Baseball players love to take everything one game at a time.
Look too far ahead, the thinking goes, and you’ll lose concentration on the task at hand.
But Arizona State coach Tim Esmay freely admits that, from the day his team assembled, he was projecting months into the future.
While the regular season puts most of its emphasis on three games over the weekend, the College World Series is a different animal.
In it, an early loss causes a team to fight through the loser’s bracket, using every pitcher at its disposal.
The Sun Devils kick things off against Clemson Sunday, hoping to win their first two games and stay above the ruckus, to watch as other teams call back pitchers on two days' rest and plug in guys that haven’t seen action in weeks.
But baseball is an unpredictable sport, and Esmay knows that an early loss will turn it into an all-systems-go scenario.
"From day one, the process was to prepare as many pitchers as possible," Esmay said. "You never really know what they’re capable of doing unless you give them that opportunity. It's been a really big deal for us to get them out there, get them on the mound, put them in different situations. It was a process and a plan."
Nine different guys have thrown in at least 15 games this year.
Seth Blair, Merrill Kelly and Jake Borup have settled into the starting spots, and Jordan Swagerty and Mitchell Lambson are the heart of the bullpen.
But there are also guys like Jimmy Patterson, Brady Rodgers and Jake Barrett who could be needed in a pinch.
"It's something that we don't want to have to use like that (in the loser's bracket), but if we do, we know we have the guys to do it," Blair said.
While there is no dominant ace, Esmay said this is one of the deeper staffs he has seen in his time at ASU.
The team earned run average is 3.14, second among the eight teams left behind UCLA. Their walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP) is 1.18, also second to the Bruins.
The pitchers are allowing teams to hit just .239 off them.
Esmay has lauded the work of first-year pitching coach Ken Knutson.
"The bottom line is, what Ken Knutson has done for this staff, what he’s done in preparing them for any type of role or situation, is one of the better pitching coaching jobs I've seen in a long time," Esmay said.
Knutson didn't need to tinker too much with a bullpen that has been one of the nation’s best.
Swagerty was a second-round draft pick earlier this month and has set a school record with 14 saves and counting.
Freshman Brady Rodgers has a 2.03 ERA in 71 innings.
Barrett was a third-round draft pick out of high school but decided to go to college, where he has become a dependable setup man.
Lambson has been the best of them all, with an 8-2 record and a 2.10 ERA. Batters are hitting .162 against him and he has struck out 90 batters in 68 2/3 innings.
"I never want to give up any runs, but if I do happen to have to get through five or six innings where it's a battle to get through them, handing the ball off to anybody in our pen, it's something where you have a little more ease than some other teams," Blair said. "We're excited to have the bullpen we have. They've finished out games for me the entire year."
The top of the rotation this season can't compete with last year's version, which had Mike Leake and Josh Spence. But the deeper a team goes, the more pitching it needs.
And since Arizona State's goal is a national championship, much of it will depend on the hurlers.
"The more pitching you have, the more trust you have of guys that can get (through) big innings, it makes you feel a lot better going into this thing,” Esmay said.
Arizona State vs. Clemson
When: Sunday, 4 p.m.
Where: Rosenblatt Stadium, Omaha, Neb.
What: College World Series
Outlook: The Sun Devils are the only national top-eight seed on their side of the bracket, as No. 4 Coastal Carolina, No. 5 Virginia and No. 8 Georgia Tech were knocked off in either the regionals or super regionals. Arizona State kicks off against Clemson, the lowest rated team left in the tournament according to the website Boyd’s World, which has it as the No. 27 team in the country. The Sun Devils played the Tigers in last year’s Super Regional, sweeping a pair of games to advance to the College World Series. ASU is in the easier half of the bracket with Oklahoma and South Carolina rounding out the four teams, but an opening-round loss makes it hard to advance to the championship series in this double-elimination format. Right-hander Seth Blair (12-0, 3.35 ERA) will likely get the nod for ASU on the mound. Left-hander Casey Harman (7-3, 3.73 ERA) is scheduled to start for Clemson.