The Wingnuts have had their problem areas in the past — under manager Kevin Hooper, they went almost the entire 2010 season trying to find a permanent second baseman, and other positions have seen similar unrest.
Left field was on its way to becoming one of those rare unstable positions until about a week ago, when the Wingnuts signed former major leaguer Brent Clevlen, a center fielder.
The addition of Clevlen allowed the Wingnuts to move Jared McDonald from center to left, giving the Wingnuts plus defense and strong hitting from an outfield that includes speedy David Amberson.
In eight games through Saturday, Clevlen has out-homered the four previous left fielders — Michael Mobbs, Colt Loehrs, Tim Rotola and Derek Perren _ 3-0 and is trailing 11-8 in RBIs.
The addition of Clevlen gives a depth to the Wingnuts lineup that didn’t previously exist. Clevlen bats in the No. 5 spot, behind American Association home run leader C.J. Ziegler.
That allows the Wingnuts to put power-hitting catcher Cole Armstrong to sixth and Abel Nieves, Wichita’s leader in batting average (.367) and hits (51) seventh. Wichita’s first seven hitters have all either played in Triple-A (including the unaffiliated Mexican League), or the big leagues.
That experience shows in the numbers. The Wingnuts lead the league in batting average, runs, hits, on-base percentage and slugging percentage and are second in multiple other categories.
The production has come throughout the lineup, including from former league batters of the week Amberson and McDonald, the only two Wichita regulars not to play in the upper levels of the minor leagues.
Every Wingnuts starter except Clevlen has at least 17 RBIs and eight have more hits than games played. With a .315 average, McDonald is among the top 25 hitters in the league but only sixth on his own team.
The pitching staff has been equally dominant and balanced, and the result is Wichita owning the league’s best record (23-14) going into a three-game home series starting Monday against Laredo, an inter-division with one fewer win.
Explorers 5, Wingnuts 3 — The Sioux City Explorers rallied for three runs in the eighth inning to beat the Wichita Wingnuts 5-3 on Sunday in Sioux City, Iowa.
Trailing 3-2 with two outs in the eighth, Sam Judah doubled off Wingnuts’ starter Chris Smith with the bases loaded, scoring all three runs.
Clevlen hit a solo home run in the second for an early, 1-0 lead. Cole Armstrong homered again for the Wingnuts in the fourth for a 2-1 lead.
Chris Bodishbaugh retired all three Wingnuts in the ninth for the save. Smith took the complete-game loss.