When Wingnuts pitcher Gabe Medina started to prepare for the 2009 season, he wasn't thinking about the end of it.
Having been released in 2008 by the New York Yankees organization, Medina started getting mentally and physically ready in late winter, hoping to be in shape for spring training in case he caught the eye of another major-league franchise.
"I think I got ready a little too early in the offseason (before 2009)," Medina said. "I was looking for a contract after I got released, so I had to be ready to throw for (Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper), to throw for the other people I had to throw for.
"I had to be ready in February, whereas this year in February I was barely getting going because I knew where I was going to play. I knew there was no reason for me to be game-ready in February when I wasn't going to throw in a game until May 15."
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Medina altered his offseason plan because he wore down in the second half of last season. Even more than his over-preparation for 2009, his fatigue at the finish can be blamed on a significant jump in innings.
After pitching no more than 61 innings in his three seasons as mostly a reliever in the Yankees system, Medina, Wichita's Opening Day starter in 2009, nearly doubled his previous career high by pitching 119 1/3 innings.
"I think I got a little gassed," Medina said. "It was the first time I got that deep into a season as a starter. Things didn't go my way. I had good games and bad games and I wasn't as consistent as I was in the first half."
Medina was named an American Association All-Star after winning seven of his first 10 decisions. He had a 2.79 ERA on July 1, but during the final two months, Medina went 3-3 with a 5.53 ERA. He was winless in his final five starts. he finished 8-5 with a 4.37 ERA.
During the offseason, Medina changed his plan by working more with weights and putting off baseball activity in hopes of improving his stamina. Though his significant jump in innings presents an injury risk, Medina says he's 100 percent.
The results of the new approach have been positive — Medina hasn't won yet in 2010 but has a 1.88 ERA through four starts. He was just as good at the start of last season, so the true measure of Medina's success will come after July.
"In the first half, all the groundballs were getting hit at people," Medina said. "In the second half, they started finding holes here and there, and all of a sudden instead of it being seven innings, two runs it's seven innings, five runs.
"It might look bad in the box score, but I feel like sometimes it was a lot better than the numbers showed. And sometimes I didn't throw as good as the numbers showed. It evens out at the end."
A new look — All minor-league teams are being required to wear the new Rawlings S100 batting helmets, which are designed to withstand the impact of 100 mph fastballs.
The helmet was given exposure last season when New York Mets third baseman David Wright briefly wore one after returning from an injury suffered when he was hit in the helmet by a pitch.
The new helmets are far bigger than the old ones because they feature extra padding. The only current major league player who frequently wears one is Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli.
"I don't really mind it," Wingnuts outfielder Chris Colton said. "A lot of people say it slows you down and whatnot, but I really don't mind it. It doesn't slow me down. It's comfortable, it's just big on your head. It looks big, anyway."
None of the Wingnuts' players can speak to the helmet's effectiveness, which is a good thing.
"I wouldn't know until I took one in the head," Colton said.
Road weary — If the Wingnuts have hopes of rallying from 6.5 games back in the North Division standings (through Saturday), their performance away from home must improve.
Through nine road games, Wichita is batting .255 with a 5.62 ERA; its home numbers are .308 and 2.93. The Wingnuts are 6-4 at home and 2-7 on the road.
The Wingnuts play 29 of 48 first-half games at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. In the second half, those numbers are reversed.