The first lesson Mikel Mucha preaches to Wichita State outfielders is to respect the Kansas wind. Without an understanding of the breezes, gusts and gales, there is every opportunity to look silly running around Eck Stadium.
“Oh boy,” freshman Greyson Jenista said. “The Wichita wind. You never know what it’s going to do. Some days it’s blowing straight out to right 80 mph. Some days, it just hangs up and twirls on you.”
Mucha, a fifth-year senior, has spent much of his career working the elements and it’s his job this season to guide a group of freshman, including Jenista, Dayton Dugas, Luke Ritter and Travis Young.
“We have all that wind out here,” Mucha said. “Every day you have to figure out what’s going on with that first.”
WSU (13-23) plays at Kansas (14-20) on Tuesday with Mucha enjoying a standout senior season as WSU’s center fielder and leadoff hitter. He is hitting a team-leading .336 with a .439 on-base percentage and one error in 34 games. Shockers coach Todd Butler considers him the best center fielder in the Missouri Valley Conference and an invaluable assistant coach on a team with 15 freshmen (four redshirts), six of whom play outfield.
“He’s a complete ball player, and that’s the best compliment I can give him,” Butler said. “You kind of take him for granted a little bit as a coach, and I try not to, because he’s so good at everything.”
Mucha, from Aurora, Colo., came to WSU in 2012 and with second baseman Tanner Kirk are the lone holdovers from the Gene Stephenson era that ended in 2013. With that much tenure in the Eck Stadium clubhouse, jokes are inevitable.
“Every day,” he said. “I make one comment about being sore, and they throw out the ‘grandpa’ jokes. I can’t get away from those.”
The freshmen rely on Mucha for more than advice on wind-blown popups. He’s counseled Jenista on taking the most direct path to the ball and keeping his glove low until he reaches the spot where the ball is dropping.
“Don’t run with your glove up,” Jenista said. “Run to the ball. He’s calm and patient. He’s not a get loud, get-in-your-face kind of guy. But he’s also very passionate and cares about this program.”
Mucha entered the season as a .303 career hitter with 83 strikeouts and 28 walks. As a senior, his command of the strike zone is improved — 16 strikeouts, 22 walks, making him an ideal leadoff hitter. He finds keeping his batting stroke is a daily exercise and if he skips day in the batting cage, his swing deteriorates.
“I sat back one day and realized this is my last go-around,” he said. “Over the off-season I came in and had countless hours in the indoor (facility). It’s all about a grooved swing and you can’t take a day off. I don’t know what goes wrong, but it just doesn’t feel the same.”
Schwanke on track for weekend duty — Butler expects pitcher Willie Schwanke to return for this weekend’s series against Bradley at Eck Stadium.
Schwanke, WSU’s top starter, sat out last weekend’s series against Missouri State, with soreness in his right biceps.
“I think Willie will be fine,” Butler said. “I think it’s just a minor strain. He was really sore after his start (at Evansville on April 8). Really sore. And he was sore in different spots. I think giving him a weekend of rest is good for him.”
Schwanke played catch over the weekend. Butler expects him to start Friday, although moving him back a day is also a possibility.
Pitcher Chase Williams started Saturday against Missouri State and left after 3 1/3 innings with forearm tightness. Butler said he will likely use Williams out of the bullpen in the future to protect his right arm.
“I think he’s going to be fine; he was seen by the doctors,” Butler said. “He is throwing extremely well, good command, his fastball is explosive.”
WSU took two games from MSU, the MVC’s top hitting team, without Schwanke and with Williams exiting earlier than hoped. Sophomore Cody Tyler pitched a complete game in Friday’s 9-2 win and Zach Lewis held the Bears to three hits over 6 1/3 innings in Saturday’s 11-1 victory. WSU, in the three-game series, walked three hitters and didn’t commit an error.
“We competed with the fastball and attacked hitters,” Butler said. “It’s probably the first three-games series that we really put pitching together, one guy after another. In all three games, we pitched well and played really good defense.”
Wichita State at Kansas
▪ When: 6 p.m.
▪ Where: Hoglund Ballpark, Lawrence
▪ Records: WSU 13-23, KU 14-20
▪ Pitchers: WSU, RH Connor Lungwitz (2-1, 9.00 ERA); KU, LH Blake Weiman (1-4, 4.50)
▪ Radio: KNSS, 1330-AM
▪ TV: Cox 22
▪ Internet: ESPN3.com