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Knutson faces former team as ASU welcomes Huskies

FAVORITE SON: ASU sophomore shortstop Drew Maggi records an out during ASU's 4-2 loss to U A on Tuesday. The Sun Devils will host Washington for a three-game se this weekend. (Photo by Michael Arellano)
FAVORITE SON: ASU sophomore shortstop Drew Maggi records an out during ASU's 4-2 loss to U A on Tuesday. The Sun Devils will host Washington for a three-game se this weekend. (Photo by Michael Arellano)

When the ASU baseball team faces Washington this weekend, it will have a number of advantages. The No. 1 Sun Devils (31-4, 9-3 Pac-10) vastly outrank the Huskies (19-16, 4-5) in every statistical category and will have home-field advantage, and ASU has been a dominant 22-1 at Packard Stadium this season.

But one major advantage ASU will have is its pitching coach — Ken Knutson.

Knutson is in his first season as the Sun Devils pitching coach after being the head coach at UW for the prior 17 seasons. Knutson is the winningest head coach in UW history, accumulating a record of 584-399-2 and leading the Huskies to six NCAA Tournaments. Knutson also led the Huskies to Pac-10 Championships in 1997 and 1998 and was named the Pac-10 Coach of the Year in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

“I’m sure Ken will have some good information and some good knowledge of [UW], and we’ll definitely use whatever we can get out of him,” ASU head coach Tim Esmay said.

The addition of Knutson to the ASU coaching staff has been a huge lift to the Sun Devils. Under his tutelage, the ASU pitching staff has maintained a 3.09 ERA, the fouth-best in the nation, while holding opponents to a .234 batting average.

“He’s done a great job with our pitching staff … everyone that’s really been given the ball has been prepared, has been ready for their performance [and] been ready to execute pitches,” Esmay said. “I think Ken does a heck of a job with the pitching staff. I’m really happy with his role and what he does.”

Knutson will be in a dugout opposite that of UW for the first time in his career, and his former team has struggled this year but has had a few miracles up its sleeve.

The Huskies have found a way to win 19 games this season despite poor pitching and hitting.

UW sports a Pac-10-worst 5.55 ERA and has allowed the most hits (366) of any Pac-10 team. The Huskies have had trouble finding a stable rotation this year, as eight different pitchers have started for them this year, compared to just five for ASU.

Junior Geoff Brown, the Huskies Friday starter, leads the starting staff with a 4.43 ERA, while Saturday starter sophomore Andrew Kittredge sports a 5.90 ERA and Sunday starter junior Forrest Snow has a 5.72 ERA. The long ball, in particular, has been a season-long problem for UW. Huskies pitchers have allowed a Pac-10 worst 42 home runs, 16 more than the next-worst Pac-10 team (California, 26).

All of those factors add up to a troublesome matchup for the Huskies, as those deficiencies lend themselves to ASU’s strengths. The Sun Devils score the most runs per game in the Pac-10 (8.63) and will face the team that allows the most runs per game. Add in the fact that ASU is fourth in the conference in home runs with 24 while the Huskies give up the long ball at an astoundingly high rate, and on paper, the ASU hitters could have a fun weekend.

The Huskies’ lineup hasn’t been particularly spectacular, either. UW ranks eighth in the Pac-10 in batting average (.282), eighth in hits (320), ninth in runs scored (195) and ninth in home runs (19). The Huskies have only four starters that are hitting above .300, led by freshman third baseman Jacob Lamb’s .342 clip. Junior catcher Pierce Rankin leads the team with five home runs, accounting for over 25 percent of the team’s total.

So, how has a team that has had such poor pitching and hitting throughout the season won 19 games and managed to stay only one game under .500 in the deep Pac-10?

The Huskies have showed a penchant for walk-off wins and huge rallies, winning four games in which they trailed entering the ninth inning and had rallies come up just short in two others. Close games have also been a hallmark of UW this season, as it has played in 10 one-run games (6-4 in those games), and nine 2-run games (6-3).

Another reason why ASU might not want to sleep on the Huskies is their impressive road record. UW is 12-6 on the road, compared to just 5-9 at home. UW has notched road wins over top-25 teams Cal and Oregon and in tough road environments Long Beach State and Brigham Young.

The first two games on Friday and Saturday will each be at 6:30 p.m. while the rubber match on Sunday will begin at 12:30 p.m.

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