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ASU Baseball: Examining the Sunday Pitching Struggles

Arizona State needs to figure out its weekend rotation quickly before things get out of hand. McCreery has not been the answer to Sun Devils' prayers thus far this season.

Photo: ASU Athletics

So coach where do you go from here?

"I don't know," head coach Tim Esmay quickly responded at the postgame press conference. "That's what's the frustrating part."

Despite winning their second straight series in the Pac-12 against top 12 opponents, there is an evident weakness on this Arizona State team.

"Achilles heel, man. Achilles heel... Obviously our Sunday day is the one that's going to get in the way of us winning the Pac or not. That's the bottom line," Esmay said.

The Sun Devils know what to expect from Trevor Williams, Ryan Kellogg and their newfound offense, but nobody expected the Sunday game would leave such a sour taste in their mouthes.

ASU tried Darin Gillies and Adam McCreery as the Sunday starter but neither one has panned out thus far. The two have a combined 1-4 record and 8.92 ERA. What makes things worse is that they have also beaned 14 batters and have a 28 to 29 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in just over 35 innings pitched.

Due to the recent struggles, the fourth year head coach announced that Alex Blackford will start on the bump Sunday against USC.

"We're chasing in the third inning. I mean it's a different day, same script. It's obviously pretty frustrating for us and you know it's something we are working real hard trying to fix and it's just been a tough thing. We're not asking to go eight or nine, we're just asking to give us five or six (innings) and we can go from there," Esmay added.

The Sun Devils are winless in their four Sunday games in the Pac-12 thus far, but Blackford does bring some promise based on last year's numbers. Blackford's career high is seven innings pitched and he has started in 15 games for ASU.

It will be an interesting weekend to watch now that they are experimenting with the Sunday start. Though Billy Young and Zak Miller were still mentioned as possible candidates, Esmay is hopeful that two of his freshman hurlers can do their best to help.

"It would be nice if we could get Lilek up and running. That's a huge bullet that we're not having right now," Esmay said. "We thought he was up and running but then he had a setback so we're kind of back to square one."

In his lone start against No. 2 Arkansas, Lilek won his first career collegiate game and tossed five innings of one run baseball. He also struck out six Razorbacks and only allowed just one free pass.

Unfortunately, Esmay went on to say the freshman's situation is much like the injury McCreery had to deal with last year. The shoulder injury that sidelined him for nearly the entire 2011-12 season. Lilek is currently working with the team doctors to find a more productive way to heal and build up his strength.

With the South Holland, Illinois native sidelined and McCreery more than likely poised to take over as a midweek starter in the coming weeks, Arizona State needs some answers even if it means shifting around the bullpen.

Esmay mentioned that he and his coaching staff have pondered the possibility of converting Ryan Burr into a starting pitcher now, but they would need to be confident in the guys to replace him at closer.

The freshman is projected to be a starter one day for Tempe's team, but his young arm has been such a force in the bullpen that there is no need to change anything right now.

"But if we do that with him, trust me, he is one of our best guys. We'll have to prepare him and you could put him in that starter role... five innings maybe right now because of his legs," Esmay said. "He's one of our best pitchers and we got to look at that and say is it more effective for us to just say, ‘go get ‘em and throw on Sunday' and it would put us thin on the back end."

The situation continues to get more jumbled, but fans should see an effort to find some consistency on the final game of the series. It may take some time to find the right guy for the job, especially considering the Sun Devils thought their pitching would be one of their strong points coming into the season.

"We just have some guys who unfortunately haven't performed and it's just put a stress on our whole situation. Going into this season, we had it pretty well set up. But that's the game of baseball. We got to adjust. We're not the only team in the country that is going through this," Esmay said.