American Association baseball players get a four-month season and eight months to figure out how to best make it through.
Wingnuts starting pitcher Justin Klipp used his eight months to put on 15 pounds of muscle, a change not as recognizable as some added facial hair, but one that led to immediate results.
Klipp’s offseason work allowed him to handle 105 pitches in his season debut, during which he threw six scoreless innings in Wichita’s 3-0 win over Grand Prairie at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
The Wingnuts scored all of their runs in the first inning against Shawn Spainhoward, who was making his first professional start.
“I really got after it this offseason and put on about 15, 20 pounds,” said Klipp, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound right-hander. “Really, that was my goal, to get a lot stronger and come here ready to throw 100 pitches at least.”
An emphasis at every level of baseball is put on reporting to spring training in shape, but it’s not as damaging if a player in affiliated ball shows up in less than peak form because major league camp lasts nearly two months.
Independent players, especially those who didn’t spend time in major- or minor-league spring training before getting released, aren’t afforded the luxury of getting to their playing weight during camp, because it lasts about two weeks.
“You definitely have to come prepared,” Klipp said. “We only have a 10-day spring training, it’s not like a month long, like affiliated ball. You have to come prepared. I started throwing about six to eight weeks before the season.”
Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper can’t constantly hound players about their offseason work, so he relies on them to get it done on their own.
“I’ve got to trust them,” Hooper said. “And they all know. I let them know when I’m recruiting them or when we’re signing them back that spring training is a short period. You have to be ready coming in.”
Getting players – especially pitchers – properly conditioned before the season could allow the Wingnuts a strong start in a long chase for a championship. Instead of keeping starting pitchers on restrictive pitch counts that could wear out a bullpen, Hooper can keep pitchers in games longer since their arm strength has already been built.
Klipp built his during the winter with purposeful bullpen sessions that enabled him to approach midseason form. With no restrictions on him during his 2014 debut, Klipp had time to gain a feel for his secondary pitches following a first inning in which he faced four batters, went to three full counts and threw 24 pitches.
“After I settled down a little bit – first game you get amped up a little bit,” Klipp said. “But after I settled down, my slider was really working for me today. I went to that a lot, and they weren’t hitting it. That allowed me to throw my fastball early on, and it was a good day.”
Klipp struck out six in six but found outs in a variety ways, most impressively during a potentially troublesome sixth when Grand Prairie had two singles to start the inning.
Klipp nearly got out of it immediately as the Wingnuts were about a step away from turning an around-the-horn infield triple play. Two outs were recorded, but the threat was over and Klipp maintained his scoreless outing, finished by a trio of relievers.
“Him and (catcher J.T. Wise) worked well together, I thought,” Hooper said. “He did a good job; for the first outing of the year, he looked tremendous. He put on some weight, got a little stronger. He worked real hard this offseason to get to where he’s at.”
|Hur rf||3||0||1||0||Khoury ss||3||0||1||0|
|Pickney 2b||4||0||2||0||Kahaulelio 2b||3||1||2||0|
|Nieves ss||4||0||1||0||Clevlen dh||4||1||1||1|
|Rodriguez 1b||4||0||0||0||Chen 1b||4||1||1||1|
|Botts dh||4||0||1||0||Wise c||4||0||1||0|
|Karr lf||3||0||0||0||Hazlett 3b||4||0||2||1|
|Hall 3b||4||0||0||0||Testa lf||2||0||0||0|
|DiFazio c||3||0||0||0||Amberson cf||4||0||0||0|
|Baker cf||3||0||0||0||Oldham rf||3||0||1||0|
E — Hur (2), Nieves (1), Khoury (2). LOB — Grand Prairie 8, Wichita 8. 2B — Clevlen (3), Hazlett (2). SB — Kahaulelio (3), Clevlen (2), Hazlett (2).
|Spainhoward L,0-1||4 1/3||6||3||3||1||2|
HBP — Kahaulelio (by Lopez). Umpires—Home, Anthony Sheets; first, Derek Ivinski; third, Randy Wilges.
T — 2:52. A — 2,151.