Feb. 23, 2003
By Brian Gomez
Even if Arizona State junior designated hitter Jeremy West was in a slump, it doesn't matter all that much now because he's certainly out of it.
West erased painful memories of an 0-for-9 skid in last week's Coca-Cola Spring Training College Baseball Classic during an impressive two-game series against No. 11-ranked Notre Dame in which he went 4-for-6 with eight RBIs and five runs scored.
"I looked for a pitch I could hit, that's it," said West, whose two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning Sunday afternoon at Packard Stadium sparked a monumental rally that lifted the No. 5 Sun Devils to a 14-8 victory over the Fighting Irish. "Seeing the ball always helps your confidence. The last couple games I've seen the ball, so I was able to take my walks and get good pitches to hit."
After drawing walks in his first three at-bats, West made the most of an opportunity when he got a fastball over the middle of the plate from Notre Dame senior right-hander J.P. Gagne. He launched a two-out home run off the light pole in left-center field to cut the deficit to 8-6.
"They had been throwing me breaking stuff all day, so I knew they were going to make a mistake sometime or another," West said. "I'm always looking for something to hit, whether they're making the pitch or not. I was just waiting for that one pitch, and I finally got it."
Every player that stepped to the plate scored during a nine-run sixth inning that gave ASU a 13-8 lead. It marked the second time this season that the Sun Devils struck for that many runs in a single inning, as they also posted a nine-spot Jan. 19 in a 16-0 win at Hawai'i-Hilo.
West finally showed signs of improvement this weekend after his average had sunk from .368 through the first six games of the season to .226 heading into Friday's game. He went 1-for-2 with two RBIs against Dayton and he had a 3-for-4 effort Saturday versus the Fighting Irish on the strength of a two-run homer in the seventh inning and a grand slam in the eighth.
"If I put a good swing on a pitch, home runs will come," said West, who has hit seven through 22 games this season to give him 26 in his career, the most among active Sun Devils. "If you try to hit a home run, you very rarely do. If I put a good swing on it and if I hit it, it goes out."
West is batting .276, a big drop from last year when he hit .356, led the league with 70 RBIs and belted a team-high 13 home runs to earn first-team All-Pac-10 honors, but a hearty jump from where he was before this weekend. West credits his turnaround to some extra work in batting practice with Justin Ross, ASU's graduate manager who helps oversee academics.
"I don't know how many swings I take exactly, but half an hour or an hour before the game, I'll get in there and just swing it a lot," West said. "Before practice and even after practice I hit."
West's chances for success also have increased thanks to the hot hitting by the players surrounding him in the lineup. While usually finding himself in the Nos. 4 and 5 spots, West has been sandwiched between guys like sophomore first baseman Jeff Larish (.423 batting average) and junior right-fielder Andre Ethier (.363).
"All the guys I've got around me are going to back me up every inch of the way," West said. "The more people around you that can swing it, the more pitches you're going to get to hit."
This season has brought a position change for West, who played first base during his first two years removed from Silverado High School in Las Vegas. West has started 16 games as ASU's designated hitter. As a backup catcher, West has made 24 putouts and has committed only one error for a .960 fielding percentage.
"Jeremy is an integral part of our ball club," Sun Devil assistant coach Jay Sferra said. "This game of baseball is a frustrating, humbling game because you want to help the team, but you've got to let the game come to you. Jeremy is standing in there like a man, and that's what you like to see."
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