Wichita State looks to shore up middle-infield defense

02/17/2014 12:03 PM

02/17/2014 12:04 PM

Second baseman Cody Bobbit had four hits in his Wichita State season debut on Sunday afternoon, and it may not have made a lasting impression on baseball coach Todd Butler.

That’s because offense might not be the primary criterion for Butler in deciding who gets time at the middle infield positions, particularly during the ongoing nine-game suspensions for Erik Harbutz and Dayne Parker.

The Shockers made 11 errors during the season-opening series against SIU-Edwardsville, and all but three came from a combination of four middle infielders – Tanner Kirk, Zair Koeiman, Wes Phillips and Bobbit.

It was the only weakness shown by WSU in outscoring the Cougars 34-6 over the opening weekend, and one Butler was not expecting even after a fall and winter spent practicing almost exclusively indoors.

“I’ve never seen anything like that in my 24 years of coaching,” Butler said of WSU’s middle-infield defense. “Is it a concern? Nah, it’s not. We’ll get to work and hopefully be able to take care of that and clean that up.

“The defense, guys are getting tighter and tighter. We’re just going to have to get through this. That’s quite a few errors in an opening weekend, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that many for three games.”

It did seem as if the fielding foibles escalated from individual players as the weekend went on. Each middle infielder made difficult plays at times but struggled with the routine, especially those that followed previous errors.

The miscues came in every variety, too, as Shocker infielders failed on throws to first, weakly hit balls directly at them, and on readiness that would have enabled them to more easily reach balls hit to their left or right.

The errors are particularly perplexing because WSU plays on a turf-like surface that always produces true hops.

“It’s not that we’re not prepared, I think there’s just little jitters here and there, especially in the middle infield,” Bobbit said. “I had a couple (Sunday) … so we definitely have to clean that up. You’re not going to go out and sweep teams making (11) errors in three games.”

Harbutz may be the favorite to log the most time at shortstop, but even with Parker in the mix second base may see frequent rotations. Koeiman and Bobbit bring offense to the position, but with a heart of the order that has already accounted for four home runs, the Shockers may be in greater need of run prevention from second base.

So the time at second may not go to the player with the hot bat, but the most consistent glove.

“Middle infield especially, it’s defense first, I’d say,” Bobbit said. “Me and Zair Koeiman are always working with each other and he’s a little older than me, so he’s teaching me a lot of stuff, so it’s always good to work with him.

“I’d say (defense) is really important. If we’re all making 10 errors in three games, nobody is going to play, I guess. There will be nobody out there.”

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