A little less than a week ago, Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper found himself in a situation most managers would likely enjoy.
Wichita was leading the American Association in many offensive categories and was owners of the league’s best record, but mediocre performances over the previous week alerted Hooper to a chance to motivate.
Hooper called all of the Wingnuts’ hitters to a meeting on Monday, and Wichita responded by setting a franchise record for runs. The Wingnuts haven’t stopped hitting since, continuing their barrage with a 13-5 win over Sioux City on Friday night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Even with a stretch in which they lost four of eight games — a subpar showing for the league’s best team —The Wingnuts have scored 118 runs in their last 14 games. They’ve reached double-digit runs nine times, five since June 15.
The Wingnuts scored 35 runs in a three-game sweep of Laredo, including a team-record 20 on Monday. Friday, the Wingnuts got started with a C.J. Ziegler grand slam in the first and capped their fourth straight win with a five-run eighth.
“I really believe we can get better,” Hooper said. “Obviously you saw what we’re capable of this week against Laredo. We’ve just got to continue it. Continue the good approaches, keep preaching what we’re preaching and keep things rolling.”
Ziegler, who leads the league with 16 homers and 50 RBIs, which put him on pace for 122 in a 100-game season, might have been best served with a patient approach when he came to bat with the bases loaded in the first.
Sioux City starter Preston Olson walked the bases loaded, and Ziegler combined his selectivity with the idea of hitting the ball to right field, since the wind was blowing out in that direction.
Ziegler, a right-handed hitter who typically pulls his homers to left, lined an outside fastball near the gap in right center, and it drifted closer to the foul line and over the wall.
“You’ve just got to see where those flags are blowing,” Ziegler said. “I took what he was giving me and took advantage of it. You’ve just got to take advantage of their mistakes, and hitting with the bases loaded, that’s pretty fun.”
Wichita scored three in the second thanks to run-scoring singles from Jake Kahaulelio and John Rodriguez. Sioux City began to chip away after that, scoring two in the third and one in the fourth, but Wingnuts starter Anthony Capra held him from there.
Capra is still in transition mode after starting the season in the bullpen, and working through trouble Friday was a positive step toward cementing his role. After a leadoff double in the fifth, Capra retired six straight to end his six innings on a strong note and protect Wichita’s lead.
“Hopefully each start (he’s) going to get better and better,” Hooper said. “Get a little more rhythm, be a little more comfortable. That’s the big thing for him, repeating what he does and having confidence. If he has confidence in himself, he can be one of the best pitchers in the league.”
The Wingnuts went four innings without getting a runner past first base, and even with a seemingly comfortable lead against one of the league’s worst offenses, they found a way to ramp up again.
A sacrifice fly in the seventh was the breakthrough after middle-innings struggles, and Wichita tacked on five in the eighth. Cole Armstrong hit a three-run homer, his second extra-base hit since June 16, and Kahaulelio plated two with a line-drive double.
Big innings have been the hallmark of Wichita’s recent scoring binge.
“We know that, at any time, we’re capable of putting up a four- or five-spot in any inning,” Ziegler said. “It doesn’t matter where we’re starting in the lineup or anything like that. We’re just having fun, and just have to keep it going. That’s the big thing, keep our heads.”
|Mesa cf/lf||3||2||3||0||Khoury ss||3||4||3||0|
|Martinez 3b||1||0||0||0||Kahaulelio 2b||3||2||2||4|
|Barroso ss||4||0||0||0||Rodriguez dh||4||1||1||2|
|Judah dh||4||1||2||2||Ziegler 1b||4||1||1||4|
|Murton 1b||3||0||0||1||Clevlen cf||4||1||1||0|
|Barrows rf||4||0||0||0||Nieves 3b||3||1||0||0|
|Inoguchi cf/lf||3||2||2||0||Armstrong c||3||1||2||3|
|Espinosa c||4||0||1||2||Loehrs lf||3||1||0||0|
|Bistagne 3b/lf||3||0||0||0||Amberson rf||3||1||0||0|
|Sioux City||102||100||001||—||5 8 0|
|Wichita||430||000||15x||—||13 10 0|
DP – Sioux City 6, Wichita 1. LOB— Sioux City 4, Wichita 2. 2B— Mesa (6), Inoguchi (13), Espinosa (3), Kahaulelio (10). HR – Judah (2), Ziegler (16), Armstrong (6). HBP – Khoury (1) by Olson; Amberson (3) by Olson. SF – Murton (2), Kahaulelio (1). SB – Khoury (7).
|Olson L, 1-2||6 1/3||6||8||8||4||5|
|Capra W, 2-0||6||7||4||4||1||5|
HBP — Khoury by Olson (2), Amberson by Olson (3).WP — Plefka (3), Poytress (2), Capra 2 (2), Bennett (2). Umpires—Home, Pascucci; first, PJ Krauss; third, Brock Ballou.
T— 2:34. A— 3818.