One of the largest looming questions for the Sun Devils entering 2019 was the strength of their pitching staff after the lack of consistency the last two seasons. But, when Friday nights roll around this spring, ASU fans may start to find themselves breathing much easier.
Junior Alec Marsh shot out of the gate like a rocket in his first start of the season, cruising through the Notre Dame (0-1) order for the duration of his outing, which propelled Arizona State (1-0) to a 10-1 opening night win.
Marsh has turned in quality outings in years past, but this one possessed a unique aura on a cool Phoenix night. He was electric, effectively commanding all of the pitches in his repertoire and carving up the Irish lineup.
“He was throwing a lot of sinkers, they were making weak contact so we just kept pushing that,” ASU catcher Sam Ferri said. “Curveball was good, slider was good, changeup was good late. When we threw it in there, his changeup was nasty and they didn’t know what to do.”
Last season, command could be up and down for the right-hander, only turning in one outing that consisted of going over five innings with one walk or less. Friday night he allowed just one free pass – coming in the third inning – and followed it up with sending down 10 of the next 11 batters through the sixth.
“He’s shown maturity, he’s shown the progression,” head coach Tracy Smith said. “Tonight he was very effective staying ahead, his defense liked playing behind him because they knew that he was throwing strikes.”
“Something I’ve preached for a long time,” Marsh added. “Especially the last couple years, is getting ahead and staying ahead. On or out in three pitches is the goal.”
But above all, it was his pure stuff that took center stage during his 6.2 innings of work. Marsh punched out 10 Notre Dame hitters, freezing four of them looking. This not only marked a career-high for Marsh (whose previous game-high was eight at Oregon State last season) but it marked the first time a Sun Devil hurler had struck out 10 or more batters in a start since Seth Martinez in 2016.
“It feels really good,” said Marsh on his career-high. “It’s something I’ve been working real hard for to kind of be a more dominant pitcher and setting the tone for the weekend, so that means a lot to me.”
Marsh himself was able to breath easy as well, receiving an early offensive explosion from the Sun Devil lineup that had the Maroon and Gold up 5-0 by the third inning. A second inning three-RBI double from Spencer Torkelson blew the game open. That helped the cause of Notre Dame starter Tommy Sheehan’s early exit, he completed just 2.2 innings of work on the night.
“[Sheehan’s] tendencies were fastballs away, and I knew his off-speed wasn’t good enough to beat me. I was sitting on a fastball away and I did some damage to it, felt real nice,” Torkelson said of his double.
The other shining Sun Devil in the opening victory was Sam Ferri, who last saw live action on April 14, 2017. The redshirt sophomore catcher wasted no time in his first at-bat, doubling to center to bring in the first run of the day. He would later cash in for more, coming through with a 2-RBI single in the seventh to give Smith’s squad some additional insurance.
His defensive presence behind the plate was quickly felt as well. In spite it being his first time catching Marsh in a live game, there was noticeable chemistry between the two from the get-go, staying on the same page for the duration of the ballgame.
“Sam has separated himself because he makes those guys better. He does a good job, he’s got a good feel back there and I know the guys like throwing to him,” Smith said. “I’ve said umpteen times ‘wait until you see him’ because he’s pretty good.”
“Working with Alec is something special,” Ferri mentioned. “Our brands are on the same level. When I’m putting [a sign] down, he knows it and he trusts it.”
Marsh’s lone blemish came moments before his seventh inning departure when he surrendered a solo shot to Notre Dame’s Niko Kavadas, followed by a double to shortstop Jared Miller. After he was removed, sophomore Brady Corrigan and freshman Erik Tolman combined to toss the final 2.1 frames, holding the Irish scoreless.
Arizona State will be back in action Saturday night with sophomore RHP Boyd Vander Kooi expected to toe the slab. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 pm.