Wingnuts’ bullpen sharp in 4-1 victory

Wingnuts pitchers bury Grand Prairie

08/16/2014 11:01 PM

08/17/2014 8:00 AM

Add bullpen depth to the list of luxuries the Wingnuts can accomplish and most other teams in the American Association cannot.

Roster construction can be difficult in the AA with 22 players available, but Wichita manager Kevin Hooper always seems to get the most out of limited relief options.

Three days after closer Matt Nevarez was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, three Wingnuts relievers – including new ninth-inning man Alex Hinshaw – retired all nine batters they faced in a 4-1 win over Grand Prairie at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.

The Wingnuts (58-26) operate under a “next man up” philosophy, so Nevarez’s departure simply means more high-leverage innings for Hinshaw and setup men Daniel Bennett and Mike Zouzalik.

“I like to stack as many of those guys at the end (of the bullpen) as I can, just in case something like this happens, where a Nevarez gets signed by somebody,” Hooper said. “Zousalik has been really good for a long time now, he did a great job in the eighth tonight. We kind of set things up the best we can getting to the tail end of the game.”

The first step toward an effective bullpen is a consistent batch of starters, and the Wingnuts have almost too many, with Anthony Capra’s return from injury Friday giving Wichita six starters for a five-man rotation that may trim even further as it approaches the postseason.

Saturday starter Tim Brown allowed one run over seven innings, as the Wingnuts built a 4-1 lead. But even with a three-run advantage, Wichita’s bullpen usage was hardly open-and-shut.

Grand Prairie threatened often against Brown, finally scoring in the fifth and leaving the bases loaded in the sixth. The AirHogs seemed poised for a more impactful breakthrough, but Bennett relieved in the seventh and pitched a perfect inning, a feat matched by Zouzalik, then Hinshaw.

“Good for Brownie to get out of that inning, because those (base runners) were all his and I wanted to get him through the inning,” Hooper said. “We had (Bennett) ready, and if he had given up one there I was going to go to Benny. But we were able to keep him until the seventh, come in and have a fresh inning and let (Zouzalik and Hinshaw) finish it out.”

Hinshaw pitched in the major leagues, and even though the left-hander is dominant as a matchup reliever, there are few concerns about his reliability for the ninth inning. Bennett has long been dominant against right-handed pitchers while showing enough against lefties to be trusted over a full inning.

Now Zouzalik is erasing any doubts that may have surrounded his ability to work tense late-inning situations. The second-year professional, who pitched in Class A with the Texas Rangers last season, has allowed one run since June 27, covering 20 appearances.

Zouzalik’s ERA has dropped steadily throughout the season, after a few rough early-season outings put him in a deep hole. Before his long run of near-scoreless work, it stood at 5.82, but after Saturday, when he worked his sixth straight perfect inning, it fell to 3.00.

“You string a few (strong outings) together and you’ve got confidence in all your pitches,” Zouzalik said. “You’re not really worried about where it’s going to go, you just know it’s going to be there. I’m definitely feeding off that confidence.”

Saturday’s didn’t figure to be a critical bullpen game after the Wingnuts scored four runs over the first three innings. But Wichita’s offensive momentum was halted when David Espinosa was thrown out at the plate on a Brent Clevlen single in the third, after which the Wingnuts managed two runners into scoring position.

The Wingnuts, though, ended up needing to protect a relatively slim lead, a perfect opportunity to test the new-look relief corps.

“Matt was a pretty big loss for us, he’s been a shutdown closer all year,” Zouzalik said. “We have confidence in Hinshaw to be the closer. The guy’s a big leaguer, he’s got nasty stuff, so there are no worries there.”

Grand Prairie

Wichita

ab

r

h

bi

ab

r

h

bi

Mojica ss

3

0

2

0

Khoury ss

4

1

2

0

Nunez 2b

3

0

0

1

Luce lf

4

2

3

1

Nieves 3b

4

0

0

0

Espinsa 1b

3

0

1

1

Botts 1b

3

0

2

0

Clevlen cf

4

0

3

1

Hall rf

4

0

1

0

Testa rf

4

0

1

0

Burns dh

4

0

1

0

McMrry c

3

1

0

0

Carter lf

4

0

0

0

McClndn 3b

4

0

1

0

Petersn c

4

0

1

0

Dean dh

3

0

0

0

Baker cf

4

1

1

0

Oldham 2b

3

0

1

0

Totals

33

1

8

1

Totals

32

4

12

3

Grand Prairie

000

010

000

1 8 1

Wichita

112

000

00x

4 12 0

E – Nieves (8). DP – Wichita 1. LOB — Grand Prairie 8, Wichita 6. 2B –Khoury (22), Luce (6), Espinosa (21). SF – Nunez (7). SB – Clevlen 2 (14). CS – Luce (2), Espinosa (3), McClendon (2), Oldham (3).

Grand Prairie

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

Searle L, 5-8

8

12

4

4

2

2

Wichita

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

Brown W, 9-4

6

8

1

0

2

3

Bennett

1

0

0

0

0

0

Zouzalik

1

0

0

0

0

1

Hinshaw

1

0

0

0

0

2

WP – Searle 2 (8). PB – McMurray. Umpires — Home, David Frame; 1B, Bryan Childe; 3B, Trent Delmont.

T – 2:32. A – 4,000.

Grand Prairie at Wingnuts

When: 2:05 p.m. Sunday

Where: Lawrence-Dumont Stadium

Records: Grand Prairie 36-48, Wingnuts 58-26

Pitchers: Grand Prairie, RH Danny Gutierrez (1-3, 4.08 ERA); Wingnuts, RH Jon Link (11-2, 3.47)

Radio: KWME, 92.7-FM

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