With three weekends remaining in college baseball’s regular season, Arizona State is in prime position to win a conference title and have the right to play at home for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
But the Sun Devils — fourth in the most recent USA Today/ESPN (coaches) rankings and the NCAA’s ratings percentage index — have concerns, the kind that a solid opponent could capitalize on in the postseason.
The first is the health of first baseman/closer Ike Davis, who remains out indefinitely with a rib muscle strain. The junior, who has a .401 average, 15 home runs and 62 RBIs at the plate and four wins and four saves on the mound, has not played in the team’s last seven games.
“It doesn’t look like Ike is going to play any time soon,” ASU coach Pat Murphy said. “I’d like to say he can be back for Washington (May 16-18), but that would be premature. He’s feeling better, but it still hurts him.”
The second major worry is with the pitching rotation. Mike Leake has been stellar as the ace, but in the postseason — especially at the College World Series — it is difficult to win with the No. 3 starter. Right now, ASU lacks a consistent second starter.
Senior left-hander Josh Satow has not found the consistency of his 13-win season of 2007, posting a 5-3 record and 5.59 ERA this year.
“He hasn’t been consistent with his fastball,” Murphy said. “His confidence has been rattled a bit. Josh has to have it all going together to be effective. But we’ll never give up on Josh. He’s been too good for us.”
Murphy said Satow’s workload (66 innings, second to Leake) might be wearing down the 165-pounder. Fatigue adversely impacted Satow’s performance late last season.
Although Satow is slated to start Monday’s series finale against Loyola Marymount, Murphy is not ruling out a weekend off. The coach said he would make the decision based in part on how Satow pitched during practice on Friday.
“We need to give Josh a rest,” Murphy said. “He’s thrown a lot for a guy his size. It’s one of those deals where he might need some time. We’ll see.”
ASU is still looking for a third starter, but for a change, the candidates have had encouraging results as of late. Jason Franzblau had his best outing of the season at Kansas State on Tuesday, and freshman outfielder Matt Newman took the ball at No. 10 Wichita State on Wednesday and earned the victory.
Newman could get a future start, but Murphy’s pitchers for this weekend are Leake today, freshman Seth Blair on Sunday and, if he is ready, Satow on Monday.
Stephen Sauer, who has been out with a sore shoulder, could pitch an inning this weekend, Murphy said.
Despite those problems, the Sun Devils keep chugging along, as they are 1 1/2 games ahead of Stanford in the Pac-10 standings. With series against Washington and at Arizona remaining, ASU can become the fourth different team this decade with consecutive conference titles. (Southern California won in 2001 and ’02, Stanford in 2003 and ’04 and Oregon State in 2005 and ’06.)
“We can decide our own fate,” Murphy said. “We’re not on full cylinders because we don’t have Ike, but we have a great opportunity to maintain the type of excellence we’ve shown all year, and that’s a great thing.
“We want to keep achieving special things, like win the conference and go deep in the postseason.”