The cancellation of its last two games prevented Wichita State’s baseball team from fielding what should be a mostly permanent lineup over the final two-plus months, at least if coach Todd Butler has his way.
A large group of Shockers saw extended playing time over the first nine games due to NCAA suspensions to three position players and five pitchers, injuries and defensive ineffectiveness.
Middle infielders Dayne Parker and Erik Harbutz, both seniors, served their nine-game suspensions and debuted in the second game of a doubleheader with Long Beach State a week ago.
Even though Butler values the time earned by players more likely to settle into reserve roles, he’s eager to see the Shockers’ lineup at essentially full strength. WSU opens a series with Stephen F. Austin on Friday at Eck Stadium.
“Talking about having a consistent lineup, that is a goal,” Butler said. “But we have to know who can pinch-hit, who can bunt, who can pinch-hit left-(handed batting) versus right-(handed pitching), right versus left.
“There’s a lot of different roles we have to establish, and having an opportunity to see these guys play and having a chance to start, it betters their chance of being ready to play when they’re called upon.”
Thirteen players received at least 14 at-bats over the first 10 games, the same number of pitchers who worked multiple innings. Some players, such as infielders Cody Bobbitt and Wes Phillips, impressed in limited times and may have moved themselves up the pecking order.
Even though Butler, WSU’s first-year coach, may have preferred a set lineup to start the season, he wants players to make his job more difficult by performing well enough to stay in the lineup.
The Shockers have at least five spots held down by virtually irreplaceable hitters, as the likes of Casey Gillaspie, Micah Green, Tyler Baker and Garrett Bayliff are lineup fixtures, but that leaves some time for players who earned it in limited duty.
Daniel Kihle split time with Mikel Mucha in left field early on, and when Mucha went down with a leg fracture two weeks ago, Kihle was ready. He homered and went 4 for 8 in the doubleheader last week.
“Each day is an opportunity for the players to show what they can do,” Butler said. “Daniel Kihle’s done a fantastic job, he’s a very talented player (and) I think he’s gained a lot of confidence.”
As much as Butler feels as if the Shockers improved their long-term prospects by using so many players in the first 10 games, he’s ready to move forward, at least for now, with Parker and Harbutz in the lineup.
“I definitely like Harbutz and Parker being back with their experience,” Butler said. “But you want competition, and the other word I like to use is separation. You want someone to take the position and run with it, where he’s playing so well that no one else can get in there. “