“Our guy was pretty good. Their guy was really good.”
Head coach Tracy Smith’s post-game words basically say all there is to know about Thursday night’s Pac-12 opener between the Arizona State Sun Devils and No. 2 Oregon State.
The Beavers’ Luke Heimlich laid down the Sun Devils one-by-one as the junior left-hander displayed a mastery of the ASU offense, pacing OSU to a 2-0 win and improving his record to 4-0 with a 0.25 ERA to boot.
Gifted a 2-0 lead by the time he took the bump, Heimlich carried over his torrid start to the 2017 season into Pac-12 play, negotiating his way through the ASU lineup for 24 of the 27 outs - shutting out the Sun Devils in the process. His performance set the stage for closer Max Engelbrekt to earn his fifth save in as many opportunities.
“The guy’s 4-0 and he’s got a 0.25 ERA. He’s pretty good. I’d say that has a lot to do with it,” Smith said. “The name of the game is pitching. This guy was throwing 92-95 mph sometimes and able to locate down in the zone with his fastball and his breaking stuff. That’s gonna make it very difficult on you offensively.”
Heimlich’s standout performance wasn’t just an impressive display of control - the Oregon State pitcher made ASU’s batters look straight foolish at times, racking up eight strikeouts over the course of the night.
Arizona State only had a pair of genuine opportunities to push a run across against Heimlich, and each time the Oregon State pitcher shut the door on the Sun Devils. Hunter Bishop reached base for ASU in the second inning, taking second base on an wild pitch and presenting the Sun Devils with an early opportunity to do damage on Heimlich and erase their two-run lead.
Rather, Heimlich struck out Ryan Lillard and Jackson Willeford swinging, ending the threat before ASU could bring Bishop around.
Heimlich gave up a pinch-hit single to Andrew Snow in the fifth inning, getting the Phoenix Muni crowd on its feet in anticipation of an offensive breakthrough for the Sun Devils. Heimlich quickly put a cap on that, inducing a Jeremy McCuin groundout to end ASU’s only other opportunity of the night.
The Oregon State left-hander baffled the Sun Devil batters through the rest of his eight innings, and set the stage perfectly for Engelbrekt - who converted the save in 1-2-3 fashion, striking out two Sun Devils in the process.
“I don’t think it was as much as maybe we weren’t doing, it’s just sometimes somebody’s just doing a little bit better against you,” Smith said. “I thought (Heimlich) was definitely on tonight and it shows why he’s one of the top pitchers in the country. We’re not gonna make more of this than there is. We faced a guy—a very talented and good pitcher—who was very, very sharp tonight.”
ASU won’t get much time after facing an elite starter before another toes the rubber against the Sun Devils, as right-hander Jake Thompson enters Friday’s start at Phoenix Muni with a 4-0 record and 1.38 ERA.
With conference play just underway, things aren’t going to get any easier for the Sun Devils.
They’ll just have to get better.