The word “offense” was simply not in Arizona State’s vocabulary during a challenging weekend it would like to forget against one of the nation's top teams.
ASU (9-10, 0-3 in the Pac-12) mustered only nine hits over the course of a three-game sweep by No. 2 Oregon State (17-1, 3-0 in Pac-12). The Beavers had the upper hand in every facet of the game, flexing their muscles over a Sun Devil team that could not do much against OSU’s firepower.
Thursday: Oregon State 2, Arizona State 0
The masterful pitching of junior Luke Heimlich foiled any plans ASU had of an upset in the opener.
Heimlich, the Beavers' ace, entered the contest having allowed only one run in 28 and 2/3 innings. He improved those numbers on Thursday, tossing eight scoreless frames.
Playing in front of 6,010 people, the second-most attended game since ASU began playing at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the Sun Devils offense had no answers. The left-hander Heimlich allowed just two hits on the night, both singles.
While it’s hard to call anything a “good loss,” for ASU baseball, this might be the closest the Sun Devils get. There is no shame in losing to a pitcher of Heimlich’s caliber.
Head coach Tracy Smith concurred that the loss had more to do with Heimlich’s dominance than the inability of the Sun Devils' offense.
“The guy is 4-0 and he’s got a 0.25 ERA, so he’s pretty good,” Smith said. “I would say that has a lot to do with it. The name of the game is pitching. This guy tonight was throwing 92-95 sometimes and was able to locate down in the zone consistently with his fastball and his breaking stuff. That’s going to make it very difficult on you offensively.”
The Beavers pride themselves on the pitching yet still feature an offense that is a force to be reckoned with. It wasn't needed on Thursday other than in the first inning, when they scored on a RBI double by Trevor Larnach and a RBI single by Andy Atwood.
“A two-out walk certainly was not something we wanted to do,” Smith said. “They got the two big two-out hits in the first inning. Other than that I thought he (Eli) did what he was supposed to do. That is a very lethal offense and if you take it to the eighth inning, only giving up two runs, to me the starter has done a good job.”
First inning runs continue to plague the Sun Devils. They have allowed 15 in their previous five games, but only two of those have resulted in losses. The Sun Devils starting pitcher, junior Eli Lingos, in particular has struggled, allowing seven runs in his last two starts in the opening frame. After the first innings of those two starts, he has not allowed an earned run in 11 frames.
“I just got more aggressive and had a better feel for all my pitches,” Lingos said about his turnaround on Thursday.
Lingos surrendered three walks, his season high, all three of which came after there was already two outs in the inning.
Nonetheless, the quality start continues his much-improved campaign. Last season against OSU, he allowed six runs without recording an out.
“I’m a new pitcher now,” Lingos said. “I didn’t even think about that outing, just because it wasn’t like what do I need to work on from the last time I faced them. It was more like trust my pitches like I have been doing these first few outings and I’ll be fine.”
Friday: Oregon State 10, Arizona State 1
The first inning run prevention problems put a damper on Friday’s game for the Sun Devils and forced them to play from behind once again.
Freshman Spencer Van Scoyoc struggled to command his pitches, something he's dealt with previously, walking three hitters in 4 and 1/3 innings.
“I judge by whether a guy is aggressive in the strike zone,” Smith said. “Up to this point of the season, clearly the command piece has clearly been something he needs to get better on. We have kind of been living on the edge with him, if you will, with all the free passes.”
It has been an up-and-down first season for Van Scoyoc. He sports an ERA of 2.42, but with even a normal walk rate, that stat would be much improved.
Smith thinks that Van Scoyoc’s issues stem from a combination of mindset and mechanics.
“I think you have to be able to feel your mechanics,” Smith said. “I think if you continue to miss in a spot, you have to be able to feel your release point and make an adjustment in your delivery and that comes with experience.”
At the same time, the Sun Devil bullpen failed to help him out at all, as each of the three relievers allowed at least one run. Junior Jake Godfrey and sophomore James Ryan each tossed 1 and 1/3 innings, giving up four and two runs respectively. Freshman Alec Marsh only allowed one run, a home run by sophomore Cadyn Grenier, in two innings.
OSU sophomore shortstop Nick Madrigal added three more hits and scored four runs. Smith called him “the best player in the country.”
Offensively the Sun Devils were once again non-existent, mustering up just four hits, which ended up being a series high. Senior Jackson Willeford’s third inning triple was the first extra-base hit that ASU had during the series.
“If you’re able to locate secondary stuff consistently, that makes it very difficult offensively because you can’t really sit on one pitch,” Smith said about the Beavers masterful pitching.
The fantastic outing from the Beavers’ pitching staff this time was delivered by freshman Bryce Fehmel, who looked almost as dominant as Heimlich did the night prior.
While ASU did not have many problems putting the ball in play, considering Fehmel had only two strikeouts, nothing seemed to find a hole. Its only run came when junior Andrew Shaps scored on a wild pitch after the game was already out of reach.
Saturday: Oregon State 4, Arizona State 0
Jake Thompson took his turn to shut down the Sun Devil bats, who managed just three total hits in the series finale.
Thompson allowed only two of those hits and struck out 10 in seven and 1/3 innings.
The 0-fers were more common than not among the Sun Devils starting nine hitters. Six of them did not manage a hit on Saturday.
Smith opted to start senior Eder Erives, as the third starter, a role that has been up for grabs almost all season long.
Erives was serviceable, but still ran into the same command problems that he has dealt with all season long. He walked four hitters in four and 2/3 innings, also throwing two wild pitches.
“I thought he did a good job, like Eli on Thursday, just giving the team a chance to win,” Smith said. “Unfortunately we didn’t do a lot offensively the entire weekend to get a little momentum going in any way, shape, or form.”
It has been a process for the Sun Devils to get Erives back to where he was last season. In 2016, he was arguably the MVP of the pitching staff.
“He (Erives) has not been extended yet and to go that deep in the game he did exactly what we needed him to do,” Smith said.
OSU’s offense did not have the same success as Friday, but all they needed was one run due to the Beavers strong pitching, and they ended up scoring three additional tallies.
Madrigal led the way once again with two hits, while the bottom of the order consisting of sophomore Elliott Cary and Grenier also added two hits apiece.
“That baseball team (OSU) is going to frustrate a lot of the oppositions over the course of the season,” Smith said. “We just have to make sure we stay the course and get better and understand and hopefully the guys don’t take the opposite route.
“The rational person inside of you has to take a step back and say we got manhandled by a pretty experienced club with some guys who were executing their pitches and hopefully our young guys learn from that so we can move forward and get better.”
What’s Next?: ASU will head on the road for the first time in nearly a month to Los Angeles to play a three-game set against the USC Trojans.