As Arizona State head coach Tracy Smith said Tuesday night: his Sun Devils aren’t a bad baseball team, they’re simply playing bad baseball.
The poor stretch extended Wednesday night, as ASU (6-7) was swept in a two-game midweek matchup with No. 7 Cal State Fullerton, 13-4, prolonging the Maroon & Gold’s losing streak to four games.
“I just told the team: You’re gonna hit rough patches in a season—you’re absolutely gonna hit rough patches in the season. We’ve hit one, clearly,” Smith said.
The strategy entering the evening had been to deploy a committee of long relievers on the mound, and it appeared very early on that Smith’s decision backfired. His pitching staff relinquished nine runs on 12 hits through its first three innings of work.
ASU right-hander Fitz Stadler (1-1, 5.56 ERA) made a cameo out of the bullpen to open Wednesday night, marking his first start of the season. However, the test proved brutal for the sophomore, as he labored through two innings during which the game completely unraveled.
The Titans reconciled for stranding a runner on third when designated hitter Hank LoFonte scorched a two-out, two-RBI triple down the first-base line to push the visitors up 2-0 in the first inning.
Stadler fell into deeper trouble in the second frame after a wild pitch on a strikeout and a muffed double-play exchange set up a five-run segment. Shortstop Sahid Valenzuela hit a two-RBI single, center fielder Scott Hurst smacked a ground-rule double to left field, left fielder Taylor Bryant added a run on an RBI groundout, and LoFonte notched an RBI single to CSUF a 7-0 lead.
The Titans collected eight hits through the opening two frames off Stadler. One fan termed the throttling as “batting practice”.
Smith revealed after the game that Stadler played through an oblique strain, and lauded the hurler’s gusto.
“He’s gonna be a guy that’s gonna help us out on the weekend. Maybe starting’s not the best role for him,” Smith said, “but I appreciate that he wanted the baseball in spite of being injured tonight.”
In an early hole, the Sun Devils’ offense roared to life, providing a much-needed response to the Titans’ high-powered production.
In the bottom half of the second inning, a Lyle Lin walk and Tyler Williams single was ensued by a two-RBI triple from right fielder Gage Canning, who lowered the deficit to 7-2. The sophomore’s effort was matched by left fielder Ryan Lillard, who stroked a two-RBI double of his own into left field, alleviating the score to 7-4 entering the third frame.
Trailing by three runs, Stadler was pulled in favor of right-hander Grant Schneider to begin the third inning. Initially, the junior didn’t have much better luck than his predecessor.
Valenzuela launched an RBI-single that barely crept over the glove of shortstop Jeremy McCuin before Hurst scored him on an RBI double the following at-bat. CSUF would maintain the 9-4 grip through the heart of the contest, before adding to its lead later on.
Schneider glided through three innings of work, and nearly completed another third, before the Titans chased him from the contest during the away half of the sixth.
With two outs, Titans left fielder Chris Prescott hit an RBI double into left-center, making the score 10-4. First baseman JT McLellan followed suit with a two-RBI single before second baseman Dillon Persinger scored him two at-bats later, growing Fullerton’s advantage to its fullest extend at 13-4.
The Titans batted 9-for-17 (.529) with two outs on the evening, scoring eight of their runs during such instances.
ASU pitchers combined to allow 18 hits on 13 runs (10 earned), while striking out eight batters and walking four.
“That’s a very, very good opponent in Cal State Fullerton, and they’re gonna take advantage of your mistakes,” Smith said. “We have to get more consistent on the mound.”
Freshman left-hander Tanner West, who entered in relief of Schneider in the seventh inning, finished with the cleanest outing of the night, tossing 3 1⁄3 scoreless innings, striking out two batters and walking one.
“He certainly was a bright spot for us,” Smith said of the southpaw. “If he throws the baseball like that with a little conviction, we feel like we have another option out of the bullpen.”
The Sun Devils will look to put an end the losing streak and rebound against Long Beach State on Friday, when they open a three-game home series against the Dirtbags at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. First pitch is scheduled to be thrown at 6:30 p.m. Mountain Time.