Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper was interested in adding third baseman Chris McClendon to the roster before the season, and it’s becoming evident why.
McClendon, playing in his 10th game for Wichita after an early-season stint in the Atlantic League, delivered in his initiation of sorts. His RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the seventh scored Brent Clevlen to break a tie with Kansas City and led to the Wingnuts’ 4-3 win Thursday night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
McClendon also had a double during Wichita’s two-run first, which also included two-base hits from Carlo Testa and Jake Kahaulelio.
“I think it worked out for both parties,” Hooper said. “I think he’s enjoying his time here. Great fit. He’s my kind of guy, for sure. He grinds out some at-bats. He knows the strike zone really well. He fits in great here.”
The first two batters of the Wingnuts’ seventh struck out, and even Brent Clevlen’s line drive to right field didn’t necessarily seem like a potential rally-starter off the bat.
Except that with the wind blowing out to right field, Kansas City right fielder Bryan Sabatella was playing almost on the warning track. It’s a defensive strategy designed to prevent doubles, making it easier for outfielders to get to balls in the gap before they reach the fence.
Sabatella was playing so deep, though, that by the time Clevlen’s ball reached him, Clevlen was already racing toward second base. Sabatella didn’t have a play as Clevlen hurried into scoring position.
“I like to call that a hustle double right there,” McClendon said. “He was thinking two out of the box, and he got on his horse right there, made the guy make a throw, and was in there. It was real important to get into scoring position right there.”
Clevlen’s hustle gave an RBI chance to the newest member of Wichita’s lineup. McClendon’s batting average was hovering toward .300 after his first-inning double and two groundouts, but his best chance to make a difference with his new team was in front of him.
McClendon took a 1-1 pitch from Kyle DeVore into left field, just far enough to the left of David Espinosa to prevent him from gaining momentum to make a throw home, and Clevlen scored easily.
The hit put the Wingnuts ahead and moved McClendon’s average above .300, to .314. He batted .125 in 24 games in the Atlantic League but is a .293 career hitter.
“It feels great to get a big hit like that,” McClendon said. “It’s a big game for us right there, trying to get that rubber game for us tonight. I had a chance with a runner in scoring position, and I got the job done and it felt great.
“Just looking for a good pitch to hit right there. He busted me in two pitches there, then he left a fastball in the middle of the plate and I got a good swing on it.”
The Wingnuts made that RBI stand up as starting pitcher Tim Brown didn’t factor in the decision after 6 1/3 innings but allowed Hooper to use the bullpen to his advantage.
In a tie game in the seventh, Hooper summoned left-hander Alex Hinshaw with two Kansas City lefties due up, and Hinshaw struck them both out. Setup man Patrick Mincey and closer Matt Nevarez worked the final two innings.
The teams combined for 22 hits but the game stayed relatively low scoring because of defense and timely pitching. Brown and Kansas City’s Andy Noga both pitch to contact and induce plenty of groundballs, and the T-Bones and Wingnuts may have the two best middle infields in the American Association.
Wichita’s double play combination of second baseman Jake Kahaulelio and Ryan Khoury helped Brown escape multiple threats, and former major league infielder Danny Richar and shortstop Vladimir Frias did the same for Kansas City.
“You’ve got a big leaguer at second and a pretty good shortstop,” Hooper said of Richar and Frias. “They’re good, and you can tell they’ve played the game for a while, too. Frias has an absolute cannon.”
|Sabatella rf||5||0||2||0||Khoury ss||4||0||1||1|
|Espinosa lf||5||1||3||0||Testa lf||5||1||1||0|
|Richar 2b||4||0||1||1||Kahaullo 2b||4||1||1||1|
|Schwaner 1b||4||0||0||0||Clevlen cf||4||1||1||0|
|Giarrpto dh||4||1||2||0||McClndn 3b||4||0||2||2|
|Mittelstdt 3b||2||1||1||0||McMurray c||3||0||1||0|
|Frias ss||4||0||1||0||Wise dh||3||0||1||0|
|Erie c||3||0||1||2||Loehrs 1b||4||1||1||0|
|Kuzdale cf||4||0||0||0||Amberson rf||1||0||0||0|
E— KC 1, Wichita 2. DP— KC 2, Wichita 3. LOB— KC 8, Wichita 10. 2B— Espinosa 2, Richar, Testa, Kahaulelio, Clevlen, McClendon, Oldham. SB — Mittelstaedt, Erie, McClendon, Loehrs. CS — Sabatella.
WP — DeVore. Umpires—Home, Joe Stegner; first, Bobby Feaster; second, Tim Kramer.
T— 2:45. A— 2,241.