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Wingnuts waiting for lower part of order to heat up

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, May 22, 2013, at 7:56 p.m.

New Jersey at Wingnuts

When: 7:05 p.m. Thursday

Where: Lawrence-Dumont Stadium

Records: New Jersey 3-3 (Can-Am League); Wingnuts, 4-3

Starting pitchers: New Jersey, RH Craig Heyer (0-1, 21.00 ERA); Wingnuts, LH Ryan Hinson (1-0, 5.40)

Radio: KWME, 92.7-FM

Equating success — or lack thereof — between the Wingnuts’ offense and their overall play so far this season has been easy. When first four hitters in the batting order produce, the Wingnuts often win. When they don’t, Wichita usually loses.

The bottom of the order, mostly stocked with unproven players, has yet to make a collective difference for the Wingnuts. The top four hitters can sometimes mask the ineffectiveness of the rest, and Wichita’s superior pitching is also helping offset some of those problems.

Though little can be determined from results after seven games, Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper notices occasionally poor approaches at the plate from the younger players that occupy the bottom of the lineup. Hooper is confident, that the lineup can find balance and depth that will make the Wingnuts dangerous 1-through-9.

"To be honest, I think that we’ve got the guys that can do it," Hooper said. "It’s just a matter of them being confident enough to do it. That’s their choice, what they do with the opportunity."

Leadoff man Ryan Khoury, Jake Kahaulelio, John Rodriguez and C.J. Ziegler are hitting a combined .346 with seven home runs and 19 RBIs. The rest of the team has produced one homer and six RBIs while batting .203. Jared McDonald and Derek Perren are the only regulars batting above .227.

David Amberson, Colt Loehrs and McDonald are three of the Wingnuts’ most inexperienced players, as only McDonald, who spent two seasons in rookie ball, has time in affiliated baseball.

The upside of Amberson and Loehrs, along with the past performances of catcher Cole Armstrong and third baseman Abel Nieves, who each played in Triple-A, offer potential for removing the burden from the top four hitters.

"But you can’t keep harping on the same guy to make the same adjustment," Hooper said. "It’s his choice to make it, so if he keeps making mistakes and not making the adjustment, that puts it into our hands as far as what we’re going to do from there."

Hooper said he liked the lineup and young outfielders Amberson, McDonald, Loehrs and Perren for the speed they bring defensively and on the bases. His belief in a turnaround is supplemented by the positive results he saw from them during an extensive spring training schedule.

Hooper might be hamstrung in finding immediate improvements to the lineup if he ever decides the team needs them. Shifting batters around might not work because Khoury, Kahaulelio, Rodriguez and Ziegler are optimal hitters for their spots in the order.

The Wingnuts are also well over the league salary cap. If they wanted to bring in a more experienced hitter, they would likely have to let go of an older player to make the budget work.

"I’m not going to panic or give up on anybody yet," Hooper said. "But we’ve got to get better. We’ve definitely got to get better in certain areas."

Wednesday’s Game

Wingnuts 5, RailCats 1

Khoury ss4100Klein lf4010
Kahaulelio 2b4110Massaro rf4110
Rodriguez dh4121Guerrero dh4021
Ziegler 1b3133Maddox 1b3000
Loehrs lf4000Babineau c4000
Nieves 3b4020Kolb 3b4010
Perren rf2100Martinez cf4010
Amberson ph, rf1000Pulfer ss 3000
Yoo c4000Tucker 2b4010
McDonald cf3011
Totals 33595Totals34171

Wichita4001000005 9 0
Gary0000010001 7 1

E— Pulfer (2). LOB— Wichita 5,, Gary 9. DP— Gary 3 . 2B— Ziegler (1), Nieves (2), McDonald (2). HR — Ziegler (5). HBP — Khoury (2). SF — McDonald (1). SB — Martinez 2 (3).

Smith W, 1-0741115

Hiscock L, 0-1575411
Lindquist2 2/320011

HB — Khoury by Hiscock (1).

Umpires — home, Mike O’Leary; first, Mike Carroll; third, Thomas Perko. T — 2:38. A — 5575.

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