Even if exhibition wins were cause for celebration, Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper probably would have kept it low-key after Wichita's 5-4 win over the Kansas City T-Bones, the Wingnuts' final tuneup before their season opener at St. Paul on Thursday.
After the game, Hooper's attention turned to cutting five players from the 27-man roster the Wingnuts brought to training camp nine days ago. For the players who won positions, it really was a day to celebrate. But Hooper's thoughts were with those he had to let go.
"It's tough," Hooper said. "This is the hardest day for me as a manager. I care about people, and this is their livelihood. But it is what it is. That's part of the business. You bring 27 good guys in, that's a good thing."
A year ago, the 22 players Wichita would carry out of camp were almost obvious, and roster changes during the 2009 season were minimal as the Wingnuts reached the playoffs.
Hooper went into camp this season unsure of who would occupy the final two spots in the five-man pitching rotation, and he was equally unsure about at least one spot in the bullpen and both reserve positions.
With Nick Singleton, Adam Cowart and Gabe Medina slotted into the rotation, Hooper looked at several candidates for the remaining two spots before settling on Luke Massetti and Brandon Mathes.
Massetti pitched in the American Association last season for Shreveport and Mathes, a rookie from Oklahoma City, pitched in the National Baseball Congress World Series for the Valley Center Diamond Dawgs.
That left Kyle Frets, Brock Piper and Luke Demko without jobs in Wichita. Demko was traded to the Northern League on Sunday night.
"We're going to roll the dice with Mathes in that fifth spot," Hooper said. "We all love his stuff, and he's going to have a good group of guys to learn from. He's going to get skipped his first time, so he's going to have two weeks straight where he's going to watch ballgames and see how guys work."
Even with some uncertainty regarding the pitching staff, that was an area of strength during the three-game exhibition season. Though Mathes was subpar against Emporia State last Monday, relievers in that game were strong, and the starting pitching in two games against Kansas City proved reliable.
Hooper is most excited about the bullpen, an area of weakness last season that the team fixed by revamping it with acquisitions such as Cephas Howard, Will Morgan, Matt Petty and Dustin Pease.
"We all knew that was going to be a very strong point of ours," Hooper said. "I'm looking forward to the bullpen, because those are six high-quality individuals."
Though the hitters have been slightly behind the pitchers' progress, the Wingnuts impressed Sunday with three two-out RBI singles.
With only two backup positions available, Hooper couldn't keep Eric Williams, a project who had an on-base percentage above .500 in the Continental League last season. The utility spot went to Jonathan Dziomba and the backup catcher is rookie Jeff Giacomini.
"What stinks is we only get 22 guys," Hooper said. "That's tough on me because you have your backup catcher and your other guy has to be a guy that can play everywhere. If we just had one more spot, 23 would give me an infielder and an outfielder."
Pitchers — Adam Cowart, Justin Dowdy, Cephas Howard, Doug Hurn, Luke Massetti, Brandon Mathes, Gabe Medina, Will Morgan, Dustin Pease, Matt Petty, Nick Singleton
Catchers — Jeff Christy, Jeff Giacomini
Infielders — Patrick Brooks, Mario Delgado, Jonathan Dziomba, Josh Horn, Stephen Pearson, Michael Thompson
Outfielders — Kennard Bibbs, Chris Colton, Ryan Patterson