Following two games in which sparse success at the plate spoiled the chance to take care of the series win with the finale yet to be played, the Arizona State Sun Devils found their bats in full force on Sunday against Loyola Marymount.
Scoring five runs over the course of the day — one more than they tallied on Friday and Saturday combined, ASU put itself in position for its pitching staff to put clamps on the Lions and carry the Sun Devils to a home series win.
Rather, starting pitcher Jake Godfrey’s hot start unraveled in quick succession as Loyola Marymount planted a crooked number on the board in the fourth inning to pace itself to an 8-5 win.
“Well he’s not been extended on the pitch piece. I thought he wore down down a bit there when he got to the 50-pitch limit,” head coach Tracy Smith said. “But I thought for two or three innings, yeah it was pretty good. So trying to find out what his role’s gonna be for us I think you kinda go on what you see, but it was good to get him out there.”
Godfrey breezed through his first 1 2⁄3 innings, striking out three Lions as ASU built an early 2-0 lead. But his control dissipated from there, hitting back-to-back batters to load the bases, but managing to escape unscathed after inducing an inning-ending pop out. ASU turned a double-play in the third inning to erase another free pass handed out by Godfrey, but the Sun Devils wouldn’t be so lucky the following frame.
Following an inning-opening walk issued by Godfrey, the Lions worked their way completely around the lineup as they forced Godfrey out of the game after five earned runs, and tacked another on for good measure off of right-hander James Ryan.
“Seems to be our walks catch up with us, and that’s gonna happen in baseball. But I’m sure he’s not happy with it and we’re just gonna have to get better,” Smith said. “Now, is that he best role for him? I don’t know, but we’re gonna have to roll with him. He’s gonna be a big part of what we are this year.”
Godfrey’s another example of a pitcher ASU’s been trying to work into the fold over the course of this season, with mixed results. Eleven games into the campaign, time is shortening for the Sun Devils to find a rotation they can trust.
“We’re still learning about some of these guys and trying to figure out how to let guys work through it,” Smith said. “Reality of it is we’re trying to figure out—we have a lot of new guys who haven’t played yet—what are those roles gonna be? We’ve tried to keep the boat afloat a little bit ‘till our top returning pitcher comes back in Eder (Erives), and he’s clearly struggling right now too.”
Erives made his second appearance of the season on Sunday after being activated from injury, but labored through only 1⁄3 innings and gave up one earned run on a hit and two walks. Considered a candidate to be ASU’s ace this season, Erives is a far cry from finding his ideal form.
“I would say it could be Eder Erives, it could be Tracy Smith, Randy Johnson, anybody. If you don’t pitch with an edge, it’s very tough to do,” Smith said. “If we’re gonna have success this year we’re gonna need him pitching with an edge and a little bit more sense of purpose. I don’t think right now it’s not for a lack of trying, but he’s going to have to get back to form for us to be good.”
One of the few positive signs from the pitching staff thus far has been the play of sophomore Fitz Stadler, who came into the game in relief of Ryan and proceeded to pitch two scoreless innings and a pair of strikeouts with only one hit given up. Having been used in a long-relief role so far this season, Stadler’s performance and the rest of the pitching staff’s struggles have opened the door for the right-hander to find more time on the mound, even as a starter.
“He’s been pretty consistent, we’ll go back and look at pitch counts and kinda how guys feel, but he’s been consistent,” coach Smith said. “We like what we’re seeing from him, and we talked as pitching staff before the weekend of trying to find out who’s consistent so when you go the bullpen you have an idea what you’re gonna get.”
With a pair of midweek games against Cal State Fullerton coming up before taking on Long Beach State for a three-game set next weekend, Smith wouldn’t name a starter for Tuesday’s game and left the rotation open moving forward.
“We’ll look at everything, it doesn’t get any easier,” Smith said. We’ve got two tough midweek games, we’re excited about that to get out there and get this bad taste out of our mouths.
“As crazy as it sounds, I’m not too worried about it because every time we go out we’re learning a little bit here. Hopefully, we can get healthy here before we start conference. It’s in there, we just got to find the right combination. The greatest challenge you have at a place like Arizona State with a young team is making sure guys stay confident in what they’re doing and stay together as a team.
“If we do that we’re gonna be fine.”