There are two ways to tell when Wingnuts starter Jon Link is beyond the frustration he experiences when he makes a mistake or when one of his borderline pitches is called a ball.
“I rebound before I throw the next pitch, or else I wouldn’t throw it,” Link said.
The other way is that he gets the next guy out.
Link walked six against Kansas City Tuesday night and went through his emotional process several times, but he almost always bounced back, allowing two hits in seven innings during the Wingnuts’ 7-1 win at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Wichita’s offense rebounded, too. The Wingnuts totaled three runs in the first 14 innings of two seven-inning games on Sunday before scoring six in the eighth inning, then breaking through four five runs in their final two at-bats Tuesday.
Chris McMurray’s three RBIs, and his two-run home run in the seventh, helped Link Earn his third win as his ERA dropped to 3.15.
Link is rarely shy about expressing his disappointment, however subtly, in himself or in unfavorable calls from umpires on pitches he believes to be strikes. Many of his walks Tuesday came on such calls and preceded Link briefly walking around the mound while regaining his focus.
“That’s me gathering myself,” Link said. “The key to baseball, the higher levels that you play at, they tell you to slow the game down. When the game gets too fast for people, bad things happen. That is my way of slowing things down.”
Link reached the major leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010 and was sold to the Detroit Tigers organization after starting 2013 with the Wingnuts, so while his approach may be somewhat unconventional at a position that relies on staying at an even keel, it seems to work.
It works for Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper, anyway, who isn’t about to mess with the mental strategies of his best pitcher. If a younger pitcher expressed emotion on the mound, Hooper may try to steer him to a more low-key mindset. Link’s demeanor, though, is part of what makes him successful.
“He’s been around the block too many times,” Hooper said. “He’s a smart man, and he loves to think about things. His brain is always rolling about things, and he’s very competitive. He takes a lot of pride in what he does. He cares. He’s an emotional guy out there because he cares.”
After breezing through the first two innings on 19 pitches, Link walked T.J. Mittelstaedt to start the third. Two batters later, he walked Robby Kuzdale, and three batters after that, following David Espinosa’s RBI groundout, Link walked Danny Richar to load the bases.
He escaped that threat and all of those that followed, even though Link had a walk in three of his final four innings. He earned strike calls on pitches on the edges of the strike zone early, and Link believed he was hitting those same spots later on.
“What I think happens is (umpires) are scared to (strike) people out looking,” Link said. “They want these guys to swing to strike out. They’re kind of worried that coaches and managers are going to get on them for punching guys out looking. To me, if I earn a spot early in the game and he’s giving it to me, if I go there with two strikes, I want that pitch. Coincidentally, my walks have been extremely high this year.”
The walks hardly hurt Link’s pitch count – 105 – because he balanced it with quick outs. He threw 24 balls to the six batters he walked and 19 balls to the other 23 hitters he faced. Five of his walks were followed by at-bats of three pitches or fewer.
Link’s change-up proved to be his most effective pitch, combining with his two-seam fastball to induce weak contact and produce eight groundball outs.
“That was (Kansas City’s) game plan, you could tell,” Hooper said. “He’d walk a guy … and the next guy was coming up hacking, knowing he was going to get a fastball. They didn’t want to get to that off-speed of his, which is so good. It looked like that was their plan to get to him early, but he put them in play.”
|Sabatella rf||4||0||1||0||Khoury ss||4||0||2||0|
|Espinosa lf||4||0||0||1||Testa lf||3||1||0||1|
|Richar 2b||2||0||0||0||Kahaullo 2b||3||1||0||0|
|Schwaner 1b||4||0||1||0||Clevlen cf||3||1||2||0|
|Giarrpto dh||4||0||0||0||McClndn 3b||2||1||1||0|
|Frias ss||4||0||0||0||McMurray c||4||2||3||3|
|Mittelstdt 3b||2||0||0||0||Wise dh||4||0||0||0|
|Erie c||4||1||1||0||Loehrs 1b||3||0||1||1|
|Kuzdale cf||2||0||0||0||Amberson rf||3||1||1||0|
|Kansas City||001||000||000||—||1 3 1|
|Wichita||010||010||23x||—||7 10 0|
E – Frias (8). LOB — Kansas City 8, Wichita 3. 2B – Clevlen (9). 3B – Schwaner (2). HR – McMurray (2). SF – McClendon 2. SB – McMurray (1). CS – Testa (3), Loehrs (1).
|Smith L, 0-3||7||7||4||4||1||3|
|Link W, 3-1||7||2||1||1||6||3|
HBP – Clevlen by Messer. Umpires—Home, Bobby Feaster ; 1B, Tim Kramer; 3B, Joe Stegner.
T — 2:20. A – 2126.