The lazy fly ball Ryan Khoury hit to right field on Thursday gave the Wingnuts a chance to showcase two of their most important assets in a lineup complete with difficult outs.
The ball didn’t appear deep enough to score Jake Kahaulelio from third base, but as soon as Stephen Holdren caught it, Kahaulelio took off. Holdren rushed the throw, bouncing it multiple times as Kahaulelio scored easily.
Wichita has power in the middle of the lineup, but as they showed on that sacrifice fly and on two others in an 8-6 win over Lincoln, the Wingnuts are adept at situational hitting and with smart, fast runners who can take chances on the bases.
Two homers highlighted Wichita’s season-opening win, but three sacrifice flies accented it, and Derek Blacksher pitched five strong innings to remain undefeated at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in his career.
"I’ve played for five years in pro ball, and this lineup is one of the toughest I’ve ever played on," Kahaulelio said. "We’ve got big guys in the middle and a little more speed at the end and in the front. I don’t think we have a hole in this lineup."
The Wingnuts tied it 1-1 on an opposite-field home run by David Peralta in the second inning, then broke the tie in the third in a lengthy rally that included just one hit.
Khoury, Wichita’s leadoff hitter, was hit to start the half-inning, moving over on Jared McDonald’s single before a walk loaded the bases. C.J. Ziegler pushed a fly ball to right for Wichita’s first of three sac flies, and Peralta provided the second two batters later.
Wichita was given plenty of bases by Lincoln, which walked four batters and hit three, but the Wingnuts stayed eager, taking extra bases on hits and challenging the Saltdogs’ defense to make plays.
Their aggressiveness fueled the offense and forced Lincoln to go to its bullpen in the fourth inning, when Saltdogs starter Jino Gonzalez collapsed under the pressure that his lack of control and Wichita’s assertiveness created.
"Especially with two outs, we’re going to send guys quite a bit," Hooper said. “Situational hitting, that’s what it’s about, and I’m going to send guys more often than not. Take a chance."
Blacksher could have similarly caved after a potentially ominous start to his outing, but his problems were gone almost as soon as they appeared.
Blacksher got ahead of leadoff hitter Mike Provencher 0-2 before Provencher worked it to 2-2 and launched a long homer to left to start the game. The blast worked to ease Blacksher’s first-game nerves, and he used the fresh start to his benefit.
Lincoln managed one more hit off Blacksher, who was on a pitch count of about 75 and threw 60 through three innings. A quick fourth allowed him to go back out for the fifth, and he finished his outing with 82 pitches, having retired the final seven batters he faced.
The Wichita right-hander, the only current Wingnuts pitcher to start a game in the 2009 and 2011 playoffs, improved to 11-0 lifetime in Wichita.
"I mentioned it right when it happened that maybe he needed to get that out of the way, get the jitters out of the way," Hooper said. "For him, when something like that happens, he’s usually lights out. That last inning was his best inning."
Blacksher had plenty of support, as every Wingnuts starter reached base. Newcomer and ex-major leaguer John Rodriguez reached five times. He hit a two-run homer in the sixth that made it 6-1 but turned out to be important after Lincoln rallied late.
Rodriguez also singled, walked twice and was hit by a pitch. Kahaulelio doubled, singled, was hit by a pitch, stole a base and scored once. Jared McDonald had a pair of singles and two runs. Wichita’s bullpen faltered but survived thanks to the early lead.
"One of our mottos is score every inning," Kahaulelio said. "You never know what happens. We could be up by 10 runs in the ninth inning and they could score 10. That’s what this game is, scoring runs and playing good (defense). We’re going to keep scoring as much as we can."
Wichitaabrhbiabrhbi Provenchar cf 4123Khoury ss3101Mercedes 2b5001McDonald 3b5220Holdren rf4011Rodriguez dh2122Ventura 3b5020Ziegler 1b4012Alonso 1b4110Einertson cf4110Shah dh4120Peralta rf3112Beatty lf4101Manriquez c4010Rick c4000Kahaulelio 2b3121Barasso ss4120Conroy lf3110Payne pr0100Totals 366106Totals 318118
E—Manriquez. LOB—Lincoln 7, Wichita 9. 2B— Ventura (1), Shah 2 (2), Kahaulelio (1). HR — Provencher (1). SF — Beatty (1), Khoury (1), Zieglre (1), Peralta (1). SB — McDonald (1), Kahaulelio (1), Conrow (1). .
IPHRERBBSOGonzalez L,0-1 3 2/355522Edwards2 1/332202Slovak1/331100Odom2/300021Cooney100001
IPHRERBBSOBlacksher W,1-0 521123Melendez110001Nevarez133311Martinez121100Dew S,1121003
WP — Melendez (1). Umpires — home, Bryan Childe; first, Andrew Carroll; third, Rich Gunton.. T — 3:04. A — 3,095.