CARBONDALE, Ill. — Albert Minnis pitched for Wichita State for the first time April 16, which means he is healthy again. He pitched three innings and faced 10 batters, which means the layoff with tightness in his forearm didn’t rob him of the velocity or movement on his pitches.
While that is plenty of good news for Wichita State, Minnis’ return went to waste in a 5-4 loss to Southern Illinois on Friday at Martin Field. He gave up a solo home run that ultimately stood up against a rally, but a defensive collapse in the third inning looms as the bigger culprit.
“Good command except for one pitch,” Minnis said. “When you’re ahead of dudes, you can’t lay fastballs in there. Just one pitch.”
WSU (24-20, 9-4 Missouri Valley Conference) lost an MVC opener for the first time this season. SIU (20-21, 3-10) won the opener of an MVC series for the first time this season.
Minnis came into the game in fourth inning under strange circumstances. Starter Cale Elam strained a muscle in the palm of his right hand, near his thumb, and couldn’t grip the ball.
“I have never seen this before,” WSU coach Gene Stephenson. “Our trainer thinks it was from scraping his cleats in between innings, that irritated it and caused it. The next-to-last pitch he threw in the third inning he said he felt like he couldn’t get his thumb under the ball.”
While it didn’t win Friday’s game, Minnis’ presence is critical for WSU’s season. He gives them a versatile reliever who can enter almost any situation — early or late — and lock up hitters. He did that on Friday, producing seven groundball outs and two strikeouts. Austin Montgomery dented him for the home run, a blast to right that cut through wind that frustrated the Shockers.
“He’s the main part of our bullpen,” catcher Tyler Baker said. “He’s got electric stuff. You know when he comes in he’s going to compete and he’s going to get the job done.”
Minnis, a junior lefty, disposed of the Salukis quickly in his three innings. Cold weather likely contributed to the tightness he felt after WSU’s game against Kansas State on April 16. He started throwing again Monday and pronounced himself ready to go after a bullpen session on Thursday.
“I’m back to 100 percent,” he said.
Multiple-error games are rare for the Shockers this season — seven with the last one on April 7. Friday, they crammed three errors into one inning on a cold, wet day. SIU started its uprising with two one-out singles off Elam by the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters. Then Jake Welch bounced a ball to freshman third baseman Tanner Kirk. He dropped it, for his first error, and rushed a throw over first baseman Casey Gillapsie, for another error, one that gave SIU a 1-0 lead and runners at second and third. Rennie Troggio bounced a ball to shortstop Erik Harbutz and his low throw skipped under Gillaspie’s glove, allowing two runs to score. Troggio scored for a 4-0 lead on infield single by Matt Jones, a bouncing ball that second baseman Dayne Parker gloved while moving toward left field and then dropped.
“That whole inning turns on two routine plays,” Stephenson said.
A 4-0 deficit against SIU starter Cody Forsythe is a big problem for WSU. Forsythe faced WSU twice last season and struck out 15 in 14 innings while allowing three earned runs. On Friday, he didn’t allow a runner until Kirk blooped a single to left with two outs in the sixth. WSU scored two runs in the seventh, but left the bases loaded when Forsythe got Kirk to ground out. Forsythe, a senior lefty, disrupted WSU’s timing by moving the ball around and dropping in changeups and curveballs. The Shockers hit a lot of harmless fly balls, many into the wind blowing in from left field.
“I was able to throw it all for strikes, put a little extra pressure on them,” he said. “I got lucky and beat them on some fastballs late. They’re really aggressive and swing at early pitches and I got a lot of early outs.”
Forsythe admitted the Shockers hit several balls hard that likely reach the wall, or fly over, on a normal day. Johnny Coy lined out in the fifth on one such ball. In the eighth with two runners on, Baker hammered a pitch, off reliever Todd Eaton that held up for the center fielder. The cruelest bit of wind hit the Shockers in the ninth when Garrett Bayliff smacked a pitch to left-center gap with Kirk on second. The wind slowed it and centerfielder Rennie Troggio caught it while colliding with the left fielder. He hit the ground and quickly held up his glove to display the ball to end the game.
“We didn’t really talk until the last second,” Troggio said. “We both went after it, and luckily I caught it. It landed right in my mitt and I knew I had it.”
Worth noting — Bayliff went 2 for 5 to extend his career-long hitting streak to 12 games . . Since its three-error game against Indiana State on April 7, the Shockers hadn’t committed more than one in a game. . .Kirk started his first MVC game and sixth this season. WSU was without second baseman Tanner Dearman, who hurt his wrist swinging during the eighth inning of Wednesday’s win over Oral Roberts. Dearman is available to pinch run and is scheduled for an MRI on the wrist Monday, Stephenson said. Kirk also started against ORU and is 4 for 8 in those two games. . .SIU last won a series against the Shockers in 2006, taking it 2-1 at Eck Stadium. It also won the series 2-1 in 2005 in Carbondale.
E — Kirk 2, Harbutz, Casilas. DP — WSU, SIU. LOB — WSU 7, SIU 2. 2B — Harbutz (11), Green (7), Kirk (3). HR — Montgomery (6). S — Neece. SF — Coy. SB — Harbutz (10).
HBP — Parker (by Forsythe). Umpires — Bret Bruington, home; Tom Svehla, first; Wayne Harris, third. T — 2:19. A — 143.