On the list containing common characteristics of long winning streaks in baseball, continuity is probably near the top.
The Wingnuts considered changes after they started 2-3 with a scuffling offense, but put a hold on those plans after scoring 18 runs in a win over New Jersey on May 23. Wichita went on to win seven more in a row and it seemed like roster moves were unnecessary.
Defying any unwritten code that states teams should stick with the status quo when it proves to be working, the Wingnuts made moves anyway, most notably signing third baseman Juan Richardson and releasing catcher Salomon Manriquez.
Manager Kevin Hooper has said he wouldn’t make a move if he didn’t feel as if it would improve the team, but he took a gamble in making one during a flawless stretch. Adding Richardson, who hit .360 with 12 homers and 86 RBIs in Wichita last season, proved too tempting.
Wichita stretched its winning streak to nine with a 6-5 win over Grand Prairie on Friday. The streak included road sweeps of Gary-Southshore and Fargo-Moorhead.
"I can’t pass up on a Juan Richardson," Hooper said. "That was kind of a no-brainer for us, that we can add to the middle of the lineup, and he’s great defensively at third. It made sense."
Once the Wingnuts decided to add Richardson, they faced a difficult decision on who to let go. Richardson is a classified veteran within the American Association roster rules, and Wichita already had its allotment of four veterans.
After weighing the options for days, Wichita decided to cut loose Manriquez, who was batting .317 in 11 games. The other choices were .300 hitters Mitch Einertson and Mike Conroy and former major league outfielder John Rodriguez.
Manriquez had briefly fallen out of favor because of shaky defense, but rebounded enough at the plate that placing him on waivers became a somewhat painful decision.
"If (Richardson) didn’t come available for us, (Manriquez) would be playing for us tonight," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "It was a veteran situation, which we’ve tried to fight for a long time now. Your hands are so tied (by) only having four of them. If we could have five, (Manriquez) would probably still be here."
The Wingnuts also traded Jared McDonald to Lincoln for cash and signed reliever Robert Roth to replace Josh Dew, who was signed by the Mexican League.
The moves left Wichita with one position player available off the bench for Friday’s game, and Steve Carrillo was needed when Conroy exited with a concussion. David Peralta hurt his hand and arm sliding home for the winning run on Friday but was back in the lineup.
The Wingnuts are also operating without a backup catcher, though on Saturday they signed Tommy Fitzgerald, a Wingnut in 2011, to fill the remaining roster spot. The versatile Fitzgerald can serve as the backup until a more traditional option presents itself.
"We’ll continue to look for a catcher but Taylor’s going to get a chance back there and he’s been doing just fine with it," Hooper said. "Everybody was on the same page, and (the players) know that if I’m going to make a move, it’s for the betterment of the team."
Clutch Khoury — Part of being successful in important situations is the desire to be in important situations, and Wingnuts shortstop Ryan Khoury has that base covered.
Khoury, Wichita’s leadoff hitter, has twice come to bat with the chance to end the game with an RBI. Both times he has come through, hitting a single in a 3-2 win over New Jersey on May 22 and a sacrifice fly to beat Grand Prairie on Friday.
Khoury is batting .222 through Friday but has a .366 on-base percentage and a 1.000 average with the game on the line.
"You’ve got to want to be there," Khoury said. "That’s why I love our team, because I know we’ve got a team full of guys like that. We get in those situations and everybody’s wanting to do it, nobody’s scared. I’ve just been the guy in a couple situations that’s gotten to come up."