ASU baseball‘s bullpen has stepped up when its needed to, helping the Sun Devils to sweep Arizona and get off to a 25-1 start.
Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher and manager Bob Lemon said, “The two most important things in life are good friends and a strong bullpen.”
Arizona State may only have a handful of arms that regularly come out of its pen, but the unit has done its part in ASU’s 25-1 start.
Freshman Erik Tolman, senior Sam Romero and sophomore Brady Corrigan are the usual long relievers and spot starters.
The trio had allowed 10 earned runs in over 71 innings before Sunday. All three have picked up saves as well. Corrigan along with junior Chaz Montoya have two each to lead the team.
“We don’t have a dedicated closer but we have four guys who can do the job,” pitching coach Mike Cather said. “With Sam Romero the other day (last win over Oregon), we had two guys behind him ready, but he cruised through his last 3.1 innings. When you have a guy who can do that, especially on a Sunday, then he has enough rest to be ready in the middle if the week.”
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In order to reach that 25th win, the Devils needed to persevere in a sloppy, five-hour game with 33 total runs scored against Arizona.
ASU starter R.J. Dabovich was taken out after two innings, with the team trailing 7-5. It was on the pen to keep the game together.
Six relievers, including the four listed above, were called upon. Uncharacteristically, they allowed seven earned runs over seven frames. However, the struggles never resulted in the game getting away from the Sun Devils, and the offense was always in striking distance.
Montoya threw a 1-2-3 seventh to hold ASU’s narrow lead and Romero tossed a scoreless ninth to set up the walk-off win in the bottom half.
There was a myriad of ugly moments for ASU’s usually outstanding pen (it hadn’t allowed a run in three games prior), but when needed it stepped up. Romero’s ninth was especially impressive given his probable fatigue.
The senior had pitched three innings and 52 pitches the night before to close out the Wildcats. On Sunday, head coach Tracy Smith went up to the bullpen and asked Romero what was left in the tank. Romero said he was “ready to go”.
“All hands on deck,” Romero said. “We set ourselves up pretty good for Sunday to be ready to pitch.”
“It is nice to know you have guys with experience coming in behind them (starters) either to put the fires out or put up zeros until our offense can tie it up or take the lead,” Cather said.
This season, Smith and Cather have seemingly found the right roles for their main relievers, even if they don’t have a definitive closer.
If starters can get deep enough into games, with the versatility of certain bullpen arms, ASU may be able to get away with using just two or three pitchers, as it had in each of its four previous wins entering Sunday. This way, Smith has been able to space out and give more rest to his weapons.
This week, with the craziness of Arizona State’s 17-16 walk-off win, the pen will likely be fatigued by its next game, Tuesday against Long Beach State. Possibly, it will be a bullpen game with several Sun Devils contributing on the bump.
Tolman struggled with command this weekend, but he threw under 50 pitches and could start. Dabovich’s pitch count was only 57 when he was pulled, and Smith hinted about possibly using him as well.
It should be interesting to see how ASU’s head coach manages his staff with the midweek game and series against USC next weekend.
All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.