The Wingnuts start their longest road trip of the season Friday night in Laredo, and on Thursday they played like they thought the bus might leave without them.
Wichita got out of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in a hurry, managing three hits in a 5-0 loss to Amarillo as Justin Garcia threw a 107-pitch shutout that he wrapped up in 2 hours, 18 minutes.
After a pair of exciting bottom-of-the-ninth wins, the Wingnuts completed the “one step back” part of the equation that has marred their last month. A night after achieving consecutive wins for the first time since late June, Wichita settled back into habits that saw it lose 18 of its previous 23.
The two last-inning wins allowed the Wingnuts to momentarily ignore that they were playing an undermanned opponent that activated a coach and used pitchers to round out its batting order.
“These guys are hitting pitchers and coaches are playing third base, and we split with them,” Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. “And the two games we win, it takes walk-off fashion to beat them. You try to be positive all you can, but that’s a pretty pathetic effort tonight if you ask me.”
Garcia had little trouble cutting through the Wingnuts’ order, except for a hiccup when Wichita collected a pair of two-out singles in the second. Garcia retired the next 11 batters before a Mike Conroy double in the sixth that proved to also be hardly a blip.
Wichita didn’t put up much of a fight, allowing Garcia to keep working within the strike zone while the Wingnuts swung early in the count and frequently made weak contact. Twenty of the Wingnuts’ 27 outs were finished in four pitches or fewer.
“You’ve got every opportunity tonight to come out and win a ballgame and win a series and you show up and do that,” Hooper said. “Come on, man. It might be time to mix some things up, shake some things up and play this thing out the last month because some of these guys act like they don’t even care. Win or lose, they don’t even care. We’ll have a nice little heart-to-heart tonight and get on the road.”
The Wingnuts have had trouble against pitchers similar to Garcia, especially Jason Jarvis from Sioux City. Jarvis didn’t surrender an earned run in two complete games against Wichita this season, but in 18 innings he allowed 12 hits and struck out eight.
Garcia wasn’t overpowering, either. But as the Wingnuts proved they were unwilling to change their approach, Garcia found it unnecessary to change his.
“I’m not making excuses for our guys,” Hooper said. “They might want to, but shame on them if they do make excuses. Make an adjustment, bottom line. We get 1-0 (in the count) and we think we need to swing. We swung at so many balls 1-0, it was pathetic.”
Wichita starter Josh Lowey didn’t get the run support to create meaning for his ability to keep the score 1-0 through six innings, but a defensive miscue in the seventh allowed Amarillo to break it open.
First baseman Mark Wagner dropped a ball that would have finished off a double play, and the Wingnuts might have been out of the inning before Harrison Kain’s three-run homer made it 5-0. It was the latest example of the Wingnuts paying big for what appeared to be a small mistake.
“Just finish plays,” Hooper said. “It’s professional baseball, make the play. It’s embarrassing. We’re not good enough to where we think we can just show up and beat somebody. Look what happened tonight — we didn’t show up and we get beat 5-0 and have three hits. Come on. Pretty weak.”
The Wingnuts still lead the American Association Central by 2 1/2 games but might not return to Wichita on Aug. 13 in the same standing if they keep up the play that has dissatisfied their manager.
The road trip also presents an opportunity, however, for the Wingnuts to reorganize, possibly through roster changes, and pull away from their nearest competitor, Kansas City.
“We just have to play our game,” Conroy said. “Do the little things correctly. If we do that and occasionally get a big hit here or there, we’ll be fine.”
|Kain cf||4||1||1||3||Khoury ss||4||0||0||0|
|Rau ss||4||0||2||0||Conroy cf||4||0||1||0|
|Buschini 3b||4||0||0||0||Rodriguez dh||4||0||0||0|
|Alberts lf||4||0||1||0||Wagner 1b||3||0||0||0|
|Goodro c||4||0||2||0||Peralta rf||3||0||0||0|
|Espinosa 1b||4||1||0||0||Mier c||3||0||1||0|
|Pyles rf||4||1||3||0||Avila lf||3||0||1||0|
|Verastegui 3b||4||2||2||1||Carrillo 3b||2||0||0||0|
|Opitz 2b||0||0||0||0||Bergeron 3b||1||0||0||0|
|Lare dh||3||0||1||0||McDonald 2b||3||0||0||0|
|Amarillo||001||000||400||—||5 12 0|
|Wichita||000||000||000||—||0 3 0|
DP--Wichita 2. LOB--Amarillo 4, Wichita 3. 2B--Verastegui, Conroy. HR--Kain (3). SB--Pyles (1). CS--Rau.
PB -- Mier.
Umpires — Home, Kurt Brannin; first, Mo Hassan; third, Nick Gonzales.
T — 2:18. A — 2,526.