Few baseball players dream of growing up to hit No. 9 in the batting order.
Bottom-of-the-order roles are ones that often require a hitter to check his ego and forget about swinging for the fences. Those hitters need to bunt, take pitches and make productive outs. Wichita State has struggled with those bits of baseball execution this season, until its bottom of the order shone during a weekend sweep of Bradley.
Zair Koeiman continued his resurgence as the starting second baseman. Tanner Dearman bunted and ran like coach Todd Butler envisioned before the season. Koeiman, batting eighth, hit .444 and scored three runs. Dearman, batting ninth, delivered two sacrifice bunts, stole two bases and won Friday’s game with one of his two hits in the three-game series. No. 6 hitter Dayne Parker homered and went 4 for 10 with two walks and no strikeouts.
“Zair Koeiman has been an instant impact in our lineup,” Butler said. “The bottom of our order is really working the count. They’ve accepted that role, and we’re getting pitch counts up. A lot of that goes back to (hitters) 6-7-8-9 and really working counts and trying to the pitch count up and get back to the top of the order.”
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Koeiman, a junior transfer, started the first two games of the season at second base and two more at third. But he went 2 for 21 in his first six games and committed three errors. Senior infielders Dayne Parker and Erik Harbutz returned from suspensions and Koeiman’s playing diminished. In late April, Butler moved Parker from second to shortstop, where he had been reluctant to play him to protect his throwing arm, and reinserted Koeiman at second base.
“Koeiman has been a guy, I felt like since the fall, would be our starting second baseman,” Butler said. “It might be a little bit late, but there’s no better time than now.”
Since that shaky start in the field, Koeiman has committed one error and Butler considers him WSU’s best at turning the double play. He is hitting .333 (9 for 27) in eight games back in the lineup.
“You’ve always got to be ready,” he said. “If I wasn’t on the field I was trying to be as ready as possible, trying to help my teammates.”
Dearman’s role also changed. He batted leadoff in 28 of WSU’s first 35 games and started 13 games in left field. With the return of Daniel Kihle from wrist surgery, Dearman moved to the No. 9 spot as the designated hitter. Dearman’s speed — he leads WSU with 20 steals — screams for bunting skills. On Sunday, he sacrificed Koeiman and Micah Green into scoring position in the second inning. In the sixth, his sacrifice bunt resulted in a throwing error that moved Koeiman to third base. WSU scored twice in both innings, helped by execution.
Bunting hasn’t come easily to Dearman, much to Butler’s frustration. In the fall, he talked about Dearman as a pesky leadoff hitter who would frustrate defenses with bunting, infield hits and speed.
“I’ve been working at it a lot in the last few weeks,” he said. “I’ve been in a rush, trying to get out of the box too fast. I took my time (Sunday) on both bunts I had and I got them both down.”
In the second inning, he came an inch or two from bunting for a hit. The ball rolled just foul and Dearman’s speed would have put him at first base. Those are the types of plays Butler wants to see.
“He’s so fast that if he lays down a good bunt, doesn’t have to be perfect, he can beat anything out,” Butler said. “They can play in and he can still out-leg it.”