Wichita State baseball coach Todd Butler ran through his likely weekend pitching rotation: sophomore, freshman, freshman.
That list didn’t include junior Willie Schwanke, who has thrown one inning since April 8. On Thursday, Butler learned that Schwanke is out for at least three weeks with a back injury, which likely means his season and career as a Shocker is over.
If this scenario seems familiar, it is.
“For the second year in a row, we’re pitching (Nos.) 3-4-5-6 and 7, when you have No. 1 and No. 2 out for the year,” Butler said. “You have freshmen that have to grow. That’s what we have.”
The Shockers (16-29, 6-6 Missouri Valley Conference) return to conference play this weekend against Indiana State (27-16, 7-5) at Eck Stadium. They will try to snap a four-game losing streak and keep up with the pack in the MVC.
The state of the conference race is such that one good weekend can push a team into contention. Dallas Baptist is front-running with an 8-3 record. After the Patriots, six schools are bunched within two losses of each other. WSU is tied for fourth with Southern Illinois, one game behind Indiana State and Evansville.
The Shockers are prepared to finish the season without Schwanke, who is 5-3 with a 3.40 ERA. If he does not return, he will join Sam Tewes, out following elbow surgery, on the disabled list in 2016, together as they were in 2015.
Schwanke experienced biceps tightness after an April 8 start at Evansville and skipped the next weekend to rest. He threw one inning against Bradley on April 24 before the tightness returned and hasn’t pitched since. Schwanke traveled to Dallas to see a doctor and it now appears the problem is similar to last season’s torn lat muscle, although not as severe, Butler said. He will be evaluated in three weeks, during the MVC Tournament.
Schwanke, who was drafted in the 22nd round last year by Milwaukee, will be eligible again in June for the draft and, if selected, would likely not return to WSU for a senior season.
Butler is also evaluating his 27-man weekend roster for position players because first baseman Ryan Tinkham (back), second baseman Tanner Kirk (arm) and third baseman Chase Rader (inner ear infection) sat out Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to Kansas State.
“There’s plenty of injuries going on and we have to get past it,” Butler said. “Grow stronger. Keep fighting, Keep making adjustments.”
Sophomore lefty Cody Tyler has taken over the Friday role with impressive success. He owns two complete-game victories in MVC play, last week shutting out SIU on four hits in an 8-0 victory. Freshman Clayton McGinness will make his second weekend start on Saturday.
While Sunday’s starter is not certain, freshman Codi Heuer is the likely choice and would make his first college start. He threw six scoreless innings in relief against SIU last weekend and one inning against Kansas State on Wednesday.
“We’ve had a lot of guys go down,” Heuer said. “We need some guys to step up and I’m one of the guys that called into that role.”
Heuer, from Windsor, Colo., walked 11 batters in his first nine-plus innings. In the next nine, he’s walked one and struck out six.
“In the beginning of the year, I don’t know if I was worried about walking people or what, it was kind of in my head,” he said. “I was more guiding it than letting it go. I started attacking the zone and it’s been working out.”
Indiana State at Wichita State
- When: 6:30 p.m. Friday
- Where: Eck Stadium
- Records: ISU 27-16, 7-5 MVC; WSU 16-29, 6-6
- Radio: KNSS, 1330-AM
- Internet: ESPN3.com