It had been easy for third baseman Abel Nieves to blend in as part of a potent Wingnuts lineup that has scored 30 runs in the last two games and 100 in its last 12.
Nieves usually hits in the bottom-third of the lineup. He draws a lot of walks, doesn’t have the home-run power of some of his teammates, and his RBI total is also relatively low.
No longer, though, is Nieves blending in — he’s standing out. Nieves extended his hitting streak to 18 games with a four-hit performance in Wichita’s 10-2 win over Laredo on Wednesday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. It was the Wingnuts’ follow-up to a 20-6 thrashing of the Lemurs Monday night, and the fifth time they’ve scored at least 10 runs since June 11.
Nieves has 16 hits in his last six games, raising his batting average to an American Association-best .388. He also leads the league with a .462 on-base percentage and is tied for the lead with 57 hits.
“I try not to think about it,” Nieves said. “I just show up every day and try to do my early work and everything I’ve been doing since the beginning. It’s working now, so I keep doing it.”
Nieves’ hitting streak, two short of the team record set by Josh Horn between the end of the 2009 season and the start of 2010, hasn’t been a string of 1-for-5 games or filled with attempts to extend it in his final at-bat. Nieves has six straight multi-hit games and 12 in the streak, during which he’s batted .507 (37 for 73) with seven doubles and two homers.
During a three-game suspension for Jake Kahaulelio for bumping an umpire Saturday at Sioux City, Nieves batted second in place of Kahaulelio and seemed to take to the role perfectly. He singled on a hit-and-run in the second and displayed his bat-handling skills by hitting an outside pitch over the right fielder’s head for an automatic double in the eighth.
“It’s a well-deserved 18 I would say,” Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. “He’s got that approach where there’s a chance he is going to get on a run. He’s got that good inside-out swing, he works the other way so well (that) he’s going to give himself a chance every time up.”
Wednesday, Nieves didn’t get the glory of driving in the runs or providing the extra-base hits as part of Wichita’s three run-scoring innings.
That went to power hitters John Rodriguez (three-run home run in the first), C.J. Ziegler (two-run double in the fourth) and Brent Clevlen (solo homer in the third, RBI single in the fourth).
Before his eighth-inning double, Nieves had three singles and a walk to his name. The 3-4-5 hitters have combined for 19 hits and 26 RBIs over the last two nights, but Nieves’ consistency over the last three weeks has put him in the same category as the Wingnuts’ headliners.
“It’s great, man, it’s great,” Nieves said. “When things are going like that, it’s great. I don’t want to be the big hitter in the lineup when everybody is putting numbers up.”
Nieves arrived in Wichita with more of a reputation for his defense at third base, the final piece of an elite defensive infield that includes Kahaulelio and shortstop Ryan Khoury.
As Nieves started the season with 10 hits in his first 55 at-bats, his glove sustained him and gave him room for his hitting to catch up. Now his offensive prowess has surpassed his defense, and since that poor opening stretch Nieves has 47 hits in 92 at-bats, a .511 clip.
As a .280 career hitter who reached Triple-A, Nieves wasn’t likely to be slumping for long, but it was difficult to see this stretch coming, too.”
“I just feel good right now,” Nieves said. “I don’t know how to explain it. I’m just seeing the ball well and making adjustments quick, and that helps me.”
|Mojica ss||3||0||0||1||Khoury ss||4||1||1||0|
|Sheridan 1b||4||0||1||0||Nieves 2b||4||2||4||0|
|Allen lf||4||1||2||0||Rodriguez dh||5||2||3||3|
|Carroll cf||3||0||1||0||Ziegler cf||5||1||2||2|
|Karr dh||3||0||0||1||Clevlen cf||5||1||2||2|
|Gaston rf||4||0||0||0||Armstrong c||3||1||1||0|
|Kain 2b||4||0||1||0||Loehrs 3b||4||0||1||0|
|Peterson c||4||1||1||0||Amberson rf||3||1||1||2|
|Buechele 3b||4||0||0||0||McDonald lf||4||0||1||1|
|Laredo||001||100||000||—||2 6 0|
|Wichita||501||400||00x||—||10 15 1|
E— Klipp (1). LOB— Laredo 7, Wichita 7. 2B— Allen (15), Kain (8), Peterson (4), Nieves (12), Ziegler (14). HR – Rodriguez (7), Clevlen (6), Amberson (2). HBP – Khoury (9) by Hernandez. SB – Carroll (6). CS – McDonald (4).
|Hernandez L, 0-1||5||13||10||2||4||2|
|Klipp W, 2-0||7||6||2||2||1||6|
HBP — Khoury by Hernandez (1). WP — Graham (1). Umpires—Home, Art Thigpen; first, Brian Urton; third, Derek Ivinski.
T— 2:41. A— 3520.