Defending national champion UCLA awaits ASU baseball for weekend series
The last time ASU baseball packed for a road trip, it had just lost three of four and faced a daunting task against then-No. 4 Oregon State.
This time, ASU hits the road to face UCLA on a higher note, winners of its last three including a 14-6 drubbing over UA.
Not that it gets much easier for the Sun Devils (13-10, 3-3 Pac-12) against the defending national champions.
The Bruins (15-8, 5-1 Pac 12) will host ASU as winners of eight of their last nine, which includes three wins in a row.
It’s developing into a theme of the season, particularly in Pac-12 play, but ASU coach Tim Esmay said he is planning to see one thing in Los Angeles this weekend.
“Real good pitching. It’s going to be another great challenge for us,” Esmay said. “We’re not going to sit back and bang them, so we need to do some things and move some runners around.”
Friday night, ASU will see UCLA sophomore right-hander James Kaprielian. Owner of a modest 2.97 ERA, Kaprielian has pitched better than that number might suggest. He allows hits to opposing batters at a .199 rate, and has racked up 42 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings.
Against Kaprielian, sophomore left-hander Brett Lilek will start the game on the mound for the Sun Devils, looking to rebound from the worst start of his still-young career. He lasted only 4 2/3 innings, walking five and surrendered three runs.
Saturday’s matchup will be another good one for fans of good pitching. Sophomore lefty Ryan Kellogg will take the ball for ASU, having last thrown nine innings against Oregon State in an extra-inning victory.
Kellogg will duel junior lefty Grant Watson, who may not have the lofty strikeout numbers like his teammate Kaprielian, but does a superb job of preventing runs. He has allowed only eight runs all season, good for a 1.76 ERA. He is also coming off back-to-back outings in which we went eight innings allowing only one run against Pac-12 opponents.
Esmay talked about the schedule that his team has faced so far, and just how daunting it has been. After the UCLA series, ASU will have completed a seven-game stretch which will have included the No. 4 team in the nation (Oregon State) and the last two national champions (UA and UCLA).
“It’s the nature of our conference,” Esmay said. “It’s proven more and more out, it’s a grind; it’s a battle.”
The battle against the Bruins is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Friday, then continue at 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
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Evan Webeck also contributed to this post