Ryan Hinson spent the offseason pitching to a dummy. He spent Friday night pitching to more animated figures who were similarly unable to mount offense against him.
Hinson missed spring training to finish college classes in South Carolina. In his first appearance against live hitters since last season, the Wingnuts left-hander dominated Lincoln over 6 1/3 scoreless innings in Wichita’s 6-4 win at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
The Wingnuts fell apart immediately after Hinson exited, but held onto a one-run lead during a perilous seventh before adding an insurance run in the eighth. Wichita improved to 2-0 behind Hinson, who tied for the Wingnuts lead with 11 wins last season.
"I had a little more adrenaline going than I did with the dummy," Hinson said. "It’s good to be out here and get a win the first time out."
Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper called Hinson sporadically during a short spring training to make sure Hinson was on schedule to pitch in games after returning to Wichita. Hooper knew the outcome of those calls before they were made, having built a trust in Hinson during the lefty’s outstanding debut season with the Wingnuts.
The strategies against the dummy worked as well against Lincoln. Hinson meticulously spotted his pitches, allowing two hits and working around potential trouble in the first inning.
After escaping the first, he had three straight 1-2-3 innings and didn’t allow a hit until the fifth. Hinson was on a pitch count of about 75 but exceeded it by three by pitching to one batter in the seventh.
"He’s a hard worker," Hooper said. "Everybody was gone (Thursday) night, but he’s out here in left field doing exercises and getting himself ready. He’s got a game plan, he sticks to it. The four days in between are just important as the day he starts."
Hinson struck out four and recorded nine groundball outs. He went to three-ball counts three times and threw four or fewer pitches to 13 of the 21 batters he faced. He not only stuck to the game plan but to the one pitching coach Luke Robertson provided him.
"I was just going out there and giving us a chance to win," Hinson said. "Luke told me (Thursday) night that I had 75 pitches and he said, ’You better be efficient.’ After I came out I said, ‘Is that efficient enough for you?’ ”
The Wingnuts were stymied early by Lincoln left-hander Thomas Palinca, and missed a chance to score in the third. The first two Wichita hitters singled, and after a sacrifice bunt Jared McDonald bounced into an unorthodox doubled play.
Lincoln first baseman John Alonso made the unassisted play at first then threw behind Mike Conroy, who strayed too far off second base, to escape the inning.
Hooper opted not to play small ball in a similar situation in the fourth, allowing Mitch Einertson to swing away with two runners on. Einertson delivered a single to load the bases before David Peralta drove in two with a hit and Jake Kahaulelio singled home another.
Wichita stretched the lead to 5-0 in the fifth with Einertson collecting an RBI infield single.
"It’s a gut feel for me," Hooper said. "The game dictates it for me. Even there late in the game, I’m going to give him a swing to do something. If not, I’m going to bunt him over. You hear me talk about that extra run all the time. The difference between a one-run game and a two-run game is huge."
The Wingnuts nearly lost the lead in the seventh, when a passed ball and an error helped lead to four Lincoln runs. Nick Walters escaped by striking out the final two batters with a runner on third, and Wichita got an RBI single in the eighth by Salomon Manriquez.
Wichita is unscathed so far despite a poor showing by the bullpen, which has allowed nine runs in two games.
"I don’t know what’s going on down there right now," Hooper said. "Fortunately, we’ve had what we’ve had happen the last two nights and we’ve won both games. That’s not always going to be the case. You live and you learn. You learn from it and we hope we can get better."
Wichitaabrhbiabrhbi Provenchar cf 4000Khoury ss3110Mercedes 2b4010McDonald 3b4121Holdren rf4000Rodriguez dh4110Ventura 3b4120Ziegler 1b3100Alonso 1b4111Einertson cf4221Shah dh3100Peralta rf4012Beatty lf3121Manriquez c3011Rick c4000Kahaulelio 2b4021Barasso ss4000Conroy lf3010Totals 34462Totals 326118
E—Alonso (1), McDonald (1), Walters (1). LOB—Lincoln 5, Wichita 5. 2B— Mercedes (1), Ventura (2), Beatty (1), Manriquez (1). 3B — Khoury (1). SB — McDonald (2)
IPHRERBBSOPalica L,0-1 4 1/395513Mackey1 2/310000Parise211001
IPHRERBBSOHinson W,1-0 6 1/320004Simon034210Walters2/300003Martinez110001Dew S,2100011
Umpires — home, Andrew Carroll; first, Rich Gunton.; third, Bryan Childe. T — 2:43. A — 3,458.