Arizona State knows what it has. Two guys at the top of its order in first baseman Spencer Torkelson and center fielder Gage Canning who, more times than not, are going to get on base.
The guys after them, however, can, at times, be a mystery bag. Unsure of its contents, sometimes the Devils will open it up and find gold. On other nights, they’ll leave empty-handed.
Yes, that is in essence the game of baseball — one night you have it, the next night you don’t. But it happens on another level for ASU (15-22, 7-9 Pac-12). For example, Torkelson leads the NCAA in home runs this season with 18. His team’s record in those games, though, is just 4-11.
A lot of solo shots and a poor overall record will surely contribute to that stat but, like a consistent Friday night starter and back-end bullpen arms, the Devils have been searching for another hot bat.
In a 7-4 win Friday night over Utah (15-22, 7-9), they got just enough diversity in their production to break out of a six-game losing skid.
Head coach Tracy Smith opted to make the unconventional move of putting his biggest power hitter, Torkelson, in the leadoff spot while dropping Canning, a .386 hitter, in the two-hole because, “I just want that beast to the plate as many times as we can get him to the plate,” Smith said of Torkelson.
The change puts an emphasis on the top of ASU’s order, often giving the middle of that order great RBI chances. The Devils one through five hitters racked up 11 of ASU’s 12 hits and third baseman Carter Aldrete was one of those main benefactors Friday.
The sophomore who hit right behind Torkelson and Canning in the series-opener went 3-5 with a double, triple and a game-high three-RBI. After the game, he said that with Torkelson and Canning right above him, he wasn’t able to count out innings if there happened to be two outs when the top of the order was coming around.
“Hitting behind them, the situation dictates itself,” Aldrete said. “Because most of the time they’re on base and they always hit extra base hits, so doing your job is just what I’m tring to do.”
Aldrete helped the Sun Devils bounce out to a 4-0 lead after just two innings of play. His two-out double in the first inning started a rally that allowed five more batters to hit and a pair of runs to score.
The big lead vanished quickly after starter Alec Marsh, who went just four innings, gave up a walk and a double to start the third inning — baserunners that then scored courtesy of a groundout and wild pitch, respectively.
The Utes tied up the game just an inning later after Utah’s first baseman Wade Gulden sent a home run just over the right field fence.
Marsh was forced to leave after the fourth due to a tweak in his back, Smith said, but the Devils didn’t have to do to much digging in their pen. Freshman lefty reliever Dellan Raish finished the final five innings for ASU, allowing no runs, just two hits and giving the Devils a chance.
“That’s our missing piece,” Aldrete said of Raish’s great back-end performance. “Hopefully, moving forward, he is that guy, in that role, every night, consistently. That back-half of the game, that’s exactly what we need, our offense is good enough to compete with anyone in the country.”
ASU finally broke it open in the eighth when the Utes opted to intentionally walk Torkelson. Unlike in some night prior, the Devils were able to put Torkelson and Canning in positions to succeed and capitalize on their triumphs.
Canning drilled a RBI-single to center to break the tie and Aldrete plated two more with a triple just moments later.
“Guys are going to pick each other up,” Smith said. “Its tough. Canning has done his fair share of carrying guys, carrying this team for a while. But, it’s a team effort and guys aren’t going to have their best stuff every night.”