ASU baseball’s recent struggles follow mistakes, inexperience

Errors and a young roster have been part of why the Sun Devils are losing ballgames

It seems like just yesterday that Sun Devil baseball players were shaving their heads and sweeping Northwestern at the season’s beginning, blasting songs from Future in the locker room and cheering after comeback wins.

Since then, ASU (11-12, 1-5 Pac-12) has seen the ups and downs of a rigorous schedule, perhaps inevitable for a team with 12 freshmen.

But after the team’s 5-4 comeback win over UNLV on Tuesday, reporters waited in a dead-silent press room beneath Phoenix Municipal Stadium before head coach Tracy Smith came out to speak. Then, suddenly, the silence was interrupted by cheers and music coming from the ASU locker room.

It was a much-needed celebration for the Sun Devils, who, entering that day, had lost five of their last six games.

Once Smith entered the room, he eventually spoke on his team’s youth — like freshman Hunter Bishop, who in that night’s contest, became the second out of a double play when he failed to get back to his base in time on a foul-out.

“There is a learning curve,” Smith said of his freshmen. “Hunter Bishop has been performing well, he’s hitting over .300 and that’s tough to do in this league, but he gets doubled-off on a foul ball behind him. So you’re still explaining all that stuff.”

Smith said eventually, mistakes like the one Bishop made on the bases will be taught away.

“At some point, you stop becoming a freshman. You’re a baseball player. And with the leadership of some of those guys helping them shorten the learning curve, our whole thing is we’ve got to get better each day.”

However, it would be unfair to blame ASU’s sub-.500 record on a young roster. Defense has been the Achilles heel for the Sun Devils, who have made the second-most errors in the Pac-12 conference this season with 34 — only Arizona has made more, with 39.

The three players with the most errors for ASU this season are a sophomore, junior and redshirt senior in first, second and third, respectively.

“We’re losing baseball games because we’re not taking care of the baseball. We’re not making the — and I hate saying it — routine plays, if any play is routine. But we’re not making the routine play,” Smith said.

So, even after their big win over UNLV, the Sun Devils will need to right the ship in their remaining Pac-12 slate. But Smith thinks he has a good baseball team, and has said before that playing No. 1 TCU and No. 2 Oregon State didn’t help matters.

“We’re not where we want to be in the conference, but you ask that locker room, ask any guy in there — we’ve got a good baseball team,” Smith said. “And as those guys continue to develop and get better, I think our win total will get better, too.”

Connor Higgins working his way into regular role

After sophomore outfielder Tyler Williams corked a go-ahead, two-run home run for the Sun Devils to plate ASU’s winning run on Tuesday, sophomore left-hander Connor Higgins went back to work on the mound and struck out the side.

He finished the game and went 4 2/3 innings of shutout ball, allowing no hits and just one walk with six strikeouts.

Smith said Higgins wasn’t pitching well at the beginning of the season, but has since “seen the light” and earned a role as a regular reliever out of the bullpen.

“Skip has been working me down in the bullpen,” Higgins said. “We added a new drill where we’ve got to throw down in the zone. Earlier in the year, I was throwing everything up in the zone."

In 9 2/3 innings over seven appearances this year, Higgins carries a 3.72 ERA with one save and four earned runs with 12 strikeouts.

“In my first outing against Long Beach (State), I was just pounding down, and I thought I was going to stick with that and it’s been working ever since,” Higgins said. 

Barry Bonds’ visit to ASU left players with jaws agape

Former major league slugger made headlines with his visit to his alma mater on Tuesday night, throwing out the first pitch before the UNLV matchup and accepting a framed jersey on the field.

He talked with the Sun Devils in the dugout before and even during the game, and Smith said players were in awe to be meeting Major League Baseball’s all-time home run king.

“Honestly, I was a little star-struck,” Williams said. “It’s not every day you get to see Barry Bonds in your locker or in the dugout just talking. It was really a great experience for us.”

Higgins agreed.

“I’m more happy about shaking his hand and taking a picture with Barry Bonds than I am about that game we just played,” Higgins said. “That was my childhood hero growing up, it was the coolest thing ever to meet him.”

Up Next

The Sun Devils continue their home stand with a three-game series against the UCLA Bruins (11-11, 4-2 Pac-12) which begins Friday at 6:30 p.m. Then, they head to Tucson for a mid-week contest at Arizona (17-7, 2-4 Pac-12) on Tuesday, April 4.

Reach the reporter at or follow @Mattjlayman on Twitter.

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