The circle checkpoint is coming, and the Wingnuts are stocking up.
Wingnuts batters earn “circles” – marks on manager Kevin Hooper’s lineup card – each time they produce a productive plate appearance.
“Any hard-hit ball, a walk, just a good at-bat, a quality at-bat,” Hooper said. “A quality at-bat gets you a circle.”
Circles were in abundance Monday, unlike the ink in Hooper’s pen, after the Wingnuts rapped 15 hits in an 11-3 win over Amarillo at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Wichita scored six runs in the bottom of the eighth to break it open.
In less than a week, Hooper will tally each player’s circles at the 50-game point of the season, and with every Wichita starter recording at least one hit on Monday, there was some movement on the leaderboard.
It might be tough to catch shortstop Ryan Khoury, though, after Khoury reached base three times from the leadoff spot and even earned a rare circle on a fourth-inning nine-pitch strikeout.
“He’s had a lot of perfect nights,” Hooper said of Khoury. “He’s had a bad night when he’s only 2 for 5. Here in six more games, we’ll add (the circles) up again, and he’s probably the frontrunner, for sure. (Carlo) Testa beat him out last time by like point-one percent.”
Khoury had the at-bat of the night, even though that distinction can often be chosen from among many of his at-bats. Two innings after the long strikeout by Derek Blacksher, in which Khoury fouled off three two-strike pitches, Khoury proved even more pesky in the sixth.
Khoury fouled away five two-strike pitches by Blacksher in an 11-pitch at-bat that ended when Khoury lined an opposite-field single to right and ended the night for Blacksher, a former Wingnuts ace.
The Wingnuts already led when Khoury drove home a run with his single, but it seemed to represent a turning point, anyway. The Wingnuts scored seven more runs with eight players delivering a hit or an RBI – or both – in the eighth inning.
“(Blacksher) was making good pitches,” Khoury said. “A lot of them were too close to take, and so I was trying to swing and put them in play and battling. It’s always nice to finish one of those ABs off with a hit. We were still only up by one at that point, so obviously that’s a good AB.
In his three years with the Wingnuts, Khoury has consistently been among the league leaders in walks but has often gotten most of his offensive value from his patient approach.
This season, Khoury has supplemented selectivity with a significantly better average. He’s batting .329, 85 points better than his 2013 mark, while staying on pace for more doubles, home runs, walks and stolen bases and fewer strikeouts than last year.
Khoury also happens to be the Wingnuts’ best defensive player. And he’s always chasing those circles.
“We talk about that all the time,” Khoury said. “Even before the game, (Hooper) will be like, ‘A lot of circles today.’ That’s kind of our approach all the way up and down. It’s a good thing that he does because if you have a good AB and line out, in the stats you don’t get a lot for it. But we kind of keep track of it and see how many good ABs we’re having.”
The circles aren’t all created equally. It doesn’t take a nine- or 11-pitch at-bat, or even a hit, to earn one. Although hits are nice. Three batters after Khoury’s sixth-inning single, Brent Clevlen – winner of four Monday-night circles -- earned one of his with a long home run that hit a car parked behind the wall in left field.
“We were just putting good swings on pitches in the (strike) zone,” Clevlen said. “Tonight we just put it all together as a team. We had good at-bats up and down the lineup, got the guys in when we needed to, moved them over, and did all the little things up and down.”
|Perren lf||5||1||2||0||Khoury ss||3||2||1||1|
|Mahoney 3b||4||0||0||0||Oldham ss||0||0||0||0|
|Weik rf||4||0||2||1||Testa lf||4||2||1||0|
|Patton dh/p||4||0||1||0||Kahaulelio 2b||4||1||1||1|
|Nichols 1b||4||1||1||0||Clevlen cf||3||2||3||3|
|Bellows ss||3||1||2||1||Wise dh||4||1||1||1|
|Martin cf||4||0||3||0||McMurray c||5||0||2||2|
|Henk ph||1||0||0||0||Amberson rf||5||1||2||1|
|Broad 2b||4||0||0||0||McClendon 3b||5||2||2||1|
|Amarillo||100||200||000||—||3 11 1|
|Wichita||112||002||16x||—||13 15 0|
E – Broad (3). DP – Wichita 3. LOB — Amarillo 7, Wichita 8. 2B – Perren (5), Weik (1), Nichols (5), Bellows (5), Martin (10), Testa (10), McClendon (7). HR – Clevlen (4), Whyte (1). S – Kahaulelio, Clevlen. SB – Khoury (14), Clevlen (8), Amberson (15).
|Blacksher L, 1-5||5 2/3||8||6||5||3||3|
|Link W, 5-2||6||9||3||3||1||5|
WP – Beck 2 (6). Umpires — Home, Trent Delmont; 1B, Sam Burch; 3B, Art Thigpen.
T – 3:00. A – 3086.