The Wingnuts are trying just about everything to pull themselves from a three-week funk.
Desperate to add offense to a downtrodden lineup, Wichita signed catcher Mark Wagner this week. The only problem is that the Wingnuts already have a pair of capable catchers, so Wagner was forced to move to third base, a position he’s never played professionally.
Wagner’s inexperience showed Friday night during the Wingnuts’ 7-4 loss to Fargo-Moorhead at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. He made three errors and missed a tag on a double steal, contributing to five Fargo runs.
Another Fargo run scored on a straight steal of home by Gaston in the fifth inning, when Gaston caught Ryan Hinson failing to pay attention to him, and yet another scored on Edgar Martinez’s wild pitch in the ninth.
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The Wingnuts are finding themselves on the wrong end of plays that turned in their favor during their 30-9 start. Since then, when they had a 9 1/2 game lead in the American Association Central, they’ve lost 16 of 20 and the lead is down to 1 1/2 games over Kansas City.
Wichita has lost several players for various reasons, including closer Matt Nevarez, who was sold to the Tampa Bay Rays organization on Friday. But the majority of the team that build the significant lead is still around.
"Pretty frustrating times right now, obviously," Wingnuts manager said. "I don’t know what’s going on, but this group just can’t get it together for whatever reason. Fourteen of the 22 (players) were here at the beginning of the season. What do you do? I’ve pretty much said all I can to them and we’ve prepared them the best we possibly can."
Wagner has played all but four of his 398 professional games at catcher he played two at first base before starting the last two nights at third for Wichita. It’s evident that he has seen few groundballs, as he misplayed two during Fargo’s three-run third.
The errors translated into all of the runs being unearned. More importantly, it extended Hinson’s pitch count and Wichita’s left-handed starter exited after six innings and 114 pitches. Five of those came after a two-out throwing error by Wagner in the third.
Hooper said he expected a learning curve for Wagner at third, but Wagner’s footwork and mechanics show he’s likely not ready to handle the position full-time.
"We’re not going to be able to have that, though," Hooper said. "We’ve got to do something about it. It’s only been two days. Watching him take groundballs at first the other day, he looked OK. But you could tell tonight he’s still not real comfortable over there."
Wagner might not play third again for the foreseeable future, but the fix might not be as quick for the Wingnuts’ concentration issues and failures in the clutch. After Wichita tied it 3-3 in the third, Hinson was close to escaping the fourth with Jon Gaston on third.
Pitching from the windup, Hinson didn’t notice Gaston get a large lead or when he broke for home. Hinson hesitated and threw high to home, allowing Gaston to slide in safely.
The Wingnuts’ two-run third, which allowed them to tie it 3-3, was the latest example of Wichita’s creating momentum before immediately squandering it.
"You look at the scoreboard, it tells you what it needs to tell you," Hooper said. "We start off with some energy, and in the middle innings we just shut down. We let (Fargo starter Alex Caldera) get comfortable when we kind of had him on the ropes.
"We’ve got to put the nail down, especially when times are tough. You find out what guys are made of when times are tough, and it’s not going so well right now."
Wichita’s last best chance to rally came in the seventh, when it loaded the bases with no outs. Fargo played matchups, however, as escaped the jam in six pitches on a strikeout and a double play.
"I’m about tired of saying it, too — with the lineup we have and the situation we’re in, we have to do the little things right and we’re not getting it done," Hooper said. "Bottom line, we’re not getting it done and something’s got to be done to get it done. I’m not going to watch this every night. We’re 4-16 in our last 20, and that isn’t fair to anybody as far as I’m concerned."
|Penprase ss||5||2||2||1||Khoury ss||4||0||0||0|
|Stovall rf||5||1||2||0||McDonald lf||3||1||0||0|
|Jackson cf||5||0||0||1||J. Rodriguez dh||2||1||0||0|
|Campbell 3b||4||1||1||0||Perez 2b||4||1||2||1|
|Gaston lf||4||1||1||0||Peralta rf||3||0||1||0|
|Delgado dh||4||0||2||2||Wagner 3b||2||0||0||0|
|M. Rodriguez 1b||4||1||1||0||Carrillo 3b||1||0||0||0|
|Jennings c||4||0||1||0||Avila 1b||4||0||3||0|
|Cota 2b||3||1||0||0||Mier c||4||0||1||0|
|Fargo-Moorhead||003||100||201||—||7 10 2|
|Wichita||012||000||010||—||4 7 3|
E— Penprase (16), Cota (8), Wagner 3 (3). LOB— Fargo 7, Wichita 5. DP— Fargo 3, Wichita 1. 2B— Perez (6). 3B — Campbell (1). SB — Penprase 2 (31), Stovall 2 (13), Gaston (4).
|Caldera W, 8-1||6||6||3||2||4||5|
|Boleska S (18)||1 1/3||1||0||0||0||0|
|Hinson L, 6-4||6||6||4||1||2||5|
WP — Caldera (5), Hinson (6), Martinez (4).
Umpires — home, Dan Hoffman; first, Steve Linton; third, Tim McCaffrey. T — 3:14. A — 4,085.