The Wingnuts' season- opening series at St. Paul produced three losses, a poor showing from a perceived area of strength and a surprising roster move.
It's safe to say the team was glad for the two days off that followed the series and even happier about returning to Lawrence-Dumont Stadium for a seven-game homestand, beginning tonight against Sioux Falls.
"Let's start over," manager Kevin Hooper said. "Let's get a fresh start starting (today). We're back at home, and in the past we've played well at home. It's a comfortable feeling for everybody."
On Sunday, the Wingnuts released 30-year-old outfielder Kennard Bibbs, who was 0 for 8 as the leadoff hitter during the first two games.
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The move wasn't performance-related, though. The second-oldest player behind Mario Delgado, Bibbs wasn't providing the leadership Hooper was looking for.
Bibbs was expected to be a stellar defensive left fielder and a stolen base threat. He batted .323 with 32 steals for El Paso last season.
To replace Bibbs, the Wingnuts brought back 25-year-old Eric Williams, who was released during spring training.
"I just didn't think he was going to be a good fit for this team," Hooper said. "Nothing happened, it was just the (lack of) intensity. We had a big meeting as a staff and talked about it. He's like a veteran, and those guys have to be huge in the role they play."
The Wingnuts aimed much of their offseason on improving the bullpen, and on paper the relievers they acquired are a vast improvement from the 2009 group.
Against St. Paul, though, the relief pitching was a letdown. Wichita carried two late leads but couldn't hold them, blowing a 5-1 lead Friday and a 2-1 lead in Saturday's series finale.
The bullpen's 5.24 ERA comes despite strong debuts from Cephas Howard and closer Justin Dowdy. The subpar start can be partly blamed on the 75-pitch count for the starting pitchers, forcing relievers into the game earlier than usual.
"We stick to our guns (on the pitch count)," Hooper said. "I need these guys for the long haul, not for the first week. Some guys will run them out there the whole nine if they're throwing well, but (pitching coach Luke Robertson) and I are on the same page with that."
A bigger issue was Wichita's offensive approach, especially with men on base. The Wingnuts hit .206 during the St. Paul series but had plenty of scoring opportunities — they left 30 men on base and struck out 25 times.
Hooper isn't yet looking at the big picture, though, choosing to set the series aside as an early-season slump.
"I know there were some jitters, those first-game jitters," Hooper said. "It's nice to get those first three out of the way. Let's move on and let's get better."