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Khoury adds surprise pop to Wingnuts’ lineup

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, July 6, 2014, at 4:20 p.m.

Sioux Falls at Wingnuts

When: 7:05 p.m. Monday

Where: Lawrence-Dumont Stadium

Records: Sioux Falls 20-29, Wingnuts 33-17

Pitchers: Sioux Falls, RH Kyle Ruwe (4-4, 6.42 ERA); Wingnuts, RH Tim Brown (6-2, 3.36)

Radio: KWME, 92.7-FM

Ryan Khoury’s power numbers are up, so the rest of his numbers should be down.

That’s how it usually works, anyway. A baseball player shoots for an increase in home runs and ends up giving away batting average or the ability to use speed as part of his overall game.

That hasn’t happened to Khoury, the Wingnuts’ shortstop. His increase in homers hasn’t been the result of a conscious effort to hit for more power, but the byproduct of perfecting an approach that has worked well for him in the past.

Khoury is hitting for more power – his six home runs rank second on the Wingnuts – but the rest of his statistics have remained at the same rate, or increased, from past seasons.

Khoury, who has started each of his 249 games with the Wingnuts in the leadoff spot, is batting .323 through 50 games this season, a mark that would represent his career high if he could maintain it over the second half.

"He’s been tremendous lately, his at-bats and just his approach at the plate," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said of Khoury last week. "He’s always drawn his walks, but this year, that average is way up. …It’s just a pleasant surprise. Like I said, you know he’s going to draw his walks and have a tough at-bat, but this year he has that batting average up. He’s had a stellar year so far."

The Wingnuts could live with Khoury’s .256 average in 2012 and .244 mark last year because he led the team in walks each season and had a .357 combined on-base percentage.

Without power or batting average, walks and steals were virtually the only facets of Khoury’s offensive game. He served as a catalyst for the offense but rarely contributed to run production.

In 2014, Khoury is leading the Wingnuts again in walks, but at a much higher rate, 10 off his season total last year. His improved selectivity has frequently gotten him deep into counts and improved his pitch recognition, vaulting his batting average into rarified territory.

"I’ve just been working hard and kind of sticking to my routine," Khoury said. "I’ve been working with (Jose Amado), our hitting coach, and it’s been good. I had a good little run there, and I’m just trying to do it every day. (Hooper) says it all the time – ‘You had a good game, now go do it again tomorrow.’ You can’t kind of rest on the day before, you just have to continue to have good at-bats."

The increased power has been a recent pattern, as all of his homers have happened since June 21, but it was an element that was bound to come around during was has become more than a hot streak.

The day before his first home run, Khoury was batting .297 but was coming off a five-game stretch in which he had 11 hits. Since June 21, he has batted .377 while stretching his on-base streak to 26 games.

Khoury has a .958 on-base plus slugging percentage, nearly 300 points better than 2013, and is on pace to best last year’s marks in nearly every major offensive category, with more steals and fewer strikeouts.

"We preach all the time, put the ball in play and put the ball in play hard," Hooper said. "I want hard contact as much as we can get it, and he’s squaring a lot of balls up. He knows his job as a leadoff guy is to see as many pitches as he can see. It’s good to see him have success, because he’s loosened up a bit and had fun with this whole thing."

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