Jared McDonald tells the young baseball players he coaches in the offseason that batting in the No. 9 spot can be just as important as batting in the middle or top of the order. For proof, those players can look at McDonald himself.
The Wingnuts’ No. 9 batter has hit .367 over Wichita’s first 14 games (through Friday) by utilizing the parts of his game that would be just as useful if he hit somewhere else.
McDonald is one of the team’s fastest players, he can execute small-ball plays like a bunt or hit-and-run, and with developing power, he can reach scoring position by the time the Wingnuts’ RBI guys come to the plate.
"Back home I coach travel ball," McDonald said. "You’ve got the kids at the bottom of the order, and you’ve got to convince them, like ’Hey, you’re not a bad hitter. There’s a purpose for you.’ Coming in, there’s not a whole lot of pressure down there, other than it’s (No. 8 hitter David) Amberson and my job to get the top of the order rolling again."
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Last season, McDonald was traded twice — once from the Wingnuts to Lincoln, then back to Wichita from the Saltdogs — and his only stretch of extended success came when he hit .304 in 17 games for Lincoln.
In 72 games for the Wingnuts, McDonald batted .236 with limited power. Now McDonald is on pace for about 50 extra-base hits, and his early .551 on base-percentage is nearly 150 points better than his career average.
Part of that improvement is due to natural physical development — at 25, McDonald is entering the peak ages for many players — but the left-handed-hitting McDonald also credits a mechanical shift in his swing and an altered approach for his team-leading seven doubles and the Wingnuts’ only triple.
"I would definitely say I’ve hit more balls to the opposite field, over the left-fielder’s head or that one-hop the wall than I ever have," McDonald said. "Primarily my power has been to my pull side, but I think the more (hitting coach Jose Amado and veteran teammate John Rodriguez) have talked me into hitting the other into the other way — if you’re going to be a good hitter you’ve got to be able to hit to all fields."
The No. 9 spot is often called the "second leadoff" because if the final hitter in the order reaches base, it serves the same purpose as if the No. 1 hitter does. When McDonald is on base, it creates another RBI opportunity for 2-4 hitters Jake Kahaulelio, C.J. Ziegler and Rodriguez, who are all batting .370 or better.
When the power hitters reach base, more pressure is put on pitchers for the lower-half of the order, and the process repeats itself when McDonald comes up again.
"I like the freedom it gives me with being able to bunt, or knowing that (manager Kevin Hooper) trust me in a hit-and-run situation, or just igniting the offense," McDonald said. "Whatever I can do to get on base and focus on (scoring more runs) instead of driving in runs like from the 5 or 6 spot."
Wild night — After enduring a rain delay of nearly two hours, then a power outage that stopped the game for about 15 minutes after play resumed, the worst thing that could have happened to the Wingnuts on Wednesday was a loss.
They didn’t seem to be in much danger of that when they led Amarillo 5-1 after scoring two runs in the bottom of the fourth immediately after the rain delay. But the Sox scored the next five runs to take a lead over sluggish Wichita going into the bottom of the ninth.
The Wingnuts waited as long as possible to energize themselves, scoring two in the ninth to win 7-6. Rodriguez delivered the game-winning RBI with a sacrifice fly.
Sixteen players and Wichita’s coaching staff awoke early to work a kids clinic Wednesday morning.
"It was a long day," Hooper said. "I’m proud of the guys. I wasn’t real happy at all with the way we showed up after the weather situation, after the light situation. We packed it in pretty much, and I got on them a little bit in the dugout. We’re here, let’s play."
Old friend — Perhaps the most troubling part of a potential Wednesday loss was that it could have been delivered by a player who was in a Wingnuts uniform 48 hours before. Kristhiam Linares was traded by Wichita to Amarillo for a player to be named after two poor starts for the Wingnuts.
Wednesday, Linares made his Amarillo debut and, after allowing two runs in the fourth, shut down the Wingnuts for three innings while the Sox took the lead. The Wingnuts have yet to officially fill Linares’ spot in the starting rotation.