Dirt on the Spikes: After Long Beach State, ASU baseball looks to Eastern Michigan

State Press' baseball reporters recap the team's weekend at Long Beach State and discuss the continued use of multiple relievers from the bullpen.

ASU baseball lost their first road series against Long Beach State last weekend after a solid Friday game and a shaky showing Saturday and Sunday.

On Friday, the Sun Devils were solid with junior right-handed pitcher Seth Martinez on the mound and two three-run homers in both the fourth and fifth innings. However, on Saturday and Sunday, the team found itself struggling at the plate and head coach Tracy Smith continuing to experiment with the bullpen.

Haley Stesiak and Justin Toscano explain the benefit of Smith shuffling his relievers, who needs to step up offensively and what went wrong for the Sun Devils against the Dirtbags.

ASU's upcoming weekend series against Eastern Michigan is perhaps being overlooked because of what looms on the horizon.

Once the Sun Devils finish up this weekend, they will head to Cal State Fullerton for two midweek games in a place that has became all too familiar. Last year, ASU (5-3) lost a 14-inning thriller to the Titans in the Fullerton Regional.

Sure, the players are excited to go back after what happened in June. Yet, they are not so excited that they are losing sight of the importance this series holds from an improvement standpoint. 

Following a Friday night win, ASU combined for just seven hits in the rest of the week to lose two games and drop the series at Long Beach State. 

Still, head coach Tracy Smith is not fretting, noting that Long Beach State's Chris Mathewson — the Big West Freshman Pitcher of the Year in 2015 — had a great performance. He struck out 12 batters in the Saturday game. 

"That guy did a really good job of locating three pitches behind in a count," he said. "If you do that at any level, it makes it really, really difficult."

He then mentioned that his team was still in the game despite this, and that he was more frustrated by a base running error and a failed bunt coverage. Additionally, the squad had two errors in each of the two losses that weekend, which had as great of an impact on the final score as the offense.

Junior Daniel Williams is batting .292 from the leadoff spot, but has struck out nine times, tied for the team high. He said he has been having some mental blocks at the plate. 

He said the team's main focus at the plate will be putting the ball in play. It could be the key to improvement considering the pitching staff has been relatively solid, giving up 27 runs in eight games — 11 of those came in the Nevada loss.

"Let our speed work, move runners," Williams said. "Our pitching staff has been really good so far, so that's been a plus. Once we all come together, this is going to be a great team."

The aforementioned errors are something that Smith was not worried about. Junior catcher Brian Serven and senior third baseman Jordan Aboites combined for three of them, but they are two guys known to play great defense.

"Nine times out of 10, that guy makes that play with his eyes closed," Williams said. "Just that one day, that one play he makes an error. Not too worried about it as a team ... just a bad weekend."

Eastern Michigan (4-5) senior outfielder Jackson Martin leads the team with 11 RBIs, which ranks 41st in the nation. 

Additionally, the Eagles have 32 stolen bases this year, which leads the nation. Junior Marquise Gill has nine of them, ranking second in the country. It will be an interesting aspect of the series to look out for, as Serven leads the Pac-12 with eight runners caught stealing. 

Along with his increased power at the plate, throwing runners out has been his calling card during his time with the program. 

Sophomore lefty Reagan Todd even said Serven has helped his development.

"It's pretty easy to be confident as a pitcher when you have Brian Serven behind the plate," he said. "Good pitch calling, throwing a bunch of runners out, blocks everything. Arguably the best defensive catcher in the country."

With junior Hever Bueno out, Smith said junior Seth Martinez will pitch Friday with Todd on Saturday. The Sunday spot is to be announced.

Related Links:

Dirt on the Spikes: Recap of ASU baseball's first five games

Dirt on the Spikes: Final preseason thoughts


Reach the reporters at haley.stesiak@asu.edu or follow @haley_stesiak on Twitter and at Justin.Toscano@asu.edu or on Twitter @justintoscano3.

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