With young players struggling to prove their worth and veterans waiting for a possible roster turnover, the Wingnuts are enduring their most difficult stretch of the season.
Two weeks ago, a rough patch might have included two straight losses or even a few bad innings. Then the Wingnuts lost several players important to their superior chemistry and eye-popping record, and neither the chemistry nor the record have been the same since.
With a two-game homestand beginning tonight, Wichita has lost 9 of 11 games, and manager Kevin Hooper is working diligently to acquire players that can help reverse that trend. In the meantime, the Wingnuts are losing close games lowlighted by suspect defense and offensive failures.
"We’ve been pretty bad offensively," Hooper said. "We’ve had many opportunities on this road trip. We’re 1-6 on this road trip (before Tuesday) and we could have easily won the last two nights (Sunday and Monday). We were right in two games in Grand Prairie, and we’re just not finding a way to get that big hit right now and win those games."
The Wingnuts haven’t recovered from the losses of C.J. Ziegler, Jake Kahaulelio and James Hoyt to the Mexican League, defections that coincided with injuries to third baseman Juan Richardson and starting pitchers Nate Robertson, Ben Graham and Jose Perez.
While Ziegler, Kahaulelio and Richardson contributed to a powerful offense that allowed them to start 30-9, they were equally important in the bond created by every member of the 22-man roster during that start.
Hooper might not be able to replicate that closeness with new players, but their possible role in reversing the losing slide may help to replicate it.
"I think we can recreate that," Hooper said. "I think we still have good chemistry. I met with them after the game in Grand Prairie and I didn’t yell or anything because I feel like I’m getting their effort. It’s not an effort thing right now, it’s putting together some quality at-bats and having a plan.
"We’ve just done some silly stuff, whether it be defensively, on the bases or at the plate during this road trip. It’s just been some ugly baseball. We’re working on getting some guys in here. We’re going to be fine. I’m not panicking by any means, I’m not overly concerned."
After signing stopgap rookies Blake Bergeron and Zac Mitchell, the Wingnuts acquired Gerardo Avila to replace Ziegler at first base. That signing paid immediate dividends, as Avila’s three-run homer gave Wichita its only win on the road trip.
Robertson should be back soon after nursing shoulder discomfort, and upgrades in the lineup were on the way after Wichita’s game at Amarillo on Monday.
"There might be a situation here at some point where in order to get something good, we may have to give up something good," Hooper said. "That’s part of it, especially this time of year. Our need right now is offensive guys, and in order to get those guys you might have to give up something."
Roster upgrades will likely come as a relief to Wingnuts players who have waited two weeks for them, and who may have felt the burden of upcoming significant changes. Hooper believes that once the changes happen, players will once again become comfortable.
"They know what I’m trying to do and what we’re trying to do here," Hooper said. "They also know that it’s the middle of the season and it’s not easy to find guys sometimes. I tell all of the guys that play for me that if there’s ever a friend of theirs or someone they hear of that can help us, I want to know about it.
"You just use all of your sources and you stay by the phone. I’ve been on the phone non-stop for a week straight, since all of this has gone down. It’s just some tough times that we’re going through and some bumps in the road that we knew we were going to deal with. We’re six games up and it could easily be eight, nine or 10."
Amarillo 3, Wichita 2
|Khoury ss||4||0||3||2||White ss||4||0||1||1|
|Smith cf||3||0||0||0||Tucker 3b||4||1||2||1|
|Mitchell ph-2b||1||0||0||0||Opitz 2b||4||1||2||0|
|Rodriguez dh||4||0||0||0||Alberts rf||4||0||3||0|
|Avila 1b||4||0||2||0||Buschini lf||4||0||1||1|
|Carrillo 3b||2||0||0||0||Espinosa 1b||3||1||0||0|
|Peralta rf||4||0||0||0||Abeita c||4||0||1||0|
|Tellam c||4||0||1||0||Lofgren dh||3||0||1||0|
|McDnld 2b-lf||3||1||0||0||Kain cf||3||0||0||0|
E— Opitz (4). LOB— Wichita 5, Amarillo 7. DP— Wichita 2, Amarillo 2. 2B— Khoury (6), Avila (2). 3B— Khoury (2). HR — Tucker (5). S — Bergeron.
|Lowey L, 8-2||6 2/3||11||3||3||1||3|
|Garcia W, 4-1||7 1/3||5||2||1||1||3|
|Johnson S, 9||1||1||0||0||0||1|
Umpires — home, Trent Delmont; first, Josh Nolen; third, Asa Howard. T — 2:21.