Wichita State’s Tanner Dearman takes some teasing for his bright red hair and his 5-foot-7 height. And he’s a freshman. He handles it like he handles ups and downs on the baseball field.
If you’re looking for him to flinch, you will likely be disappointed.
“He’s one of those guys you like to give a hard time to get a reaction out of,” sophomore outfielder Mikel Mucha said. “You can never tell if he’s upset. He’s always the same, which is a very good thing.”
Dearman is using that level way of thinking to his advantage this season. After three weeks of minimal action, Dearman returned to the starting lineup at second base, hitting in the leadoff spotagainst Evansville on Saturday and Sunday. He went 4 for 8 with a walk, scoring two runs and driving in two..
“Baseball is a game of failure,” Dearman said. “You’ve got to know how to handle your highs and lows. Just stay more medium throughout the whole season.”
WSU (23-18) plays at Oklahoma State (27-11) on Tuesday, trying to break a mid-week slump that extends to late March. Dearman might help the Shockers’ offensive problems if he can continue to get on base, his specialty. WSU coach Gene Stephenson, in need of a replacement for injured second baseman Cody Bobbit, tried Dearman against a right-hander on Saturday. He went 3 for 5 and drove in a run. Coaches liked his performance so much they gave him a chance on Sunday against a lefty. He went 1 for 3, walked and drove in a sixth-inning run in a 6-5 win.
“Dearman did a really good job competing against a left-hander,” Stephenson said. “He had a huge hit that, to me, was the difference-maker.”
Dearman, from Anadarko, Okla., is the rare freshman who arrives with a college-ready patience at the plate. He is hitting .253, but his on-base percentage is .361. He has walked 12 times in 27 games. With eight strikeouts in 83 at-bats, he is one of two Shockers with a plus walk-to-strikeout ratio. His height helps. So does his speed and batting from the left side. Most important might be his understanding of the strike zone.
“If it’s anything off-speed, I won’t swing at it until I have at least two strikes,” he said. “Once I get two strikes, I get pretty much on top of the plate. I just try to put the ball in play.”
He knows power isn’t his game, so getting on base for others to drive is his goal. Once on, he likes to move around and pester pitchers. He is perfect on four stolen-base attempts.
“A quick little guy like that and he gets on first, you can get him to second in a hurry,” third baseman Tyler Baker said. “He’ll score on a single from anywhere. It’s real nice to have a leadoff hitter that quick.”
Dearman started seven of WSU’s first eight games, one in center field. He platooned with Dayne Parker at second until late March, when Bobbit took over. Bobbit broke his right hand during last week’s game against Kansas State. Dearman, who had three at-bats in April, was ready after continuing to work in practices.
“It helped me get more mentally focused,” he said. “I was just trying to get my swing back to where it was at the beginning of the year.”