After using his previous two starts to master the art of limiting damage, Wingnuts right-handed pitcher Jason Van Skike graduated to not allowing any damage at all.
Van Skike was two third-inning singles by Sioux Falls from pitching seven perfect innings Wednesday, and the Wingnuts scored in the seventh to give Van Skike his sixth victory and grab a 1-0 win at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The Wingnuts (36-17) have won six in a row.
The 25-year-old Van Skike, who pitched at Indiana State and started the season in Wichita’s bullpen, allowed 17 hits over his previous two outings, but only four runs. The rope he walked Wednesday was much more secure, as he recorded six 1-2-3 innings before giving way to a bullpen that was just as effective.
“I got beat on a lot of deep counts (previously),” Van Skike said. “I worked with (pitching coach Luke Robertson) this last week on deeper counts and putting guys away and not having my pitch count up. I was able to eliminate those long at-bats that make my pitch count go up.”
Van Skike reached three three-ball counts – two in the first inning, after which even two-ball counts were tough to find. Kevin Dultz broke Van Skike’s string of eight straight retired in the third, and the next batter, Steve Tinoco, reached on an infield hit.
Van Skike retired each of the 13 hitters he faced after that, getting more efficient as he went. He completed the seventh inning in five pitches – two one-pitch outs and a three-pitch strikeout to finish his night with 77.
Alex Hinshaw and Matt Nevarez, who have both earned recent attention from major league organizations, combined for four strikeouts in the final two innings. A two-out single in the ninth prevented the Wingnuts from completing the win in fewer than 100 pitches.
“I don’t think there was any (restrictions on pitch count), but at that point in the game, seventh inning, and the guys we have in our bullpen, I felt really comfortable,” Van Skike said. “Any of those guys down there, I felt real comfortable.”
Van Skike typically allows a high rate of hits because he throws mostly strikes without striking out a high quantity. He relies on command of three pitches, changing speeds, and making adjustments during his start, which allowed him to begin striking batters out on Wednesday.
Even without an overpowering fastball, mixing it effectively with off-speed offerings can make it appear deceptively fast. Van Skike used his fastball as an out pitch as his start progressed, and recorded his fourth and final strikeout on a fastball high and out of the strike zone.
“I was elevating late in the count a little more,” Van Skike said. “I was able to throw three pitches for strikes tonight, which is always helpful to keep hitters off balance. They’re a pretty aggressive team. I had the luxury of watching the last two days, taking notes here and there, and I knew it was going to be able to throw a change-up or a slider late in the count to keep them off balance.”
The bottom of the seventh inning was about which team’s failures would catch up to it. Sioux Falls issued a leadoff walk to Brent Clevlen, but nearly escaped trouble, even after a one-out single, thanks to two strikeouts.
Wichita manager Kevin Hooper has long lamented the Wingnuts’ struggles, when they lose, with hitting with runners in scoring position. After leaving a runner on second in the first and one on third in the fourth inning, the Wingnuts came through as Trevor Whyte’s infield single drove home the only run.
More importantly, it gave Van Skike his sixth win, one short of Tim Brown’s team lead even though Van Skike has made five fewer starts.
“He wants the ball and he competes,” Hooper said of Van Skike. “He’s my type of guy because you know what you’re going to get out of him every fifth day. He’s not overpowering by any means, but he’s smart. I love having him on our team, that’s for sure.”
|Tinoco rf||4||0||1||0||Khoury ss||4||0||2||0|
|Jones lf||4||0||1||0||McClndn 3b||4||0||2||0|
|Kirby-Jns 1b||4||0||0||0||Kahaullo 2b||2||0||0||0|
|Duffy dh||3||0||0||0||Clevlen cf||3||1||0||0|
|Mendez 3b||3||0||0||0||Testa lf||2||0||0||0|
|Valencia cf||3||0||0||0||McMurray c||4||0||1||0|
|Branca ss||3||0||0||0||Oldham dh||3||0||1||0|
|Lind 2b||3||0||0||0||Whyte 1b||3||0||1||1|
|Dultz c||3||0||1||0||Amberson rf||3||0||0||0|
|Sioux Falls||000||000||000||—||0 3 0|
|Wichita||000||000||10x||—||1 7 0|
DP – Sioux Falls 1. LOB — Sioux Falls 3, Wichita 8. 2B – McClendon (9). SB – Dultz (4), Khoury (21), Kahaulelio (9), Clevlen (9).
|Vazquez L, 4-4||7||5||1||1||2||7|
|Van Skike W, 6-2||7||2||0||0||0||4|
HBP – Kahaulelio by Vazquez. PB – Dultz. Umpires — Home, JJ Garrocho; 1B, Joe Pascucci; 3B, Trent Delmont.
T – 2:32. A – 2,293.