At this point into the 2019 season, it is non well-kept secret that the offense of Arizona State (14-0) can put up crooked numbers at will. Each of the starting nine are sporting an average over .300 along with an OPS of .800 or better.
What is often brushed under the rug is the threat that the bottom of the lineup poses to their oppositions. When Sam Ferri laced a lead-off double into the left field corner, it was not just the jump-start of a four-run fifth inning to propel the Sun Devils to their fourth series clinch of the year in an 8-3 win over Xavier (5-7). More so, it was a continuous display of the new-look Sun Devil bats.
When the calm, redshirt sophomore catcher dug into the right-handed box in the bottom of the fifth, each side had gone silent on the scoreboard after putting up their own respective three-spot through the first two innings. He wasted no time by giving a healthy hack, almost tomahawking a high fastball into left field.
“I just try to hit the ball hard, to be honest,” Ferri said. “I’m not a big guy, I don’t like to hit the ball in the air. Most of my game is kind of revolved around base hits and doubles.”
Subsequently, it put a runner in scoring position while flipping the lineup back to the top, where Trevor Hauver, Spencer Torkelson, Hunter Bishop and Lyle Lin have combined for 78 RBI in just 14 games to this point.
“It’s awesome coming up with a guy in scoring position,” Torkelson said. “Everyone is hitting and doing their job, so it’s really nice having everyone pitch in.”
Following the double, Torkelson drilled a RBI-single to right-center, beating the four-outfielder shift put on by the Musketeers, and ultimately plating Ferri to break the deadlock. Two batters later, Lin came through with his 25th RBI of the season with a single to center, pushing Torkelson home along with Bishop on an errant throw from centerfield.
“You always try to construct a team where guys are a threat all the way through,” head coach Tracy Smith said. “To have [Ferri] down there just shows how competitive we are one through nine.”
Often with catching can come a defense-first result, with the toll of squatting behind the plate, calling pitches each night for nine innings can take away from offensive production. The catchers who find the ability to do both efficiently usually stick around in the game for a prolonged time period. Ferri, fresh off Tommy John surgery in 2019, is showing signs that he could be one of those standouts.
“We’ve got Sam down there in the nine hole but that is by no means any statement that he is a nine-hole hitter. I think that kid could hit in the middle of the lineup if we needed him to,” Smith said.
“He’s got a great feel of what we’re trying to do from a sequencing standpoint. Works really well with the pitching staff,” Smith added of Ferri’s defense to this point. “The other part of it is I think he does a good job at the bottom of the zone, making the borderline pitches strikes.”
In terms of the bottom of the lineup as a whole, this was simply Ferri’s turn. The seven and eight hitters of Alika Williams and Myles Denson are sitting with averages of .370 and .364, respectively, in spite of combining to go 0-for-7 in Saturday’s contest. In fact, this was the first time in nine games Williams did not record a base hit.
In other words, the surplus of RBIs from the first four hitters in the lineup do not stem from nowhere.
ASU starter Alec Marsh struggled to get out of the second inning, with an error in left field leading to a pair of runs coming home for Xavier in what was part of a three-run second inning for the Musketeers, knotting the game up at 3-3. Aside from that, he was fairly economical in his final three innings of work, allowing just two additional hits and exited after five innings, totaling 88 pitches for the night.
“He did what we needed him to do, which was give us a solid start through five,” Smith said. “He just battled, sometimes you’re going to have starts like that.
Erik Tolman and Sam Romero combined to throw the final four innings of relief, with Tolman yet again showing his dominance as just a young freshman, facing nine batters and retiring them all in order.
“Very aggressive,” Smith said of Tolman. “He’s going to push guys, he’s certainly a weapon coming out [of the bullpen].”
ASU will be back in action Sunday afternoon to try and make it a sweep of Xavier with RJ Dabovich expected to take the mound. First pitch is set for 12:30 p.m.