The Wingnuts unveiled the lineup they’ve waited four seasons and 84 games for on Thursday night, with three sluggers occupying the middle of the order.
Then the Wingnuts bunted their way to a big inning and a 7-3 win over El Paso at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Sure, John Rodriguez, C.J. Ziegler and Greg Porter had plenty of responsiblity for Thursday’s win, but small ball was just as much of a factor, as two bunt singles led to a four-run third inning.
"We take a lot of pride in (bunting), we work on it," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "We’re going to do the little things right, if I’ve got anything to do with it."
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The approach is nothing new for the Wingnuts, who have executed 32 sacrifice bunts this season. The Wingnuts’ best bunters are also some of their fastest players, and they can easily turn sacrifices into hits.
That play has become Mike Conroy’s specialty. He leads the Wingnuts with 11 sacrifices, but he’s also capable of laying down a bunt in the perfect spot and earning a single. He did that in the third, wheh his job was simply to move Jessie Mier from second to third.
Conroy did one better, pushing a bunt past pitcher Ramon Garcia then beating Garcia, sprinting to cover first base, in a race to the bag. Conroy’s speed was put to use again moments later, when he stole second and eventually scored on a passed ball.
"Worse comes to worst, you move a guy over," Conroy said of his bunt. "But you get a bunt like that, with some speed, it becomes a base hit. It’s just putting pressure on the defense."
Getting to third base allowed Mier to score on a sacrifice fly, and the Wingnuts’ offense got going again on a bunt hit by Jake Kahaulelio. The next batter, Rodriguez, blasted a two-run homer that gave the Wingnuts a 4-1 lead.
Rodriguez missed the previous three games with an ankle injury that threatened to sideline him even longer, but his impact was felt with his home run and the depth he gives to the lineup with Ziegler and Porter batting behind him.
The presence of those three hitters allows the Wingnuts players and Hooper to be more liberal in ways to get on base and move around the bases.
"That’s the epitome of a good team," Conroy said. "You have every aspect — power, speed, defense, quality pitching — and you put all those together, you’re going to have a good team."
Mier delivered a sacrifice bunt in the fourth, moving two runners into scoring position before Wilson Batista scored on a sacrifice fly. Ziegler doubled in the fifth to drive in Kahaulelio, and while Porter went hitless, he drew a pair of walks.
"They keep saying it’s a different lineup when I’m in there, but I don’t like to talk about myself," Rodriguez said. "It is a different lineup. I’m just real happy to come in and produce and help the team.
"It’s a great lineup. We’re giving managers trouble right now. They don’t know which pitcher to bring in to face which hitter. We’ve got a good chemistry going on right now, and hopefully it’ll continue."
Wingnuts starter Anthony Capra supplemented the offense with his third straight solid start. Capra’s ERA was 7.24 on July 23, but aside from one hiccup he has been one of Wichita’s most reliable starters.
In his last three starts, Capra has allowed four earned runs in 18 innings. He suffered a hard-luck loss and took a no-decision in his previous two outings, and Thursday’s win was his first since July 28.
Capra’s ERA fell to 4.61, but he had to sweat out the win when reliever James Hoyt allowed a run and El Paso loaded the bases with two outs and the tying run at the plate. But Fernando Valenzuela popped out to end the game.
|Gonzalez ss||4||1||0||0||Khoury ss||3||0||1||2|
|Fronk 3b||4||0||1||0||Kahaulelio 2b||5||2||2||0|
|Einertson cf||3||1||2||1||Rodriguez dh||4||1||2||2|
|Dotel rf||5||0||2||0||McDonald dh, pr||1||0||0||0|
|Acey 1b||3||0||1||0||Porter lf||2||0||0||0|
|Chavez c||4||0||1||0||Batista 3b||4||1||1||0|
|Nelson 2b||4||1||1||0||Peralta rf||3||0||0||0|
|Muse lf||4||0||2||0||Mier c||3||1||2||0|
E— El Paso 1, Wichita 2. LOB— El Paso 11, Wichita 8. DP— Wingnuts 1 . 2B— Nelson (7), Khoury (14), Ziegler (13). HR — Rodriguez (12). SF—Khoury (10, Conroy (2). SB — Nelson (2), Muse (6), McDonald (14), Conroy (20). CS — Acey (2), Khoury (8).
HBP — by Simon (Einertson). WP — Garcia. Umpires — home, Joe Pascucci; first, Justin Post; second, Dan Hoffman. T — 3:15. A — 2,234 .