The last unbeaten college baseball team in the country arrives at PK Park on Friday.
Arizona State, which was picked to finish sixth in the Pac-12 in a preseason media poll, had to win its first 19 games to finally crack Baseball America’s Top 25 this week before it arrived at Oregon for a three-game series.
“There are no speeches necessary for this,” Oregon coach George Horton said. “They are obviously off to a great start and we will have our hands full.”
No. 20 Arizona State (20-0, 3-0) leads the Pac-12 with a .349 team batting average and 34 homers to go with a 2.62 ERA.
“Their numbers are consistent in all areas you want to be consistent in,” Horton said.
The Ducks (11-7, 1-2) are seeking consistency after dropping their first two conference games to Washington by a combined score of 28-6 before defeating the Huskies 1-0 in 10 innings Sunday.
“Even when we are not getting hits, we usually have had quality at-bats but I didn’t like how in the second half of our Friday and Saturday games when we got punched in the nose, we did not have quality at-bats,” Horton said. “That was uncharacteristic of this team.”
Oregon will once again go with a pitching rotation that does not include any of its three projected starters entering the season. Cole Stringer is out with an injury while Kenyon Yovan is questionable and Ryne Nelson will likely pitch in relief.
Cullen Kafka (2-1, 4.18) takes the mound for the opener against ASU right-hander Alec Marsh, who is 5-0 with a 0.77 ERA. Robert Ahlstrom (3-2, 5.68) pitches Saturday before Horton determines who is available Sunday.
Yovan, a preseason All-American, has not pitched since the opener Feb. 15 due to discomfort in his pitching hand. His status to pitch in relief will be determined during the weekend.
“He is improving in some areas, but not over the hump yet,” Horton said. “We are hoping this is not anything that continues to linger because it has already lingered longer than anyone thought.”
Nelson, who has battled a heel injury in recent weeks, threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings of relief in Sunday’s win over the Huskies. He will be available in the bullpen Friday and Saturday or be an option to start Sunday.
The Ducks are home for the second straight weekend to begin conference play, sending them on the road for 12 of their next 15 Pac-12 games.
“We feel like we might have given up serve a bit not taking two of three at home against Washington,” Horton said. “You do not want to get off to a poor start when you open with the first six conference games at home.”