Wichita State coach Todd Butler is taking a cautious approach with his most precious commodity, pitcher Willie Schwanke.
Schwanke, WSU’s No. 1 starter, won’t take his usual Friday night turn against Missouri State. Mild soreness in his right biceps will push him back to Sunday, or perhaps longer.
“It’s nothing alarming at all,” Butler said. “He’s just a little tender. We’ve got to protect him, so it looks like Sunday is a possibility for him to pitch.”
The Shockers (11-22, 1-2 Missouri Valley Conference) play Missouri State (26-6, 1-1) this weekend at Eck Stadium, an unfortunate opponent to pitch against short-handed. The Bears lead the MVC with a .309 batting average, .511 slugging percentage, 71 doubles and 43 home runs after Tuesday’s 16-1 win over Missouri.
Schwanke (5-3, 2.93 ERA) won series-opening starts against Nebraska, Cal Poly and Evansville and kept the Shockers close in a 3-0 loss to nationally ranked TCU. In a difficult season, WSU could count on a chance to win with Schwanke on the mound. WSU’s rotation took a blow earlier in March when an elbow injury ended starter Sam Tewes’ season.
Sophomore lefty Cody Tyler will make his third start of the season Friday with senior Chase Williams going Saturday in his first start since March 26 against Cal Poly.
Williams regained his starting spot after Tuesday’s scoreless inning against Oklahoma.
He ended last season as a weekend starter, but control problems dumped him into the bullpen after four starts this season. He struck out eight in 5 1/3 innings in his first start and then didn’t make it out of the fourth inning in his next three starts mixed in among some rocky relief outings. For the season, he is 0-3 with a 9.33 ERA, 17 strikeouts and 20 walks.
Against OU, he looked more like the pitcher who finished 2015 with a complete-game victory in the MVC Tournament. Williams lengthened his stride, to better take advantage of his 6-foot-5 height, and struck out two of the four batters faced.
“He was dynamite,” Butler said. “He had better direction, better command, everything was better. He needs to carry that into the weekend. He has dynamic stuff when he pitches well.”
Regardless of who is on the mound, Wichita State’s pitching problems are often caused by inexperience and a lack of trust in the fastball.
Six of WSU’s top 10 healthy pitchers are in their first season with the program and two others are in their second. When things go bad, as they did Tuesday in a 15-7 loss to Oklahoma, often freshmen are on call. After the Sooners roughed up freshman starter Connor Lungwitz, Butler went to freshmen Robby Evans and Clayton McGinness.
“A lot of times we’ll fall behind and we’ll go to a freshmen who’s needing to grow up,” Butler said. “When you’re dealing with freshmen who need to grow up, sometimes they don’t fill up the zone and the game will get out of hand. No excuse. They need to grow.”
Eight pitchers walked nine batters on Tuesday, bringing WSU’s season total to an MVC-leading 166 walks. More fastballs, thrown with more purpose and in the right spots, are needed.
“Not trying to trick guys with off-speed, making hitters earn getting on base by getting hits,” Butler said. “We’re walking guys and then our defense kind of falls into a lull. It’s tempo and throwing strikes, which is exactly what (assistant coach) Brent Kemnitz has taught for years.”
The return of junior lefty Reagan Biechler and sophomore Chandler Sanburn, both of whom missed time with biceps tendinitis, could help the bullpen. Biechler returned last weekend to pitch an inning at Evansville after sitting out three weeks. He threw a scoreless 1 2/3 against Oklahoma. Sanburn faced hitters on Wednesday in practice. He hasn’t pitched since early March.
“(Biechler) can help us, because he’s effective and he’s confident and he’s experienced,” Butler said. “Sanburn threw (Wednesday) against hitters and his arm seems to be back at full strength. You know he’s going to pound the zone and people are going to have to earn getting on base.”
Missouri State at Wichita State
- When: 6:30 p.m. Friday
- Where: Eck Stadium
- Records: MSU 26-6, 1-1 MVC; WSU 11-22, 1-2
- Radio: KNSS, 1330-AM