It’s almost impossible not to compare Wingnuts hitters C.J. Ziegler and Greg Porter. They are similar in size and in appearance (sort of), and the statistics for their breakout seasons in Wichita share resemblance.
Their differences are part of what make Wichita’s lineup — particularly the middle of it — so dangerous. But in Wichita’s 8-4 win over Gary-Southshore on Sunday, they helped the Wingnuts rally with nearly identical hits.
Porter’s RBI single in the sixth came on an inside pitch that he fought off to bloop into shallow left. Ziegler, on another inside pitch, lofted a single down the right-field line in the eighth that helped Wichita toward a four-run inning that broke a 4-4 tie.
Ziegler and Porter each had two hits and an RBI, helping Wichita rally from the 4-0 deficit it faced after four innings. Sunday’s win at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium put the Wingnuts one win from clinching the American Association Central and advancing to the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
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The two hulking sluggers are surely intimidating for any pitcher who faces them, but they provide plenty of reason for further intimidation with the way they hit. One of Ziegler’s singles Sunday lined off pitcher Nolan Nicholson and into shallow right field.
"I like having both of them in the lineup, for sure," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "You’ve got one of them to face, then the next one is the other one. It’s a good lineup."
Both Ziegler and Porter look like former college football players, but only Porter fits that bill. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound outfielder played tight end at Texas A&M and had the chance to play professionally before opting to play baseball after college.
Ziegler is 6-5, 245 pounds and has used that bulk for hitting baseballs a long way. A stint in the Mexican League interrupted his time with the Wingnuts, but in 51 games he is batting .347 with 16 homers and 57 in RBIs.
In 2009, Porter batted .372 with 21 home runs and 86 RBI. Porter in his prime was probably a more complete hitter — 31 of Ziegler’s 66 hits have been for extra bases and in 2009 Porter had 48 extra-base hits and 92 singles.
Their power is also different — almost all of Ziegler’s home runs are pulled out to left field, while Porter, a left-handed hitter, hits home runs to all fields.
The contrasts between them are what cause Porter to say Ziegler doesn’t bring back memories of himself in that season, but their comparable effect on the Wingnuts’ lineup can’t be denied.
"He’s a really good player," Porter said. "He’s young and he’s definitely on his way to being a really good player."
The Wingnuts were stymied early by Gary starter Jon Gulbransen. They were shutout until the fifth, when Wilson Batista singled and scored after a stolen base and two wild pitches.
Ziegler and Porter — or anyone else — didn’t get an extra-base hit for Wichita, but the Wingnuts’ 10-single attack proved efficient and sufficient.
Porter, batting third Sunday in place of John Rodriguez, who has a day-to-day injury, drove in Wichita’s second run of the sixth, and the third scored on Ziegler’s RBI single that plated Porter with the tying run. In the eighth, Porter and Ziegler hit back-to-back singles to start the inning and David Peralta, Jessie Mier, Jared McDonald and newcomer Steve Stanley contributed RBIs.
"Put the ball in play," Hooper said was his message to Porter and Ziegler in late-inning at-bats. "They’re so strong that if they do put the ball in play they’re going to give themselves a chance. Either time either one of those guys walks to the plate, he’s got a chance to leave the yard. That’s something that I have the luxury of having in the lineup."