American Association pitchers probably aren’t too excited about pitching to Wingnuts’ designated hitter John Rodriguez under any circumstances. The former St. Louis Cardinal spent half a season hitting in front of Albert Pujols in 2005.
When the hitters behind Rodriguez in the Wichita lineup aren’t producing, it makes it that much easier to pass on him.
The prize of the Wingnuts’ offseason is doing his part, batting .400 through five games. But the struggles of the Nos. 4-through-6 hitters have contributed to Wichita’s losing streak, which hit three when New Jersey won an interleague game 5-1 at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium on Monday night.
The Can-Am league, of which New Jersey is a member, is playing interleague games against the American Association this season because both leagues have an odd number of teams.
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Rodriguez singled in the fourth and drew a sixth-inning walk but struck out swinging twice. Opposing pitchers are figuring out they can expand the strike zone against Rodriguez since the hitters who follow him aren’t producing so far.
"That’s no secret," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "If they don’t (produce), there’s no reason to pitch to (Rodriguez). Got to start making something happen there, bottom line, and we’ve got to do it in a hurry. Got to start putting some pressure on some folks."
As the Wingnuts’ most experienced hitter, Rodriguez is having good at-bats even when he makes outs. He saw 20 pitches in four plate appearances Monday, but C.J. Ziegler, Mitch Einertson and
David Peralta were no better for getting a longer look at New Jersey starter Kyle Greenwalt.
Ziegler’s performance is perhaps most baffling. After failing to get a hit in six spring training games, he has started 3 for 18 with six strikeouts.
Ziegler drew a walk as Wichita threatened in the sixth inning, but he often fails to change his approach when he falls behind in the count. He hit 24 homers while batting .335 in the North American League last season, but so far those numbers haven’t translated in a higher-level league.
No. 5 hitter Mitch Einertson is batting .211 and David Peralta is at .200 in the six spot. The three batters behind Rodriguez combined to go 1 for 12 on Monday.
"It’s all about a team effort," Rodriguez said. "I’m not worried about these guys right now because it’s early. We just have to stay within ourselves and go about our business. We’re going to hit and we have to hit in key situations."
The Wingnuts don’t have as much power in their lineup as they’ve had the past three seasons, and Hooper’s hands are tied on calling for steals or hit-and-run plays when the Wingnuts are trailing.
Jared McDonald homered in the sixth on Monday, but Wichita was mostly baffled against Greenwalt.