Even though Jon Link was nearly flawless through the first four innings of his start for the Wingnuts on Thursday, it was no indicator of how he would pitch as the game continued.
Link has spent almost all of his career as a relief pitcher, reaching the major leagues for nine games with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2009, so he isn’t accustomed to pitching more than an inning or two at a time.
While it was clear he was laboring after the fourth, Link’s final three innings appear just as impressive on paper. He pitched seven scoreless and the Wingnuts won their season-opener 8-0 over the Kansas City T-Bones at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Link allowed three hits and didn’t walk a batter while striking out four in his 10th career start and third since 2006. He was aided by a 4-for-4 performance by Jake Kahaulelio, which included a three-run double and a solo home run, and by C.J. Ziegler’s three-run homer.
"I didn’t think I could do it," Link said. "I was dog tired after even the third. But I had a really good feel for my stuff today, especially my sinker, and I pitched off of it. When the day is over, it’s just good to get the team a ’W,’ that’s what it’s all about."
The Wingnuts dedicated a lengthy pregame ceremony to the memory of former bench coach Brian Rose, who died on Jan. 31 after a three-year battle with melanoma. Several former players returned to Wichita for the ceremony, which included a brief speech from manager Kevin Hooper and a video chronicling Rose’s three years with the Wingnuts.
Rose’s wife, Lupe, threw out the first pitch and his No. 3 was retired. The Wingnuts continued to honor Rose during the game, collecting 14 hits and producing in the clutch. Ziegler homered on an 0-2 count with two runners on in the third, and Kahaulelio unloaded the bases by hitting a first-pitch fastball down the line for a fourth-inning double.
Kahaulelio’s bid for five hits ended with an eighth-inning walk. The scoreboard showed Wichita’s second baseman, who batted .372 last season, with a 1.000 average throughout Thursday’s game. Normally, that would have impressed him.
"Tonight, no," Kahaulelio said. "Tonight I was pretty much just trying my hardest to get a win. It was really more emotional than I thought it was going to be. You try to be strong, but when you see a video and stuff and see how much (Rose) actually meant to you and how he inspired you, things aren’t as bad as people think they are.
"We get to play this game, and he was out here every day helping us out. To get that win today, I was doing everything I possibly can. I don’t really care what I did as long as we won, because of Brian Rose."
Rose’s spirit was perhaps best embodied by Link, who worked through his fatigue to produce a tone-setting outing. He faced the minimum 12 batters through for innings, pitching with a runner on base once.
Considering his history as a reliever, Link was possibly more impressive during his later innings even though he wasn’t as dominant. He had the advantage of pitching with a significant lead, so as he labored through the fifth and sixth innings he threw fastballs in a situation that didn’t necessitate his entire repertoire.
In the sixth, Link retired Felix Molina after a nine-pitch at-bat and worked back from a 3-1 count to leadoff hitter Kennard Jones to induce a lineout to right. Link finished his start with a 10-pitch seventh inning.
"It’s going to be a process, something new for him," Hooper said. "He’s a fiery guy, and he’s got to get in that sequence of being a starter again. He’s going to feel things out here at the beginning, it’s going to be a different routine than he’s used to. Great, tremendous tonight."
Kansas City starter Shaun Garceau also set a tone, but it was one that would find him out of the game by the sixth inning after getting battered by the Wingnuts’ offense.
Wichita went to several deep counts in the first, essentially exhausting Garceau’s array of pitches. After the first time through the order, the Wingnuts jumped on Garceau early in counts, getting eight hits against him on the third pitch or earlier.
With several core players returning from last year’s division champions and two ex-big leaguers, including Friday starter Jason Smith, leading the rotation, it’s difficult for the Wingnuts not to forecast a repeat of recent success.
"Another great group, it seems," Hooper said. "Good chemistry all around, and I was very pleased with everything I saw tonight."
|Jones cf||4||0||2||0||Khoury ss||5||1||1||0|
|Bass lf||4||0||1||0||Kahaulelio 2b||4||3||4||4|
|Jones dh||4||0||0||0||Rodriguez dh||3||1||2||0|
|Sadler rf||4||0||1||0||Ziegler 1b||5||1||2||3|
|Padgett 1b||3||0||0||0||Yoo C||1||0||0||0|
|Goodwin 2b||3||0||1||0||Nieves 3b||4||0||2||0|
|Perez 3b||2||0||0||0||Loehrs lf||4||0||1||0|
|Pearl c||1||0||0||0||Amberson rf||3||1||1||1|
|Molina ss||3||0||0||0||McDonald cf||4||1||1||0|
|Coleman c||2||0||0||0||Armstrong c||4||0||0||0|
E — KC 2, Wichita 0. LOB — KC 4, Wichita 9. DP— KC 1, Wichita 1. 2B — Bass, Kahaulelio, Nieves. HR — Kahaulelio (1), Ziegler (1). SB — Sadler (1), Loehrs (1).
HBP — by Garceau (Rodriguez). Umpires — home, Delmont; first, Kreps, second, Heine. T — 2:35. A — 3,582.