The loss of shortstop Ryan Khoury to a day-to-day shoulder injury has created two problems for the Wingnuts.
The first is the obvious — Khoury is Wichita’s leadoff hitter and second on the team in RBIs, and his loss weakens the Wingnuts’ offense and defense.
The other issue is what to do when Khoury returns to the lineup. His replacement Wednesday, Colt Loehrs, hit a tiebreaking two-run home run in the eighth inning, giving Wichita a 5-3 win at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Loehrs has played sparingly over the last two weeks, but he has been in the lineup the last four games because of Khoury’s injury and a suspension to second baseman Jake Kahaulelio. He has a hit in every game, and he broke through Monday with four hits, including three doubles.
Loehrs lost playing time when the Wingnuts signed outfielder Brent Clevlen, but he has earned more with his recent performance.
“It’ll be tough to get that kid out of the lineup right now,” Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. “He’s aggressive, I like it. Smart. He competes. I love his attitude, the way he goes about his business. He’s loved by all the guys. He’s just a good kid.”
Loehrs’ “smart” attribute came through in the ninth. After the previous two hitters struck out on changeups from Mike Benacka, Loehrs attacked early in the count so he wouldn’t be susceptible to the two-strike off-speed pitch.
Even though Benacka is armed with a mid-90s fastball, it’s the changeup and its vast velocity difference that is his most effective pitch. Loehrs got a 1-0 fastball and turned on it for a long homer to left, his first of the year. It scored C.J. Ziegler, who started the inning with a walk.
Laredo tied it with a two-run homer by Brian Peterson in the eighth, and Loehrs spent the time before his at-bat eagerly awaiting a chance to make a difference. He took advantage of that chance, just like he’s taken advantage of his time back in the lineup.
“I haven’t gotten a lot of opportunities,” Loehrs said. “…We’ve got a lot of good guys on this team, and I can see why they play. I’m finally getting my opportunity and I’m trying to make the most of it.”
There might not be a permanent spot for Loehrs once Khoury returns, but one option is to platoon him in left field with left-handed hitter Jared McDonald, who struggles against lefty pitching.
Loehrs’ bid for more time is improved by his versatility. He was primarily an outfielder during the first month of the season, but as infielders have missed recent games, Loehrs has proven adept at third base.
“I think that’s a good thing, that’s crucial,” Loehrs said. “I kind of fill two spots at once. Always been a utility guy — always played corner outfield, third, first, right, left. That’s a good thing, for sure.”
Loehrs’ homer gave the win to reliever Daniel Bennett, who failed to protect a 3-1 lead. Clevlen provided that lead with a two-run home run in the second — his seventh in 11 games — and a sacrifice fly in the third, and Junior Guerra nurtured it with seven solid innings on the mound.
Guerra can be maddening and exciting within the same start. Wednesday, he walked five — four with two outs — but surrendered four hits and didn’t allow a run until there were two outs in the seventh.
Guerra missed a chance to improve to 5-0, and his ERA dropped to 3.68. He’s among the American Association leaders in strikeouts, but it’s difficult to tell if he’s close to a permanent breakthrough or will just survive as a pitcher who can limit opponents even when he isn’t at his best.
Hooper said Guerra needs to trust his mid-90s fastball more often instead of more frequently going to his slider and split-finger when he’s in favorable counts.
“I think it could be either,” Hooper said. “That’s been his knock, is his walks. Granted, he gets out of it a lot because he doesn’t give up a lot of hits. But if you play with fire too many times, you’re going to get burned.”
|Mojica ss||5||0||1||0||Nieves ss||3||1||1||0|
|Kain cf||4||0||1||0||Kahaulelio 2b||4||0||0||0|
|Allen 3b||5||0||1||1||Rodriguez dh||3||0||0||0|
|Alonso dh||3||0||1||0||Ziegler 1b||2||2||1||0|
|Karr lf||5||0||0||0||Clevlen cf||3||1||1||3|
|Gaston rf||3||1||1||0||Armstrong c||4||0||0||0|
|Peterson c||2||1||1||2||Loehrs 3b||3||1||2||2|
|Sheridan 1b||3||0||1||0||Amberson rf||4||0||0||0|
|Rau 2b||4||1||1||0||McDonald lf||2||0||0||0|
LOB — Laredo 11, Wichita 6. 2B — Allen (16), Loehrs (8). HR — Peterson (2), Clevlen (7), Loehrs (1). SB — Gaston (6), Loehrs (4). CS — Kain (3). SF — Clevlen (1).
Umpires—Home, Brian Urton; first, Derek Ivinski; second, Art Thigpen.
T — 2:44. A — 2,261.