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Versatile Wingnuts work around injuries

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, June 13, 2013, at 7:49 p.m.

St. Paul at Wingnuts

When: 5:05 p.m Friday, doubleheader

Where: Lawrence-Dumont Stadium

Records: St. Paul 14-11, Wingnuts 16-9

Starting pitchers: St. Paul, RH Mark Hamburger (0-2, 6.44 ERA) and TBA; Wingnuts, LH Ryan Hinson (3-1, 2.48) and LH Anthony Capra (1-0, 1.80)

Radio: KWME, 92.7-FM

Several Wingnuts players have been injured recently, but at least they’ve made it easy on the trainer.

Catcher Cole Armstrong, designated hitter John Rodriguez and second baseman Jake Kahaulelio have all been affected by hamstring issues; Armstrong and Kahaulelio missed time, while Rodriguez has been operating at about 50 percent since being hurt last week.

Wichita, even with a two-man bench, possesses the versatility to overcome short-term injuries, and manager Kevin Hooper is practicing caution with allowing players to stay in or return to the lineup.

Rodriguez and Kahaulelio strained their hamstrings trying to leg out infield hits.

“It’s a freak deal,” Hooper said. “Usually when you get a hammy, it’s sprinting down the line and you’re trying to go a little faster than you’re capable of going.… It just catches and grabs you and lets you know, ‘No, I’m not going to let you do this.’”

When Rodriguez was hurt June 5 against El Paso, it was determined that while his injury probably wouldn’t immediately get better, it also wasn’t going to get worse.

Rodriguez left that game but returned the following night and hasn’t missed a game since. As the designated hitter, Rodriguez won’t tweak the injury in the field and is unlikely to cause further damage if he avoids sprinting on the bases.

“I said, ‘Look, your 50 percent is a lot better than a lot of options I have,’” Hooper said. “Especially as a hitter — he’s our DH, and the guy can flat-out hit. I don’t care, running-wise, with him.”

Armstrong missed two games in late May, and Kahaulelio left Monday’s game at Winnipeg and hasn’t played since. He is considered day-to-day.

Saving the Wingnuts has been the ability of several players to play multiple positions. Abel Nieves, valuable with the glove at third base, has shifted to second base, and Colt Loehrs from the outfield to third.

Jared McDonald, Wichita’s center fielder, can also play second and third base in a pinch.

“I wanted to keep our outfield as fast as I could,” Hooper said of keeping McDonald in center. “(Nieves) has played second before and Colt has played third before. It’s nice to have a couple guys like that who can play anywhere. If something does happen, you can kind of recoup and make good things happen.”

If Wichita’s lineup suffers with some principals unavailable, the pitching appears more than worthy of picking up the slack.

The Wingnuts’ 3.16 team ERA is the best in the American Association by nearly half a run. Eight of their pitchers have a 3.08 ERA or lower, and four starters have an ERA better than 2.50.

“We sure can pitch,” Hooper said. “That’s one of the things that we’ve talked about all year.… Top to bottom, I think every starter we run out there gives us a chance.”

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