Coming into the 2016 season, there were a lot of questions surrounding the Arizona State pitching staff and in particular the starting rotation. After dominant performances by Hever Bueno on Friday night and Seth Martinez Saturday, it was Eli Lingos' time to shine in Game 2 of Saturday's doubleheader.
In his first career start, the sophomore southpaw tossed a career best 5 1/3 innings, notching five strikeouts and allowing just two runs along the way to lead ASU to a 8-2 victory in front of 2,464 fans at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
"There were some mild nerves, but it wasn't as nerve-wracking as you would expect," Lingos said about making his first start. "Having some opportunities last year helped."
The Sun Devils jumped on the board early with two runs in the first inning. Following back-to-back singles from Daniel Williams and Andrew Shaps and a balk by Xavier starter Brandon Johnson, David Greer continued his hot start to the season with a sacrifice fly to score Williams. The following at-bat, Colby Woodmansee drove a double to left center to score Shaps and double the ASU lead.
That lead helped to calm Lingos, who only saw 19 2/3 innings of work in 2015 across 15 appearances.
"Especially it being my first start, having a big lead like that, it helps you calm down," Lingos said. "If it's close you feel some pressure but when you start pulling ahead it relaxes you on the mound."
After a solo home run from Xavier's Joe Gellenbeck in the second made it 2-1, the Sun Devils responded with three runs in the bottom of the third. RBI singles by David Greer and Andrew Snow and a Sac Fly from Woodmansee extended ASU's lead to 5-2 after three innings.
Sophomore Andrew Shaps continued his hot start to the season Saturday afternoon, collecting three hits, two RBIs and scoring two runs.
"I couldn't tell you what his stats were before I looked at the sheet, but I can tell you he made an impression on me," manager Tracy Smith said. "I think that goes a long way in setting the tone for how we want our team to be perceived."
The Sun Devils pulled away in the sixth with three more runs, including two off the bat of a two-out triple from Shaps. For the game, ASU was 7-15 with runners on base and 4-10 with runners in scoring position.
"I think for the most part we did a nice job of moving runners," Smith said. "It's the little things like that are going to give us a chance to win some games this spring."
Because of the hot bats, Smith was able get some his younger pitchers some needed experience early in the season. Five Sun Devils in total threw today, with freshmen Conner Higgins and Fitz Stadler making their ASU debuts in the eighth and ninth inning, respectively.
"We are still trying to learn what we have," said Smith. "We played a lot of guys today, we made some pitching changes that we probably wouldn't normally do. But our whole plan is to see as many guys as we can this weekend."
In Saturday's doubleheader, Lingos and Seth Martinez combined to allow just two earned runs in 12 1/3 innings, striking out 11 batters and walking just two. At least for now, the Sun Devils have received some answers regarding their starting pitching.
"You try to match all of this up and say what is this going to look like in the Pac-12," Smith said. "What stands out to me is we are not walking a bunch of guys. I think if we compete in the zone we give ourselves a chance to win."
The Sun Devils will attempt the four-game sweep of Xavier on Sunday with redshirt freshman right hander Reagan Todd getting the start on the mound. First pitch is scheduled for 12 p.m.