Daniel Kihle is stuck in the middle of appreciating the playing time he’s getting as a freshman on Wichita State’s baseball team and wanting to play every day.
Shockers coach Gene Stephenson is employing a platoon system that puts Kihle in the lineup against left-handed pitchers but on the bench when a right-hander starts.
Kihle likely won’t supplant Garrett Bayliff as WSU’s primary right fielder, but if he continues to perform the way he did Wednesday in the Shockers’ 9-3 win over North Dakota at Eck Stadium, Kihle could earn more at-bats no matter who’s pitching.
Kihle reached base four times and hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning. WSU used nine right-handed hitters against UND southpaw Trent Egan and all of the part-timers performed well.
Kihle and fellow freshmen Parker Zimmerman and Tanner Kirk, along with junior outfielder Micah Green, combined for seven hits, four runs and six RBIs.
"It’s my job as a freshman to come in whenever (the coaches) tell me to and just do my job and get on base," Kihle said. "It’s a lot of fun coming in against lefties — it gives me a better opportunity to see the ball coming in. The coaches just want me to get used to that right now.
"The older guys are doing their jobs against righties, so I’ll just keep going against lefties and playing when they tell me to."
Kihle is being asked to ignite the offense as the leadoff man against lefties.
He did that job admirably on Wednesday, walking to start the WSU first inning, homering three innings later and reaching via a hit-by-pitch during a four-run seventh.
The other WSU platoon players followed Kihle’s lead — Zimmerman had a pair of hits, Kirk singled and scored on Kihle’s homer in the fourth, and Green had three hits, including a double and a three-run triple that broke it open in the seventh.
Their spots in the lineup are filled by Bayliff, Tyler Baker, Mikel Mucha and Cody Bobbitt against right-handers, but at the very least Stephenson has options if any of those players enters a prolonged slump.
"That is awesome," Green said. "We’ve got so many different guys that can step in whether they switch it to a righty or a lefty. Normally they’ll try to bring in an opposite-hand (pitcher) just to try to mess with us, but we’ve got so much depth that we can just bring in another guy."
Switch-hitters Erik Harbutz and Casey Gillaspie are naturally right-handed, giving the lineup extra power against lefties. Gillaspie had one hit to show for three line drives Wednesday, and Harbutz had two walks, a single and a triple.
The Shockers also may be better defensively, at least in the outfield, when facing a left-hander. Center fielder Taylor Doggett has impressive range, and as an occasional center fielder himself, Green gets to the balls Doggett can’t — they both chased down fly balls to the gaps on Wednesday.
"I love that," Green said. "We’ve got a lot of speed out there. Kihle (also) is definitely a speedster. We can cover a lot of ground out there."
E — Kwak, Kirk. DP — ND 3, WSU 2. LOB — ND 9, WSU 9. 2B — Green (3). 3B — Harbutz (1), Green (1). HR — Kihle (1). S — Threlkeld. SB — Follis (1), Harbutz (4).
|LaBrie W,1-0||2 2/3||2||1||1||3||1||1.89|
PB — Zimmerman. HBP — Kihle 2 (by Egan, Jungling). Umpires — Dan Hoffman, home; Greg Mudd, first; Brice Glidewell, third. T — 2:23. A — 2,212.