American Association baseball teams aren’t afforded the same number of bullpen spots as most affiliated teams, but that hasn’t stopped Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper from building his relief corps in the mold of many major-league teams.
Hooper, in his fifth year as Wichita manager, has once again stocked the bullpen with power arms and relievers who present favorable matchups. The anchor is closer Josh Dew, who hasn’t allowed an earned run in six innings, and the late-inning bridge to hand him a lead has been mostly seamless.
The Wingnuts’ top five relievers, including Dew, have posted a 1.72 ERA in 36 2/3 innings, helping Wichita post the second best team ERA in the league. The Wingnuts (10-6) will host El Paso for a four-game series starting Monday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Nick Walters, Anthony Capra, Lincoln Holdzkom and Daniel Bennett all possess flexibility to pitch in various roles, but having pre-determined spots has allowed the entire bullpen to flourish and pitch comfortably.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Wichita Eagle
Their collective excellence was best displayed in a 5-4 win over Sioux Falls on Friday. Starter Junior Guerra left after five innings in a tie game, and four Wichita relievers held the Canaries to three hits over the final four innings.
"Got to use a lot of the bullpen tonight," Hooper said after Friday’s win. "One of those fun games to manage because you get to kind of tinker with things with what you’re going to do with the bullpen. They were all tremendous again, keeping us in the ballgame while our offense kept chipping away."
Left-handed specialist Walters has matched Dew with a perfect ERA while exhibiting his continued ability to pitch just as effectively to right-handed hitters. Capra has been the workhorse of the bullpen, pitching longer than an inning in four of his five appearances.
Bennett, a side-arming right-hander, has been as deadly to right-handed hitters as Walters has been to lefties. Holdzkom hasn’t shown the power arm like some of his teammates, but has allowed two earned runs in 7 2/3 innings.
Collectively, the group has struck out 43 batters in 36 2/3 innings. Hooper has traditionally not had a quick hook with his starters, but he can avoid the danger of leaving them in too long with the security of a dominant bullpen.
Saturday, Holdzkom minimized the damage while allowing three hits in the eighth inning, and Dew worked a perfect ninth to save a 7-5 win.
"Another grinder," Hooper said Saturday. "That’s good, to get tested like that early in the season. You get to make a lot of decisions as a manager. Those are fun."
Canaries 11, Wingnuts 6 — Wichita dropped the final game of a weekend road trip as Sioux Falls hit five home runs.
|Khoury ss||5||0||1||3||V.Strttn cf||5||1||2||0|
|Kahaulelio 2b||5||1||1||0||Taylor 2b||3||1||0||0|
|Rodriguez dh||5||0||1||1||Ramirez lf||3||1||1||1|
|Ziegler 1b||3||2||1||0||Clark 1b||4||3||2||4|
|Lohers lf||4||1||2||1||Alonso dh||3||2||2||2|
|Nieves 3b||2||1||0||0||Pahuta 3b||4||2||3||3|
|Yoo c||4||0||0||0||Morales ss||3||0||0||0|
|Amberson rf||4||0||1||0||Baumann rf||4||0||1||1|
|McDonald cf||2||1||1||1||Dultz c||4||1||0||0|
E—Nieves (3). LOB—. Wichita 5, DF 5. DP— Wichita 2. 2B— Khoury (3), Kahaulelio (6), Ziegler (6), Loehrs 2 (2). HR — Clark 2 (7), Alonso (4), Pahuta 2 (4). SB — Taylor (4), Ramirez (1). SF — Ramirez. S — Taylor.
|Champion W,1-1||5 2/3||6||6||6||4||5|
HBP — by White (Alonso), by Champion (McDonald). Umpires — home, Rich Grassa; first, PJ Krause. T — 2:42. A — 3,097.