Phoenix — Tracy Smith will be the first person to tell you how young his ASU baseball team (13-15) is. Amidst all of the Devils’ blunders, errors and blown leads, he’s cited youth as the reason for their mistakes.
Tuesday was no different.
His team — which had five freshman starters Tuesday — blew a 4-2 lead in the 9th. Freshman first baseman Spencer Torkelson had two of the Devils’ four errors in that fram. The first he threw into right field trying to get the out at second, and the next he threw near ASU’s dugout while trying to connect with reliever Connor Higgins at first.
Higgins then allowed the fifth Cal State Fullerton (11-15) run to score in the inning via a wild pitch.
“That’s the inexperience piece rearing its ugly head,” Smith said. “At the mound meeting (which came with the bases loaded and one out), we said ‘don’t take any chances, just take the sure out.’”
The Devils season thus far has not revolved around pitching inconsistencies or slumps, its been mental errors. Guys don’t know what to do in high-pressured situations because they’ve never been in those high-pressured situations.
Take the bottom of the 9th for example. Just minutes after it let a two-run lead dwindle away, ASU was down three with no real momentum. It then strung together three consecutive 1-out singles, followed by a fielder’s choice from Hunter Jump, to pull within one with .437 hitter Gage Canning coming to the plate.
When there’s no pressure, nothing on the line, the Devils excel. Jitters and nervousness don’t usually start creeping in when you’re down three.
“I think it’s easy to play a game when you’re losing,” Right fielder Hunter Bishop said. “But in a situation like the 9th inning, you’ve got to want to be in that situation and want the ball.”
That was Bishop’s explanation. Smith’s was a bit different.
“That’s the trick of this when you’re dealing with so many guys that haven’t played is I think we’re still trying to figure out how to win,” Smith said. “And that’s a tough thing to let come out of your mouth.
“We’re capable of winning, we’re capable of beating anyone in the country, it looks like to me that we don’t know if we can yet.”
The Devils have won at times. They’ve looked like a top-25 team at time — most specifically when they scored a combined 31 runs in a three-game sweep of Oregon to start Pac-12 play — but they haven’t been able to reach any level of consistency.
And that seems like the most frustrating part of the whole equation for Smith, the “randomness” of his team’s play, as he put it.
He mentioned how he knew he’d have to live with some of those plays that occurred in the 9th when so many young guys are out in the field. But those guys tempt him with expecting a product that they don’t deliver night in and night out.
He said that some of the plays ASU made in the field Sunday against Washington State were “some of the best plays you’ll see this year in college baseball.” The talent is there. He seems it, the fans see it. And thats probably why Smith keeps insisting that his squad is going to turn things around — because he’s seen it in pieces.
But as each new tight-game situation falls onto the Devils’ youth, they falter — a win turns into a learning opportunity for a group that has had an awful lot of lessens so far in just 28 games.
Inside the clubhouse, though, the Devils’ aren’t blaming any loss, error or blown lead on inexperience.
“The being young part is an excuse we don’t use,” Reliever Dellan Raish, who pitched two shutout innings, said.”
Tuesday was not just a blown lead, a bunch of errors or just a brutal loss — it was another game in which ASU didn’t turn the corner, another game in which fans are forced to trust Smith that his team will “figure this out.”
But when that is is anyone’s guess.
“Is it today, tomorrow, next week? I don’t know,” Smith said. “I certainly hope it’s sooner rather than later, because they’re good enough.”