Coming into Tuesday’s game against UNLV, the Sun Devils were rolling.
Three straight wins over Oregon to start conference play was brought about by phenomenal execution of the age-old formula: good hitting plus good starting pitching wins baseball games.
Notice, that formula leaves out one very crucial piece of a team: its bullpen.
In those three games against the Ducks, Arizona State used its relievers on occasion but wasn’t forced to live by them. There was just one instance – Dellan Raish pitching 1 2⁄3 innings in a 7-4 win over Oregon on Friday – that a Sun Devil reliever went out to the mound without at least a three-run cushion to fall back on.
It’s no secret that it’s easier to pitch with a lead, but fans, coaches and players alike would hope that it’s not the end all, be all of a good outing.
On Tuesday, the run support that had come out in droves just a few days earlier dried up a bit. Ideally for head coach Tracy Smith and Co., a few guys in the bullpen would have had solid performances – thus, making it easier to hand them the ball in tighter situations.
That did not happen.
The Devils threw five guys in relief after midweek starter Alec Marsh gave up just three runs on two hits in five innings of work -- and aside from Fitz Stadler’s 1 2⁄3 innings of no-hit baseball – ASU struggled to get guys out.
In 2 1⁄3 combined innings, Raish, Chaz Montoya, Ryan Hingst and Grant Schneider gave up seven earned runs –turning a tie game into a blowout very quickly.
Smith’s confidence in the unit seemed to be waning after the Devils’ 10-3 loss to UNLV, and just over two weeks since he talked about shrinking ASU’s staff, Smith seemed open to throwing some fresh faces out there.
“We’ve got to find more guys,” Smith said. “Baseball is about consistency, so you’ve got to find more of the consistency. Maybe we’re looking at the wrong guys. Maybe we need to try some other guys, which, at this point, is a possibility.”
Among the eight ASU pitchers that have thrown in, but not started, a game, Montoya and Raish have been out there for 26 1/3 of the eight-man groups 51 2/3 innings of work.
Obviously, there is still time to go in the season, but it seems clear at the moment that Smith’s trust doesn’t extend very far into his bullpen. Some of that stems from the groups’ youth, some comes from their inconsistency, but on Tuesday, walks were the main culprit for the constant mound visits.
“You give up 10 free bases – good luck to you trying to win,” Smith said.” There’s where I’m a little upset with this one.”
Moving forward, Smith said that his group needs to get more consistent on the mound and that ASU’s pitching can dictate its success.
“It all centers around the bump,” Smith said. “Until some guys grow up. Until we find these roles – it’s hard to get any sort of rhythm.”