ASU baseball is 21 games into the 2023 college baseball season. With conference play up and running, the Sun Devils look to continue their dominance in some areas but would also like more consistency in others as they prepare to battle Arizona.
In yesterday's home game, the Sun Devils clobbered No. 25 GCU 11-1 to start the in-state rivalry week. On Friday, ASU hosts the Wildcats in a three-game, cross-state clash weekend.
After GCU took the lead on two hits in the first, ASU held the Antelopes to just four hits in the rest of the game. ASU head coach Willie Bloomquist relied on his bullpen to keep arms rested, bringing in six pitchers after junior pitcher Owen Stevenson only threw two innings.
Giving the pitching staff much-needed run support, the Sun Devils recorded 14 hits. Sophomore catcher Ryan Campos led ASU offensively by scoring three times and going 3-4 at the plate, just a home run shy of the cycle.
"We knew these guys were going to come out swinging at us, and we responded very well," Bloomquist said. "I was pleased with it. Very happy with the way our guys threw the ball tonight. And offensively, we did enough early on to get a lead."
ASU (13-8, 2-1) has excelled early in the season due to its consistent high-powered offense. The Sun Devils have amassed a dominant 10-3 home record at Phoenix Municipal Stadium but are just 3-5 on the road.
Powering the team's offensive, Campos is already improving on his noteworthy freshman season. Campos has recorded a team-leading .405 batting average, a .526 on-base percentage, and a 1.175 OPS this season.
"I feel like I'm starting to know my body and my swing," Campos said. "I know what I can do with at the plate a little more and not getting too aggressive. There’s a line between being aggressive and over-aggressive. I’m just trying to stay in there as much as I can."
Trailing behind Campos, freshman infielder Luke Hill leads all freshmen with a .378 batting average and 28 hits. Junior infielder Luke Keaschall boasts a .346 batting average with 28 hits while batting leadoff. Keaschall was awarded Pac-12 player of the week for the first time on March 20.
While ASU's bats are hot, its pitching staff often struggles to keep the team in games. The Sun Devils frequently fail to locate pitches and give opponents free base runners, conceding 84 walks while hitting 39 batters this season.
Taking the hill in five starts, junior pitcher Khristian Curtis hasn't met expectations early in the season, posting a 7.71 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 21 innings pitched.
Bloomquist urged the pitching staff to remember to attack the strike zone and trust their skill because he believes the players have enough to perform better. He also expressed that the pitchers are giving away too many "free passes" between hitting batters and walking too many players.
This weekend versus UA, there won't be a lot of room for free passes.
In Arizona head coach Chip Hale's second season at the helm, Arizona has started strong. They boast a 13-6 record, the same amount of wins as ASU, with two fewer losses. Last season, the two teams faced off five times. UA won three times out of the five, including an 8-6 win in the Pac-12 Tournament, but in the one game it played in Phoenix, they lost 10-6.
The Wildcats have a strong core at the plate, along with fine pitching. Junior first baseman Kiko Romero has been on a tear this season, slashing .418 with 32 hits and 26 RBIs.
The outfield combo of juniors Chase Davis and Mac Bingham has been borderline lethal this season. Bingham bats .325 while leading the team in RBIs with 27. Davis, a top 100 college prospect according to Baseball America, has lived up to the hype, batting .324 with 21 RBIs and a team-leading seven home runs.
Leading UA's pitching staff is junior T.J. Nichols. Nichols has a 4.82 ERA through five starts this season, but don't let that inflated number fool you. Nichols threw a gem against No. 15 Tennessee a month ago. He pitched six innings, allowing just one run on three hits while striking out six.
"We're gonna do a deep dive on all of them," Bloomquist said. "That's part of our job is to try to figure out how to get those guys out and how we're going to attack their pitching staff from an offensive standpoint."
These next three games will act as a telltale sign for ASU baseball's hopes for the season, and going against a rival as big as Arizona, the fans will be out in full swing, just as the fans of the Wildcats were last season.
"From a baseball fan perspective, they had a good environment," Bloomquist said. "I wouldn't say it was welcoming. We haven't forgotten that. So hopefully, our fans come with it. It's going to be what I anticipated intense atmosphere, so we're excited about it."
Edited by Walker Smith, Reagan Priest and Grace Copperthite.
Vincent Deangelis is a full-time reporter for the sports department at The State Press. He has previously worked for Arizona PBS and AZPreps365.com.