Baseball: Cougs get reality check before ASU series

WASHINGTON STATE BASEBALL (8-14. 1-5 Pac-12) is coming off a tough series dropping two of three against one of the top pitching staffs in the conference. The Cougs will host Arizona State (14-9, 1-5 Pac-12) for three conference games beginning Thursday at Bailey-Brayton Field in Pullman.

Though WSU was only able to take one game against Stanford, coach Marty Lees pointed out during his weekly press conference there were valuable lessons learned by young Cougs.

“It was a reality check for some and (measured) where we’re at (offensively) against the guys we’re facing,” said Lees. “I felt like their pitcher, Tristan Beck, we faced Friday night was probably the best pitcher we faced all year. We throw a lot of batting practice to our kids, but nobody has the curveball Tristan Beck does.” 

Now that young WSU hitters have seen quality pitching, Lees said they will move forward with an enhanced game plan when they step into the batter’s box.

“We’re going to face that type of pitching every weekend. It doesn’t matter if it’s Stanford or Oregon State or Arizona. We’ve got to prepare to beat (that level of) pitchers each week,” he said.

Looking forward, Lees was excited to return to Pullman and play in front of Cougar fans. All three games of the ASU series will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks.

“Especially on Thursday nights now, where you get to be seen throughout the whole country, it’s good for the university and good for our baseball team,” said Lees.

One of the very bright spots in the Cougar lineup for Lees has been the torrid hitting and solid play by freshman shortstop Justin Harrer (pictured above), batting a team best .316 against Pac-12 competition. His coach knows why the young man from Sisters, Ore. has begun tapping into his potential.

“Confidence is surely everything, I can promise you that. He’s got some games under his belt where he's got to play consistent innings,” said Lees.

Harrer has the tools necessary to be successful in the conference. Couple that potential with a coaching staff who believes in his ability and the results tell a great story early on in his playing career at Washington State. Lees feels Harrer is defensively sound and now is working on the more intricate details attacking ground balls that could make him one of the best all-around players on the roster.

“He’s got raw power. He’s athletic. (He) is a very diligent worker. I know he’s going to get better every time he plays, with every pitch he sees and every ball he gets,” said Lees.

One of the issues that jumps out at you when looking at the WSU record in conference play is starting pitching. No question Cougar starters have put themselves in tough spots because of walks, hit batters and wild pitches. Overall, the Washington State pitching staff has issued a conference worst 99 bases-on-balls. Their 25 wild pitches in 22 games have given opposing teams too many extra bases and runs scored.

When asked about the possibility of shaking up his starting rotation, Lees believes the combination of junior Ian Hamilton (0-6, 4.14 ERA), freshman Ryan Ward (1-0, 3.60 ERA) and freshman Parker McFadden (2-2, 6-46 ERA) can get the job done.

“We’re walking too many people. We’re hitting too many people. That is being addressed as we speak. We’re confident they are going to get better,” said Lees.

The Cougs have plenty of live arms on the roster. Fine tuning pitcher’s control and getting guys into a routine to be successful is the next step.

“Ideally we’d like to be in a position where are starters are going a little bit deeper,” said Lees.

Lees believes relievers coming out of the bullpen like sophomore Ryan Walker (3-1, 2.22 ERA), junior Trenton Dupre (0-1, 3.00 ERA) and freshman Ryley Widell (1-0, 11.25 ERA) are all potential starters but it’s important to have good arms coming out of the bullpen to stifle opponents late in games. Though Lees hasn’t designated a closer, “Walker is in when it’s winning time every weekend.”

The first two contests of the series with Arizona State will begin at 7pm on Thursday and at the same start Friday. The final game on Saturday will be a matinee with the first pitch scheduled for 1pm.

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