change of environment, the Stanford pitching staff and the deeper outfield dimensions of Klein Field at Sunken Diamond.
Regardless, ASU will need to find a solution to right themselves against UA beginning Friday, April 25.
However, including the ascension of junior right hander Darin Gillies into the role of No. 3 starter, there are several other bright spots amongst the areas of concern.
Coach Tim Esmay is not afraid to shake up the lineup to try to maximize the team’s strengths, while highlighting weaknesses.
In the two times his son, redshirt junior second baseman Tucker Esmay, has either started or been substituted into a game since April 15, Esmay has three RBIs and has displayed a knack for situational hitting and can be called upon to deliver a sacrifice bunt or fly when needed.
His defense, too, appears adequate, if not an upgrade from junior middle infielder Drew Stankiewicz, who started the last two games at shortstop in place of freshman Colby Woodmansee.
While Woodmansee’s bat can provide a spark at times, his erratic defensive habits at shortstop have proven costly on multiple occasions, which likely prompted Esmay to pull the plug.
It’s also a possibility that Stankiewicz’s contributions vaulted him into that role out of necessity, and was more a promotion for him than a deliberate benching of Woodmansee.
His power numbers are far from glamorous, but his versatility as a two-way infielder, line-drive hitter and base-stealing threat has been crucial for the Sun Devils thus far.
Stankiewicz doesn’t have blazing speed either, but his awareness and ability to read the pitchers has quietly made him second in stolen bases behind sophomore centerfielder Johnny Sewald, with seven and eight respectively.
He has proven capable of controlling the intangibles and seemingly insignificant plays that can change the direction of a ball game.
That is not to minimize the importance of Ybarra or Causey, rather, it magnifies their roles as self-starters to ignite the middle and later part of the order to involve Stankiewicz, helping bridge the gap back to Sewald at the top of the order.
ASU will have to discover the source of its collective and individual struggles themselves, because the road to Omaha, Neb., only gets tougher as the regular season closes.
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