Putting together a lineup is a daily mystery for Wichita State baseball coach Gene Stephenson. His hot and not list varies dramatically day to day and week to week.
All Stephenson can do is go with who's hot and hope it sticks. This week, it's first baseman Johnny Coy forcing his way into the lineup for tonight's game against Kansas (25-16-1).
"He's more comfortable, more relaxed, more confident at the plate, and in the field," Stephenson said. "He's squaring up a lot of balls."
Coy, a redshirt freshman from St. Joseph, Mo., did a lot of damage in two games during the weekend series against San Jose State. He homered and doubled twice to lead WSU in extra-base hits. He went 4 for 7 and walked, raising his average to .323. While he has about half as many at-bats as most starters, Coy's seven doubles and four homers tie him for fourth on the team.
Gradually, Coy is showing the power and skill that made him a seventh-round draft pick by Philadelphia out of high school in 2008. On Saturday, he blasted a ball over the scoreboard in left field. On Sunday, he muscled up to drive a ball through a stiff wind to left for a double in the second inning. In the fourth, he took a ball the other way for a base hit.
Senior Clint McKeever, who started at first before a pulled hamstring sidelined him in late March, isn't expected to play tonight. He is making progress and may be able to play later this week. McKeever played as a defensive replacement in Friday's game against San Jose State and pinch hit on Sunday. Until he can run full speed, however, Stephenson is reluctant to start him.
"I'm relaxed and having a lot of fun," Coy said. "I'm not chasing as many bad pitches as I was. I'm getting good pitches and getting good swings on them."
Coy has started in left field and at first for WSU (25-15). On Sunday, he was charged with two tough errors, neither of which shook Stephenson's faith in his defense. Early in the game, Coy made the right move by charging for a foul popup, although he neglected to call off catcher Chris O'Brien loudly enough. The two collided and Coy dropped the ball. In the eighth, a runner knocked the ball out of Coy's glove after he made a scoop on a throw from third baseman Erik Harbutz.
Stephenson will go with Coy at first tonight and put Preston Springer, who had started at first, at designated hitter. Cody Lassley, another Shocker in a groove at the plate, will catch.
Lassley, hitting .462 over his past seven games, returns to catching duties because Stephenson isn't pleased with how sophomore Chris O'Brien is calling pitches, especially in favorable counts.
"He's earned an opportunity to get back in there," Stephenson said.
Springer went 0 for 4 on Friday to extend his slump to 3 for 31. He pinch hit on Saturday and Sunday, singling both times.
"I think he's freshened his head up now that he's had two good at-bats the last two days," Stephenson said.
The lineup juggling is new for Stephenson, who most seasons has enjoyed the luxury of starters who rarely slump. With the season more than halfway over, the lineup is unsettled at every infield position other than shortstop. The outfield picture is clearer, but that is always subject to change. Should WSU build a lead, the late innings signal time for a flood of defensive replacements, such as Kevin Hall in center and Walker Davidson at second.
The Shockers who play consistently are the ones who are executing basics such as trying to hit the ball up the middle, cutting down their swing with two strikes and laying off curveballs in the dirt. Many Shockers, however, aren't following that path.
"It wouldn't have to be that way, if guys would make decent approaches at the plate," Stephenson said after Sunday's 4-3 loss to San Jose State. "Or if we could make routine plays defensively."