The difference between the hits allowed by Wingnuts starting pitcher Jon Link on Thursday night and the outs he recorded was that sometimes groundballs found their way through the infield and sometimes they didn’t.
Link pitched with runners on base almost constantly, but he never seemed to be in too much trouble because he rarely allowed anything but singles that skidded across the turf and into the outfield.
Those same balls allowed Link to escape trouble when they were hit to Wichita infielders. Link recorded eight groundball outs and stranded 10 El Paso runners in 6 2/3 scoreless innings as the Wingnuts completed a four-game sweep of El Paso with a 1-0 win at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Ryan Khoury delivered the lone RBI, singling to right field with two outs in the fifth after a Jared McDonald ground-rule double. Link improved to 4-1 and his ERA dropped to 2.08. He allowed six hits and four walks but only one runner reached third base against him.
"When he’s off, he still might give up no runs or one run or two runs," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "That’s about where it stops for him. I had a feeling tonight."
Link allowed two baserunners in each of the first four innings. His sinking two-seam fastball was effective throughout his start, producing five singles and the eight groundball outs, but his secondary pitches didn’t prove as trusty.
Inconsistent command of those pitches helped lead to his four walks, but Link’s wish to not be predictable forced him to keep using them. When he needed an out, though, he went back to the sinker, and El Paso never found the elusive clutch hit.
Groundballs or strikeouts ended five of the six innings he completed, and he worked out of his final jam — two on with one out in the sixth — by inducing a 6-4-3 double play.
"As a sinkerballer on turf, singles are going to happen," Link said. "Seeing-eye singles happen. As a pitcher in general, you’re going to give up hits — they’re paid to hit the ball. The best thing about today was that I was one pitch away from getting out of the inning."
One untimely pitch was the difference between El Paso starter David Casillas’s outing and Link’s. Casillas, among the league-leaders in strikeouts, brought his power pitches and recorded nine strikeouts.
He was on his way to possibly his most overpowering inning when he struck out Colt Loehrs and David Amberson to start the bottom of the fifth. But after Casillas fell behind McDonald 2-0, McDonald turned on a fastball for a double to right. Khoury, followed with an opposite-field single to score him.
By the time Khoury came up for the third time, Casillas had walked two but established that he was mostly working within the strike zone. McDonald found a hittable pitch when he was ahead in the count and Khoury kept it simple by staying with an outside pitch.
"He was making his pitches, he was using his off-speed," Khoury said of Casillas. "He threw me the same pitch that he got me to roll over on the (at-bat) before, and I stayed through it a little bit more. I tried to make an adjustment and luckily it got through."
It wasn’t obvious at the time that one timely hit would be the difference, but Link was beginning to make it look that way. The double play got him off the hook after his one-out error in the sixth, and he retired the two batters he faced in the sixth before giving way to the bullpen.
Hooper played matchups to get 2 1/3 innings of one-hit relief from Nick Walters, Lincoln Holdzkom and Josh Dew, with Walters and Dew maintaining their perfect ERAs.
The groundballs that hurt Link at times ended up saving his scoreless start, a possibility for which Wichita’s infielders are prepared.
"He throws sinkers and his off-speed is down in the zone, so every single pitch we’ve got to be ready," said Khoury, Wichita’s shortstop. "We know that if he rolls it to us, we want to be able to pick him up and pick all of our pitchers up like that."
Note — The Wingnuts’ home games are now being streamed online at http://new.livestream.com/accounts/3745544. The video stream is simulcast with play-by-play on KWME, 92.7-FM.
|Gonzalez ss||5||0||1||0||Khoury ss||4||0||2||1|
|Garcia 2b||5||0||0||0||Kahaulelio 2b||4||0||1||0|
|Joynt rf||4||0||1||0||Rodriguez dh||2||0||0||0|
|Cisneros 1b||2||0||0||0||Rotola dh||2||0||0||0|
|Einertson cf||4||0||2||0||Ziegler 1b||1||0||0||0|
|Ramirez dh||4||0||2||0||Armstrong c||3||0||0||0|
|Muse lf||4||0||1||0||Nieves 3b||2||0||0||0|
|Montero c||2||0||0||0||Loehrs lf||2||0||1||0|
|Corcino 3b||4||0||0||0||Amberson rf||3||0||1||0|
E— Link (1). LOB—El Paso 11, Wichita 5. DP— El Paso 2, Wichita 1. 2B— Einertson (8), McDonald (9). SB—Loehrs (2). CS — Ziegler, Nieves.
|Link W,4-1||6 2/3||6||0||0||4||5|
WP — Link. Umpires — home, Thigpen; first, Ivinski; second, Urton. T — 2:46. A — 2,582.