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Butler feeling better about Wichita State’s hitting

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, April 24, 2014, at 7:09 p.m.

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Wichita State

at Tulane

When: 6:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Turchin Stadium, New Orleans

Records: WSU 21-19, TU 15-23

Radio: KNSS, 1330-AM

Wichita State at Tulane

The series: 6:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday

Rotations: WSU — RH A.J. Ladwig (3-5, 1.32 ERA), RH Cale Elam (5-1, 2.12), RH Sam Tewes (6-2, 3.08); TU — RH Corey Merrill (0-3, 4.50), RH Randy LeBlanc (3-4, 2.25), TBA

•  Tulane is coming off a 6-0 loss at No. 12 LSU on Tuesday, its sixth shutout this season. LSU starter Kyle Bouman, who pitched at WSU as a freshman in 2012, allowed three hits in 4 2/3 innings. Offensive struggles are nothing new for Tulane, which is hitting .222 with a .310 on-base percentage and eight home runs. Tulane’s Tyler Mapes threw 5 1/3 innings after a rainout robbed him of a weekend start. Mapes is 4-2 with 1.97 ERA. Tulane has lost three straight games, outscored 10-1, and eight of its past nine.

•  Tulane coach Rick Jones is sidelined for the season by a non-life threatening illness and has not coached since March 19. Hitting coach Jake Gautreau took over on April 7 as the interim coach. Jones has coached the Green Wave since 1994 and led the team to the College World Series in 2001 and 2005.

•  WSU coach Todd Butler is from Sulphur, La., about 214 miles west of New Orleans. Several family members, including his mother, father and one of his two sisters, will come to the games.

•  OF Richard Carthon leads the Green Wave with a .297 batting average and a .407 on-base percentage. OF Andrew Garner is hitting .248 with four home runs and a team-leading .436 slugging percentage.

•  Merrill threw a career-high 7 1/3 innings in a 2-0 loss at Charlotte on Thursday. He allowed seven hits and two runs. LeBlanc followed that start by holding Charlotte to three hits and a walk in a 2-1 defeat.

•  WSU is 6-11 on the road, hitting .269 with a 4.39 ERA. 1B Casey Gillaspie is hitting .379 in road games.

•  Ladwig, Elam and Tewes rank sixth nationally in ERA for a weekend rotation. They are 14-8 with a 2.10 ERA in 180 1/3 innings.

•  WSU SS Erik Harbutz (knee) and C Parker Zimmerman (concussion) did not make the trip. Harbutz has been out since March 28. He targeted next weekend for a possible return. Zimmerman has not played since taking a foul ball off his catcher’s mask on April 5 at Indiana State.

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.”

Reach Paul Suellentrop at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @paulsuellentrop.

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