Wichita Wingnuts

Wingnuts' starting pitchers off to slow starts

Wingnuts starting pitchers will have plenty of time to reverse their early-season trend of subpar performance. Eight games (through Friday) ultimately don't mean that much.

No Wingnuts starter besides Nick Singleton has been reliable, but Wichita has yet to go twice through the rotation. The other starters have been shaky enough that Singleton had to close a game and earn a save on a day he was only scheduled to throw in the bullpen.

Poor conditions at Amarillo got the Wingnuts' pitching off to a rocky start, at least after a 5-3 win started by Singleton on opening day. Wichita allowed 27 runs in back-to-back wins at Amarillo in the season's first week.

"Amarillo was nuts," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "Every groundball that was hit, I cringed because you just didn't know what was going to happen. We were all so ready to get out of there and get to a normal field like Fort Worth."

Only Singleton succeeded in the second series, too. The Wingnuts' starters had a 6.28 ERA and only Singleton and Ryan Hinson picked up wins despite Wichita's 5-2 record. The ERA jumps to 8.90.

In 38 2/3 innings, Wingnuts starters have allowed 58 hits. The frequent solid contact against them indicates they're consistently throwing strikes, but their 19 walks is more than four per nine innings.

The 32 strikeouts and four home runs allowed by Wingnuts starting pitchers are positive trends that suggest they could pull out of their collective slump.

"We've walked a lot of guys, and we don't do walks here," Hooper said. "That's why we built the team they way we did, with a good defense, so we can pitch to contact and let the defense play behind them. Got to get better, bottom line."

Perhaps the most concerning thing about the slow start by the starters is the affect it's having on the bullpen. Wichita relievers, through Friday, had pitched 37 2/3 innings, an average of nearly five per game.

Wichita has played two extra inning games and in the second game, starter Dan Grybash didn't make it out of the first, later going on the inactive list with an elbow injury. But no Wingnuts starter has pitched in the seventh inning so far.

"It's just what we dealt with, Grybash going down after two-thirds of an inning," Hooper said. "There's a lot of bullpen guys that have thrown a lot of pitches this early in the season, and I definitely don't like that as a manager."

The chances for the young Wingnuts starters to improve are helped by the presence of Singleton, a proven ace in the American Association, and catcher Edwin Bellorin, who played briefly in the major leagues and has spent a significant amount of time in Triple-A.

"(Bellorin) is tremendous," Hooper said. "He's unbelievable. Best defensive catcher in the league, hands down. Got to be."

Bouncy turf — The new artificial playing surface has been a welcome addition to the holdovers who played on an outdated turf at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in previous seasons.

It doesn't play like the old turf, either. Weather conditions affect it, and when it was wet in the home opener on Friday night, the ball often took wild caroms and nearly bounced over and past outfielders who came in charging.

"It's just something to get used to, honestly, especially with it being wet," Wingnuts center fielder Ryan Patterson said. "I hadn't really gotten to see it being wet. When we were here before, it was dry every day. You just have to get used to it. Some areas seem to be a little bit bouncier than others."

The turf also played fast on the infield, as two players in Friday's game overslid bases on stolen base attempts. It seemed to be another effect of rain earlier in the day.

"You have to be careful when it has rained before," Patterson said. "It's fast either way, but especially then you have to learn to slide a little earlier. We've played on dirt our whole lives, so it's just something for us to get used to."

Curfew comes — Friday night was the Wingnuts' first experience with the curfew rule at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. League rules state no inning can start after midnight, and with the teams deadlocked 7-7 after 14 innings when Saturday morning began, the game had to be halted and resumed Saturday night.

Hooper isn't necessarily a fan of the rule, feeling it can occasionally be worked around.

"I thought there were situations like this where we could make exceptions," he said. "I understand if it's raining and you don't start a game until 10 o'clock or something. We're in the 15th inning. But I understand. A rule is a rule and you can't do anything about it."