NEW ORLEANS — On April 12, a frustrated Todd Butler stood on the field at Braun Stadium, hoping his baseball team hit bottom in a 13-2 loss at Evansville.
“Maybe they’ll respond,” he said.
How did Butler know?
“We were so poor during that eight-game period, I didn’t think we could play any poorer,” he said. “I was hoping it was over with.”
Since that loss, the Shockers are 5-1 and the hitters are showing juice largely absent during an eight-game losing streak. In those six games, WSU (21-19) hit .340 with five home runs and walked 25 times while striking out 24 times. Tuesday’s 5-4 loss to Missouri at Kauffman Stadium didn’t change Butler’s confidence that his offense is on the right track.
The Shockers continue their road trip from Kansas City to New Orleans with a series against Tulane (15-23) beginning Friday.
No longer does the lineup feel like first baseman Casey Gillaspie and eight guys struggling and trying to do too much.
Gillaspie is hitting .500 during the past six games and is getting help. Left fielder Daniel Kihle, back from wrist surgery, is hitting .522 with a home run and three doubles in five games. Third baseman Chase Simpson has two home runs, seven walks and is tied with right fielder Garrett Bayliff for the team lead in RBIs (nine) over the past six games.
After switching lineups regularly for most of the season due to injuries and suspensions, the Shockers are as close to whole as they’ve been. Butler can write in the same players in the same spots, especially high in the order, and the entire lineup seems to be responding.
The Shockers are also executing more effectively with runners in scoring position. During the losing streak, they didn’t lead at any time. During the past six games, they scored first five times and Butler’s complaints about poor bunting and missed or ignored signs are diminishing.
“Roles are starting to show and the lineup’s been pretty consistent,” center fielder Micah Green said. “Guys are getting on base and the guys who are supposed to drive them in or get them over are doing their job.”
Butler started the season wanting to roll with a regular lineup.
“I’ve been adamant about playing a consistent lineup, with no opportunity,” Butler said.
Kihle’s return changed that. He took over the leadoff spot and Butler moved Gillaspie from No. 3 to No. 4. Most important, the return home after a long road trip gave the coaches time to work with players during practice.
“I see the players making adjustments now,” Butler said. “They’ve been very receptive and they’re taking it to the games.”
Bayliff is one of the players who benefited the routine at home and working with assistant coach Brian Walker. He hit .320 over the past six games, walking twice, and didn’t strike out.
“We’ve been talking about a lot of stuff, just minor adjustments here and there that I need to work on to get my back to my form where I was last year,” he said. “I feel good in batting practice and it’s starting to feel good in games. I’m hoping the results come.”