There are no cupcakes in the Pac-12 conference, but there sure are other teams that Arizona State would rather be opening its conference schedule with.
Entering Pac-12 play with a 9-7 record and riding a three-game winning streak, the Sun Devils will attempt to hold their ground at home this weekend as Oregon State comes to Phoenix Muni for a three-game set.
Ranked No. 2 in the country after running off nine straight wins en route to a 14-1 record, the Beavers come into Thursday’s series opener with ample momentum.
Oregon State’s torrid start to the season has been thanks to its pitching staff, as the Beavers have posted a 1.20 earned run average through its non-conference slate.
The Beavers are led by junior left-hander Luke Heimlich, who has stepped up in the absence of injured team captain Drew Rasmussen. Rasmussen was Oregon State’s ace in 2016 before undergoing Tommy John surgery, and Heimlich has stepped up admirably in his wake. Entering Thursday’s matchup in which he’ll get the ball, Heimlich is 3-0 with a 0.31 earned run average.
Behind Heimlich are right-hander’s Jake Thompson (4-0, 1.38 era) and Bryce Fehmel (2-1, 2.37). Most-impressive out of Oregon State’s pitching stats are their low number of bases on balls issued, with only 16 walks handed out on the year so far. Oregon State’s bullpen has also been on its game so far, owning a 0.66 collective ERA while closer Max Engelbrekt has converted all four of his save opportunities with no runs allowed.
Knowing his team won’t get many cheap opportunities at getting on base, the emphasis of manufacturing runs was clear to head coach Tracy Smith when asked about the subject at practice earlier this week.
“Our philosophy is always to be pretty aggressive on fastballs and fastballs early in the count. Statistically it looks like we’re gonna get some of those,” coach Smith said. “If you’re gonna sit around and milk the guy and try to milk walks out of him and get his pitch count up that’s probably not gonna happen. So your mindset is to get the first really good pitch you can hit and take a whack at it.”
The Sun Devils will trot out Eli Lingos on Thursday and Spencer van Scoyoc on Friday with Saturday’s starter yet to be determined.
Offensively, Oregon State is led by sophomore infielder Nick Madrigal, who’s hitting .411 to start the 2017 season and could be in consideration for national honors if he and the Beavers continue their hot start to the season. The Sun Devils became familiar with Madrigal last season in Corvallis.
“He’s a tremendous talent,” coach Smith said. “Coach (Ben) Greenspan who does a lot of our recruiting, last year when we were up there he as saying ‘Man. this Madrigal kid is unbelievable.’ I saw him once in the summer and I was like ‘yeah he’s good’ but after that three-game series I knew he was a big leaguer. He’s gonna remind ASU people of Dustin Pedroia, and he’s arguably the best college baseball player in the country so we’re gonna have our hands full.”
Senior outfielder Sebastian Zewada has left the team, as head coach Smith said that Zewada wanted to take the time to pursue independent baseball. Zewada had fallen out of the rotation in the outfield and Hunter Bishop’s emergence at DH blocked him from finding another avenue into the lineup.