ASU baseball is searching for consistent production throughout the lineup

On most nights, the Sun Devils have relied heavily on two or three hitters only

Sophomore center fielder Gage Canning, sophomore catcher Lyle Lin and freshman first baseman Spencer Torkelson have been lethal at the top of the lineup for ASU baseball (8-9) in the first 17 games this season.

Canning and Lin have accounted for nearly 35 percent of the Sun Devils' hits this season, while Canning and Torkelson are responsible for 38 percent of the team's RBIs

While the 1-2-3 hitters on most nights have been consistent, the same can't be said for the rest of the lineup. 

Head coach Tracy Smith acknowledged after Tuesday's loss to Arizona that hitting comes and goes, but instead of always relying on Canning, Lin and Torkelson, other players have to step up.

"We have to get more consistent at-bats out of Carter Aldrete," Smith said. "I think once we get Hunter Bishop back in there, we are a different lineup. Hitting is contagious. When guys are hitting and free flowing, it makes everybody else hit. It can't just be those two guys."

Bishop, who is currently injured, finished second on the team last season with a .301 average but is hitting .234 this season. Freshman infielder Trevor Hauver and freshman utility man Gage Workman have also been consistent for stretches, only to see their production taper off for several games.

ASU scored three runs in its last three games, all losses, and Canning, Lin and Torkelson are a combined 5-for-34 during this cold stretch for the team. 

Situational hitting has also been an issue. In the last game ASU won, 9-4 against UNC Wilmington last Friday, the team hit .375 with runners in scoring position. In the last three games, ASU has hit .103 with RISP, but Smith partly attributed these recent situational hitting struggles to bad luck. 

“I keep an in-game chart myself of balls that were hit hard, and when I go back on that sheet, and I see 19 baseballs were hit hard, and we have eight hits to show ... It’s telling us that we’re hitting a lot of barrels – we’re just not finding the space right now,” Smith said. 

Freshman second baseman Alika Williams and freshmen shortstop Drew Swift, in the eight and nine spots respectively, each collected two hits on Sunday against UNC Wilmington, and Williams stayed hot on Tuesday, collecting two hits and driving in one of ASU's two runs.

But prior to Sunday's game, Williams collected a hit only twice in his previous 20 turns at the plate and after starting his college career 0-for-9 at the dish, Williams hit .461 over his next five games, culminating in a 3-for-3 performance against Oklahoma State on March 2.

Williams made changes to his approach, which helped him get on a role at the plate.

“Skip shortened me up, and I’m just looking away, and (I’m) just trying to pound the right side of the field,” Williams said after the Sun Devils 9-1 win over the Cowboys. “That’s what I’ve changed, and it’s working a little bit, so I’m going to stick with it.” 

However, Williams is hitting only .240 since his breakout performance against Oklahoma State.

Swift hit .500 in his first four college games but went 1-for-17 in his next five and moved from the top to the bottom of the lineup. Over his next six games, Swift hit .227, but to his credit, he has drawn a lot of walks and advances runners frequently.

With conference play commencing against Oregon on Friday night, Canning knows how important the 7-8-9 hitters are to the offense's success. 

"Having guys on at the bottom of the order gives us a chance for the top of the order to drive some runs in," Canning said.



Reach the reporter at jpjacqu1@asu.edu or follow @joejacquezaz on Twitter.

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