WHAT: Washington State (15-14, 2-7) at Arizona State (12-18, 2-10)
WHERE: Phoenix Municipal Stadium (8,775), Tempe, Ariz.
WHEN: Thur. at 6:30 p.m.; Fri. at 6:30 p.m.; Sat. at 12:30 p.m. (All Times PT)
TV/RADIO: No TV; 104.7 FM and 1150 AM in Pullman (Matt Chazanow); Webstream at wsucougars.com.
SERIES HISTORY: Arizona State leads 53-17
LAST SERIES: 2016 (Arizona State won series 2-1)
Two teams looking to gain traction and move up in the Pac-12 standings clash in the desert beginning Thursday night as Washington State takes on struggling Arizona State.
The Cougars are coming off a series loss at home to nationally ranked Arizona, but WSU played well in the final two games of the series, winning 9-3 before dropping a heartbreaking 7-6 decision on Sunday in which they had a couple of opportunities to win the game in the late innings.
Junior 3B Shane Matheny paces the Cougars with an overall .327 batting average and is tied for third in the Pac-12 with 12 doubles. Sophomore OF Justin Harrer leads WSU with 22 RBI and shares the team home run lead of four with junior OF J.J. Hancock.
Washington State’s top hitter against Pac-12 pitching is 1B James Rudkin, who is batting a healthy .371 (13-35) with 3 doubles and team-high 6 RBI against league opponents. Hancock and Rudkin each have 10 two-out RBI.
“James is cashing in on those RBI when they are available and he’s playing high level defense,” Lees said. “It’s good
Freshmen 2B Dillon Plew (Kennewick, WA) and OF Danny Sinatro (Sammamish, WA) have adjusted well to the demands of Power 5 Conference baseball. Plew owns a team-best .461 on-base percentage, third in the Pac-12 and ninth-best among freshman nationally, and has scored 20 runs in 28 games. Plew has opened his career with hits in 19 of his first 28 games and reached base in 25 games. He has eight multiple-hit games.
“Dillon had another tremendous weekend this past weekend,” Lees said. “His batting average was around .500 and his on-base percentage was over .600. And he’s playing good defense. He’s coming along very well. That’s because of the guys he has on each side of him (first and shortstop) and the coaching to help him understand the game.”
Sinatro was recruited as an infielder, but was moved to centerfield to take advantage of his speed. Sinatro is batting .323 (10-31) with six starts under his belt.
“Danny has come a long way because he came here as an infielder,” Lees said. “He doesn’t care where he plays. That’s a nice refreshing (attitude). He is very intense, he works very hard. Inserting him into the lineup in centerfield gives us one of the better athletes in the league, now and in the future. He is going to get better every time he catches a fly ball.”
Arizona State has been a traditional baseball power, both within the Pac-12 and nationally. However, the Sun Devils are struggling this season and currently sit in last place in the conference race with a lowly 2-10 mark.
In order to keep Ryan Walker, WSU’s best pitcher on his normal Friday night schedule, freshman lefthander A.J. Block will start Thursday’s series opener in Tempe.
“I’m excited for AJ, it’s time for him to make the transition (to weekend starter),” Lees said. “We’ll see where it goes. I feel confident about it.”
Lyle Lin headlines the ASU attack with a .353 batting average, compiling 41 hits and 19 RBI in 31 games. Nonetheless, Arizona State is tied for last in the Pac-12 in team batting average (.256), next-to-last in team defense (.966) and buried at the bottom in team ERA (5.77).
“I’m confident we’re ready to play three competitive games in a row,” Lees said. “We have two down. We’ve been outside a lot lately. We’ve gotten some good practice time. That has really helped us.”
-- Junior reliever Scotty Sunitsch enters the weekend tied for second in the Pac-12 with seven saves.
(). WSU entered the week ranked among the leaders in the Pac-12 Conference in several categories. Offensively, the Cougars are second in the league in doubles (64), tied for second in on-base percentage (.371), fourth in slugging (.402), and tied for fourth in stolen bases (24). Defensively, WSU is tied for third with 24 double plays.
-- The Washington State offense has made significant strides in year two under Lees and hitting coach Jim Horner. In just 29 games, the Cougars have already matched last year’s home run total (16) and are closing in on last year’s doubles total of 70, entering the weekend with 64. More than halfway through the regular season, WSU has posted a higher batting average and is averaging more runs and hits per game compared to the previous two seasons.
-- Sophomore C Cory Meyer has been hit by a pitch 10 times this season, most in the Pac-12 and four away from the WSU Top-10 season hit-by-pitches.
PROBABLE WASHINGTON STATE PITCHERS
Thursday – A.J. Block (0-0, 2.65 ERA, 17.0 IP)
Friday – Ryan Walker (3-3, 5.31 ERA, 40.2 IP)
Saturday – Cody Anderson (3-2, 2.79 ERA, 42.0 IP)
PAC-12 STANDINGS (As of April 13)
Oregon State 12-0
Washington State 2-7
Arizona State 2-10
PAC-12 SCHEDULE (April 13-15)
Washington State at Arizona State
California at Utah
Oregon State at Washington
UCLA at Stanford
Cal State Fullerton at USC
Oregon at Arizona
UP NEXT: The Cougars play a pair of midweek games at Gonzaga Monday night and home against Seattle Univ. on Wednesday before hosting Apple Cup rival Washington in Pullman next weekend for three Pac-12 games.
— WSU Baseball (@Cougbaseball) April 13, 2017