C.J. Ziegler had three hits in his return from a month in the Mexican League for the Wingnuts on Monday, so he showed his difficulties at the plate in Mexico could be behind him. Now he can begin correcting something else that held him back during his time there.
"I think if I knew how to speak Spanish — and I’m going to be getting Rosetta Stone in the offseason — it would definitely help," Ziegler said. "I’m going to be figuring it out."
The comforts of home were evident as Ziegler homered and drove in two runs in his return, which the Wingnuts won 4-2 over El Paso at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The reunion was extensive in Wichita’s first home game since July 26.
Ziegler, Jake Kahaulelio, James Hoyt and Josh Dew made their first appearances in Wichita since departing for the Mexican League, and Greg Porter was in a home Wingnuts uniform for the first time since he starred for them in 2009. El Paso’s roster includes former Wingnuts Mitch Einertson and Monday’s starting pitcher, Luis Chirinos.
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None of them had a homecoming like Ziegler’s, though. He singled to start the bottom of the second, helping Wichita to its first run, and crushed a solo homer to left in the fourth. Despite missing a month, Ziegler’s 14 homers trail the three American Association leaders by two.
"What a night by Z," Hooper said. "It’s good to see those guys back in uniform. It’s a totally different dynamic — when I look out there, it’s a totally different team. I’m excited about it."
One Wingnuts mainstay had an equal hand in extending their league in the Central Division to four games over Kansas City. Starting pitcher Derek Blacksher has experienced a late-season renaissance, regaining the form expected when Wichita made him its opening day starter.
Blacksher has allowed one earned run in his last two starts, spanning 13 starts. His ERA dipped as low as 3.91 in July before soaring to 5.23, but is has fallen nearly six-tenths of a point over his two most recent outings.
Blacksher credits that to adjustments made with the help of pitching coach Luke Robertson, but it’s evident that he has made changes within his psyche, too.
"I’m just getting back to being me," Blacksher said. "We made a mechanical tweak. I’ve been thinking too much and I just needed to get out of my own head. It’s not like I don’t know how to do this. I’ve had success before."
The mechanical and mental changes can’t be quanitifed, but the tangible shift is Blacksher’s recent ability to limit big innings. Blacksher has never been shy about challenging hitters with his fastball, and on nights when it’s flat or when he can’t keep it low in the strike zone, opponents pile up hits and runs.
Blacksher had three 1-2-3 innings out of seven on Monday, and in the four others he most often successfully pitched out of trouble. In three innings he allowed two baserunners, but five of those six were stranded.
"The biggest thing is I wasn’t trusting myself and letting the defense work," Blacksher said. "I was fighting myself mechanically and not allowing myself to get the ball down, trying to make it go down instead of allowing it to get down."
Chirinos had a similar problem against Ziegler in the fourth inning. But that wasn’t Ziegler’s most important at-bat.
After the Wingnuts bullpen combined to allow a run in the eighth, cutting the Wingnuts’ lead to 3-2, Ziegler drove in a run on a bouncing single to center after newcome Wilson Batista stole second with two outs in the eighth.
The Wingnuts are almost perfectly in tact for their stretch run — John Rodriguez is still out with an injured ankle — and the returning players, who helped them get into playoff position back in June, look ready to key a postseason journey.
|Gonzlz ss||5||0||1||0||Khoury ss||4||0||0||0|
|Fronk 3b||3||0||0||0||Kahllio 2b||4||0||0||0|
|Einrtsn cf||3||1||1||0||Porter dh||4||0||0||0|
|Dotel rf||4||0||0||0||Batista 3b||3||1||0||0|
|Valnza 1b||3||0||0||0||Ziegler 1b||4||1||3||2|
|Acey dh||4||1||3||1||Peralta rf||4||2||3||0|
|Chavec c||4||0||0||0||Mier c||3||0||1||0|
|Nelson 2b||4||0||1||0||Ortiz lf||3||0||0||0|
|Muse lf||3||0||0||0||Conroy cf||2||0||0||0|
E—Gonzalez (17), Fronk (10), Kahaulelio (3). LOB—El Paso 8, Wichita 5. 2B—Acey (10). HR —Ziegler (14).SB—Batista (1), Peralta (19). CS—Peralta (7)
WP—Chirinos (1), Hoyt (1), Walters (9). HBP—Batista (by Morla).
Umpires — home, Joe Pascucci; first, Justin Post; third, Dan Hoffman. T — 2:45. A — 2,811.