ASU Baseball: Sun Devils must adjust to life without a Sunday starter

Starter RJ Dabovich will miss time with a shoulder injury, so ASU baseball is forced to replace him. How do they adjust to life without a Sunday starter?

“I have no idea who’s gonna start on Sunday, did we not announce TBA?” ASU head coach Tracy Smith looks around the room for approval after Friday’s game against Oregon State. “So, I’m wondering why you’re asking me who’s gonna start on Sunday. Read our game notes.”

Smith smiles with the crowd of reporters, but losing a weekend starter this far into the season is no laughing matter.

After suffering a shoulder injury in his start at USC, ASU starting pitcher RJ Dabovich missed his Sunday start against the fourth-ranked Oregon State Beavers.

Tracy Smith confirmed that Dabovich will play again this season, but the Sun Devils will have to be “cautious” when thinking about returning Dabovich to action.

Dabovich, who finished a season at Central Arizona College after being drafted in the 18th round by the Kansas City Royals in the MLB Draft, found a decent groove in the month of March.

He hasn’t been charged with a loss yet, and has pitched more than five innings in five of his eight starts. He’s been one of ASU’s most dependable options on the mound, but the Sun Devils find themselves without him for the foreseeable future.

While Smith has multiple talented bullpen pitchers to work with, he went with Sam Romero to start Sunday’s game against Oregon State despite his rocky performance against UNLV in the midweek game.

Romero’s performance against last year’s college world champs was admirable, and he was given heavy praise from Smith following the game. He threw 4.2 innings and gave up just three runs. Oregon State is averaging 5.5 runs per game in the month of April.

Smith also has other options. Freshman Erik Tolman relieved Romero on Sunday, and allowed no earned runs in three innings against a team with a high-powered offense.

Tolman has been masterful in his relief appearances this season, but his appearance against Oregon State also included a hit from the DH position. He notably went 3-for-3 at the plate against Xavier, making a name for himself as one of ASU’s best utility players.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Sun Devils use Romero and Tolman in tandem, as the two have slightly different pitching styles.

Romero attacks the strike zone, and Tolman tends to be more varied in his approach. Tolman walks batters more often than Romero, but Romero’s aggressive style tends to allow more hits.

Using both pitchers in that Sunday starter role, and allowing them to relieve one another may help improve ASU’s defensive success.

Next: ASU Baseball: Sun Devils drop rubber match to OSU

Smith was unclear who would get next Sunday’s start, but with Dabovich out, and important series like matchups like Washington and UCLA on the horizon, ASU is going to need all the help it can get from Romero, an experienced senior, and Tolman, a confident freshman.

All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.