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Baseball: Road trip crucial to Pac-10 success

Baseball on the road for first time since February

 by Matt Schubert
 published on Friday, April 16, 2004

ASU second baseman Nick Walsh attempts to tag out a runner from Oral Roberts during the Sun Devils 6-5 loss Saturday at Packard Stadium./issues/sports/662816
ASU second baseman Nick Walsh attempts to tag out a runner from Oral Roberts during the Sun Devils 6-5 loss Saturday at Packard Stadium.


In the words of the great Al Davis, its time for the ASU baseball team to "Just win baby!"

"We've got to be ready to play now," head coach Pat Murphy said. "It doesn't matter who it's against, doesn't matter if it's home or away, we have to want to be ready to play."

This weekend the Sun Devils [24-11, 3-6 Pac-10] go on the road for the first time since February, ending a 25-game homestand in which the team went 16-9, including four straight series losses. Three of those series losses came in Pac-10 play.

Currently, ASU is last place in the Pac-10 with a 3-6 record, but if the team starts winning now, it is nothing that cannot be fixed. With a Rating Percentage Index [RPI] ranking of No. 8 in the country, there is still a reasonable amount of hope that the Sun Devils can even earn a bid to host an NCAA regional.

Yet, if the Sun Devils are to do that, it will have to come on the road, with all but two of ASU's remaining series coming on the road. The stretch begins this weekend with a three-game set in Los Angeles against the UCLA Bruins [19-14, 3-3 Pac-10]. Murphy thinks that finally getting on the road is something that may benefit ASU.

"There's something to a team getting together and going on the road together," Murphy said. "I think [the players] are a lot busier at home, they're a lot more easily distracted just in their daily lives."

Although UCLA's record is anything but gaudy, it provides as stiff of a challenge as the Sun Devils have faced all season in the Pac-10. The Bruins come into the weekend series hot with a series win against UA in Tucson as well as an 11-1 drubbing of No. 5 Long Beach State on Tuesday.

Whether the starting pitching can be reasonably effective will go a long way in determining ASU's fate this weekend. Without decent performances from the starting rotation, the Sun Devils have been unable to win games. So far this season the Sun Devils are 15-1 when their starters make it through the fifth inning, as opposed to 9-10 when they do not.

The problem for the ASU pitching staff is a multitude of injuries that will give Murphy and his staff a lot to consider. Junior Jason Urquidez, ASU's only consistent starter so far this season, is nursing a blister on the index finger of his throwing hand.

Freshman Pat Cassa is hurting from a pulled oblique muscle from Monday's game against UA and sophomore Brett Bordes -- who will get the nod on Sunday -- sat out ASU's last series against Oral Roberts due to a sore left shoulder that has bothered him all season.

Pile that on top of a few injured egos in the bullpen and it is easy to see how Murphy will have his hands full this weekend.

Murphy said that Urquidez's blister forced the team to move him back to Saturday in order to give him more time to heal, leaving Friday night to senior Jeff Mousser. Mousser will have to bounce back from a string of bad starts dating back to March 5 against East Carolina.

"I've been waiting for Mousser to pitch the way he's capable of," Murphy said. "He's a smart kid, he's been through some wars. I hope he can step up."

On Monday night, the bullpen, which suffered through a rough period, exercised some demons in Monday's UA game. In the 9-5 win, the bullpen made up for freshman Pat Bresnehan's poor start, holding UA to only one run over the final seven innings.

Sophomore Erik Averill, a lynchpin for the Sun Devil relief staff, gave up only one run in 3.1 innings pitched, something he said he felt he could build on.

"We kind of had a few rough weekends (lately), me in particular," Averill said. "Monday night was a great time for us to get back out there and show that our starting pitchers can trust us and that we'll be there in the end. I think it is something we can build off of."

To say that ASU's recent struggles have been all about the bats would be ignoring a struggling offense that has struggled to put runs on the board the last couple of weekends.

Junior Jeff Larish continues to fight his way through a wrist injury, with only four hits in his last 18 at-bats. Freshman center fielder Colin Curtis, who has only five hits in his last 30 at-bats, has also been slumping. Couple that with ASU's inability to find a consistent producer at designated hitter, and ASU has had serious problems in the middle of the order.

In order to combat that, Murphy has begun making dramatic changes to a lineup that has lost its identity over the last month, especially at the three, four and five positions.

"It all comes back to the obvious -- we have a bunch of freshmen in there with that spot in the lineup not producing," Murphy said. "When you've got those guys not producing, you have to find ways to not only get your best offense in there, but not screw up your defense."

Murphy said that he will continue to use senior Nick Walsh at first base and freshman Joe Persichina at second this weekend. He said he would also continue to use Josh Asanovich more at third in order to add more offense to the lineup.

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