The ASU baseball team (24-9, 10-2) has excelled this season with a combination of a fiery lineup and a solid pitching staff.
After a turbulent 2022 season, the Sun Devils’ starting rotation has made progress due to roster changes and off-season improvements.
Last season, ASU finished the year with a 26-32 overall record while going 13-17 in Pac-12 play. While the team’s offense recorded a .297 batting average, the Sun Devils’ pitching staff posted a combined 6.76 ERA and 1.75 WHIP.
After the season, ASU lost six of its eight starting pitchers to graduation and the MLB Draft. Most importantly, redshirt junior pitcher Kyle Luckham was drafted by the Washington Nationals after leading ASU in wins, innings pitched and batters faced. Redshirt junior pitcher Adam Tulloch, who led the team with 85 strikeouts and 67.1 innings pitched, was also taken in the draft by Cleveland Guardians.
Prior to the 2023 campaign, pitching coach Sam Peraza said his pitching staff is more experienced this season to face collegiate hitters. Besides his veterans, Peraza said he relied on the transfer portal to patch holes in the team’s rotation.
“We have a lot more guys that are proven and capable and have done it at this level,” Peraza said.
Peraza’s offseason additions include junior transfer pitchers Ross Dunn and Khristian Curtis, who transferred from Florida State University and Texas A&M University, respectively. Before the season, Peraza expected Dunn to provide much-needed innings and Curtis to fill a weekend rotation spot.
So far, the pair of transfers has lived up to most expectations and powered ASU’s starting rotation. Dunn currently leads the rotation with a 3.09 ERA and 49 strikeouts in eight starts. Meanwhile, Curtis has pitched 37.1 innings while allowing just a .236 opponent batting average. However, Curtis has struggled to keep hitters at bay and recorded a 5.79 ERA while conceding 33 hits this season.
Besides the transfer duo, junior pitchers Jonah Giblin and Owen Stevenson have earned mixed roles in Peraza’s staff. Giblin has started five games while posting a respectable 4.31 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. While Stevenson has started three games, he has recently seen action out of the bullpen and pitched seven innings across his last five appearances.
As a whole, ASU’s pitching has seen major improvements in nearly every metric. This season, the Sun Devils have recorded a combined 5.04 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. ASU’s dramatic pitching changes have provided a cushion for its offense as ASU has posted a 54-run differential this season. On the other hand, ASU’s opponents have posted an atrocious 7.30 ERA and a 1.75 WHIP, partially explaining the team’s success this season.
With a deep pitching staff, head coach Willie Bloomquist trusts his rotation but isn’t afraid to turn to his bullpen. Bloomquist keeps his starting pitchers fresh before crucial games by oftentimes utilizing six or more pitchers in one game. While doing so, he believes in his rotation and has even been persuaded to keep them on the mound when they display confidence.
Aside from relationships with the coaching staff, sophomore catcher Ryan Campos has also built strong relationships with the rotation that facilitate trust on the field. Campos said the pitchers make his job easier when they throw strikes and are in control of their pitches.
“I don't really like to compare this year to last year a lot, but we have a really good group of guys,” Campos said. “They all work hard.”
Nevertheless, the Sun Devils’ rotation still has to improve its pitch control to minimize walks and hit-by-pitches. Among ASU’s seven starters, the rotation has given up 89 walks while hitting 31 batters. After his team walked eight Seattle University batters on April 4, Bloomquist said he was disappointed in his pitching staff’s performance and that poor pitch control will doom his team down the road.
“To have a repertoire of arms down there that can that are capable of getting outs is nice,” Bloomquist said. “But we need them to throw more strikes.”
With the end of the season in sight, the Sun Devils have 22 games left against tough conference opponents including No. 23 USC and No. 22 UCLA. While ASU is second in Pac-12 standings, the Sun Devils have only faced the four worst teams in the conference so far.
When they encounter fierce hitters, ASU’s starting rotation will need to be at its best to help the team conclude its Pac-12 slate at the top of the standings.
Edited by Kathryn Field, Jasmine Kabiri and Caera Learmonth.