After years of outperforming opponents, ASU baseball’s pitching became inconsistent and hindered the Sun Devils throughout the 2022 season. But with an overhauled pitching staff this season, head coach Willie Bloomquist expects his pitchers to keep his team competitive and improve the program.
The team ended its first season with Bloomquist with a 26-32 record, a 13-17 conference record and an 8-6 loss against UA at the Pac-12 Tournament.
In the 2022 season, ASU recorded a combined 6.76 ERA and 1.75 WHIP, while its opponents averaged a 5.75 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP. Bloomquist’s pitching staff also struggled to control pitches all season, conceding 272 walks and 69 hit-by-pitches.
Despite the team’s struggles, redshirt junior pitcher Kyle Luckham, who was drafted in the 15th round of the 2022 MLB Draft, led ASU with a 7-3 record in 15 starts and a team-best 4.36 ERA. Out of the bullpen, redshirt junior pitcher Christian Bodlovich pitched 32 innings and recorded a 4.78 ERA, second-best on the roster.
Before the 2023 season, ASU’s pitchers demonstrated high velocity and difficult offspeed pitches in off-season scrimmages. Junior infielder Ethan Long said each pitcher has at least one pitch in their arsenal that is especially challenging to hit.
“We have a lot of dudes with a lot of really good stuff,” Long said. “I feel like we have a lot of depth on the mound. There’s a lot of good things that are going to come from them this year.”
With only five returning pitchers this season, Bloomquist added four freshmen and 11 transfer pitchers to his roster. Pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Sam Peraza said the pitching staff has more depth and experience due to the team’s offseason improvements.
“The guys that we have, have experienced success at the previous schools that they’ve been at,” Peraza said. “I think we have a good mix of older, veteran guys that have done it and some young guys that could build the future.”
Bloomquist’s freshman class includes left-handed pitchers Brandon Compton and Austin Humphres, ranked as the 18th and 25th best high school players in Arizona, respectively. ASU’s list of signees also features Ryan Hanks, who was ranked as the 15th-best right-handed pitcher in Texas in his class.
Headlining Bloomquist’s experienced transfers, junior pitcher Khristian Curtis from Texas A&M University, pitched 19 innings and recorded a 1.42 ERA last season. Peraza said Curtis has gradually improved to prepare for the season and expects him to pitch five innings in his first appearance.
“We’re excited about him,” Peraza said. “We’ll probably start preparing him to (pitch) every Saturday, so hopefully he continues in good health and he’ll be ready to go.”
Besides Curtis, junior transfer pitchers Ross Dunn and Owen Stevenson are expected to contribute substantial innings this season. During spring scrimmages, Stevenson recorded the fastest pitch velocity on the team at 96.4 miles per hour. Meanwhile, Peraza said Dunn underwent a minor procedure during the fall semester and will not pitch more than three innings early in the season.
Also facing injury issues, Peraza said redshirt sophomore pitcher Tyler Meyer underwent shoulder labrum surgery and will not throw in the upcoming season. Last season, Meyer posted a 5.46 ERA while conceding a team-low 0.24 batting average, giving up just 50 hits in 56 innings. While he is disappointed Meyer cannot pitch, Bloomquist said the surgery was necessary and will help him perform better next season.
“He was dealing with some stiffness last year,” Bloomquist said. “It just never got better until the point where we had to get something done with him, unfortunately. Even with him being down, I still feel we have enough depth to be in a much better place for success.”
Despite the team’s injuries, ASU’s deep roster of 20 pitchers will help players stay healthy late in the season. Peraza will not need to push his 10 best pitchers past their limit and can rely on dependable relief pitchers when needed. Peraza said the extensive pitching staff allows him to critique pitchers and always utilize the best player, something he wasn’t able to do last season.
While ASU’s roster has undergone considerable changes, the team’s pitchers are tight-knit and motivate each other during training. Bloomquist said he creates difficult training routines to push his players and force them to overcome challenges. Facing Bloomquist’s high expectations, Curtis said his teammates have created a supportive environment and are working to improve the program.
“It’s been really fun to be around all the new guys,” Curtis said. “All the returners welcomed us (and) it was a great experience. It has been (going) really well so far.”
Before the season opener, Bloomquist still has a roster spot to fill and must designate critical pitching duties. Peraza said his pitchers are competing for playing time and root for each other during practice, adding that the team’s depth creates numerous options for starting and relief roles.
“Our Sunday and Tuesday roles aren’t defined yet,” Peraza said. “We have about three or four guys that are capable of going in that slot, which gives us better options. We have a lot more flexibility.”
Edited by Kathryn Field, Jasmine Kabiri and Luke Chatham.