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ASU Baseball Preview: Struggling Sun Devils welcome Huskies to Phoenix Muni

First home Pac-12 series under Willie Bloomquist

Richard Martinez, House of Sparky

After losing four of their last five games to drop them to 9-13 on the season, the Arizona State baseball team enters this weekend’s Pac-12 series against the University of Washington in desperate need of some momentum. Following a brutal opening weekend to conference play at Oregon State that included a 21-0 drubbing by the Beavers, the Sun Devils added insult to injury with a 7-5 loss at home to Grand Canyon University on Tuesday.

Willie Bloomquist’s frustration with the team’s performance is becoming increasingly evident with each loss, as the first-year manager routinely reminds the media—and his players—how much he hates losing. But as long as ASU’s bullpen remains incapable of keeping them in games, there’s only so much the will to win can do.

Making things even worse are the struggles of Adam Tulloch. After a 13-strikeout gem on March 14, Tulloch has failed to make it out of the second inning in each of his last two starts, allowing 10 runs on 11 hits and walking seven while recording just eight outs in total over that stretch.

Tulloch threw just 33 pitches over one inning during Tuesday’s loss to GCU, so it’s a strong possibility that Bloomquist will go back to him for the series opener against Washington on Friday. But Kyle Luckham, who’s looking for a bounce-back start of his own after allowing 6 earned runs over 5.2 innings to Oregon State on Saturday, could also be a possibility if Tulloch’s doesn’t show signs of improvement.

The main silver lining for the Sun Devils right now is Ethan Long, who homered twice on Tuesday. After a brutal slump to begin the season, Long has recorded a hit in nine of the 11 games he’s played since March 4. The Gilbert, Ariz. native now has a .297 average on the year.

Washington enters with a record of 12-8 and 4-2 in conference play following a sweep of archrival Washington State last weekend in which they outscored the Cougars 25-7. Catcher Johnny Tincher leads the Huskies with a .380 batting average and 1.056 OPS, two of the highest marks in the conference. He had a four-hit day on March 18 against Wazzu and hit his first home run of the season on March 20.

Tincher and infielder Will Simpson each enter Friday’s game with four-game hitting streaks, and Simpson also leads the Huskies in home runs with four on the season. The beleaguered Sun Devils pitching staff will have to keep those two in check if they hope to keep pace with the Huskies this weekend.

Washington Friday starter Jared Engman has a respectable 4.10 ERA on the season over 26.1 innings in his five starts, and No. 2 man Calvin Kirchoff rebounded from some early-season struggles by taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Washington State last Saturday.

But the biggest advantage that the Huskies carry into this series is their bullpen. Stefan Raeth has been longtime head coach Lindsay Meggs’ go-to in relief and sports a stellar 0.79 ERA, 0.57 WHIP and 38-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 22.2 innings of work this season. Fellow relievers Josh Emmanuels and Ryan Velazquez also sport ERAs under 1 on the season, setting up a terrifying trio for hitters to face in the late innings.

By comparison, Bloomquist’s top three relief options — Chase Webster, Will Levine and Christian Bodlovich — have ERAs of 2.61, 3.26 and 3.65, respectively. And we have yet to see much quality depth behind those three.

The Sun Devils’ best hope this series would seem to be jumping on Washington’s starting pitchers early, then figuring out a way to navigate around Tincher and Simpson in the heart of the Huskies’ batting order. That’s much easier said than done.