Rewind to mid-March of 2016 on a gloomy spring day in Corvallis, Oregon where it was a living nightmare for the Arizona State Sun Devils.
ASU opened Pac-12 play with a 3-2 loss to then-No. 4 Oregon State in game one. In game two, ASU stabbed at evening up the series. It was an unforgettable course of events for junior left-hander Eli Lingos — not in a good way.
Lingos started the game, threw 22 pitches, faced seven batters, hit a Beaver, walked two Beavers, gave up six runs and then took a seat in the dugout without recording a single out. He watched the rest of the runs pile on that day, as the Sun Devils fell 12-2 at Goss Stadium.
Zoom forward to March 2017, just a day before No. 2 Oregon State (14-1) comes into Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Last season’s start is the last thing on Lingos’ mind. The junior left hander knows he’s grown.
“It’s just I’m a new pitcher this year,” said Lingos, grinning his teeth.
The blowout loss doesn’t faze him.
“It’s not even something I’ve thought about like learned from that (game). It’s something like I’m not like that anymore and I just have a lot more confidence coming into this series,” Lingos said.
From a 3-5 record, 4.50 ERA sophomore season to an already 3-0 and 2.39 ERA junior campaign, Lingos has flipped a complete 180.
A major turnaround from last season is his ability to pound the strike zone efficiently. Last year he tallied the third-most walks on the team with 26. This season, he’s on pace to finish with twice as less. He’s thrown just four walks in four starts over 26 1⁄3 innings.
“I feel like I’m more consistent this year,” Lingos said. “I’m more confident at throwing them (pitches) for strikes and my changeup was always my pitch last year too, but I just feel like I got a little more confidence in breaking balls to be able to get ahead early on guys.”
The Sun Devils have awarded 85 free bases compared to their opponents’ 58 walks this season. Head coach Tracy Smith greatly values a pitcher like Lingos who can find the zone.
Much of the reason for Lingos’ success, is his maturity.
“You watch how guys improve and they just get more older, more confident, more secure in their own abilities and I would say he’s a perfect example of that,” Smith said. “He changes speeds well in the zone. I think he’s locating consistently down more, which makes guys have to offer the changeup.”
Lingos already beat then-No. 1 TCU throwing six innings, allowing two runs while recording eight strikeouts. The No. 2 Beavers are next on his agenda.
“You go in and you do what he did on the road against the No. 1 team in the country, and it’s not a fluke,” said Smith. “That experience would do nothing but lend to his confidence, so we fully expect him ready to go and accept the challenge of a really really good team on Thursday.”
Following last season’s disastrous start in Corvallis, Smith is confident his ace will perform well, even against a team that’s won nine straight games.
“He’s going to pitch with a little something to prove, but if he just stays within himself and tries to do what he’s capable of doing and not over do it, he’ll be fine.”
We’re going to worry about what we’re doing and it’s going to start with him on Friday night, which is throwing strikes consistently in the strike zone and giving his team a chance to win, which he’s pretty much done all year.”