Justin Klipp knows he pitches better with men on base, but he’s not quite sure why.
The Wingnuts right-hander doesn’t feel the need to examine success, which is why he sticks with what works and rarely changes his routine. That includes a relatively barebones pregame ritual that earns him flak from teammates.
The reason that flak is good-natured rather than critical is because Klipp is proving his customs’ effectiveness with a 3-1 record and a 2.67 ERA for the Wingnuts in six starts since being acquired in early June.
Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said he wasn’t sure what the team would get from Klipp when it purchased him from the United League, but Klipp has at least met his own expectations.
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“I’m happy with the results I’m getting,” Klipp said. “I’m a competitor. I know I don’t have the best stuff, but whatever I have that day, I go out and make pitches. When I get in tight situations with runners on, that’s when I step it up a notch even further.”
The statistics bear that out, as Klipp has allowed 50 baserunners in 40 1/3 innings but surrendered 12 earned runs. The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder from Cal State Fullerton tops out at around 88 mph, but he works the corners and changes speeds efficiently enough to avoid sustained rallies by the opposition.
While some pitchers may feel pressure with runners on base, Klipp succeeds because he doesn’t give it too much thought.
“I guess I just stay calm,” Klipp said. “I’ve learned how to quiet my mind and stay calm throughout. When a guy gets a hit, my reaction is he got lucky. I try to play the game one pitch at a time. If I’ve got a guy on second and third with one out, I’m not like, ‘Oh my God,’ I just make the next pitch.”
Of course, plenty of thought goes into pitching — even for Klipp — from repeating a delivery to trying to execute command of pitches. It may appear that no thought goes into Klipp’s pre-game routine, but that’s not the case.
It may not look like it, but Klipp’s preparation is methodical, if not overly intense. He gets his mind into the preferred calm state, does some light running, stretches his arm with a rubber-band apparatus, then throws about 10 pitches in the bullpen.
Klipp can sometimes be found in the clubhouse shortly before his start, when his teammates will be ribbing him for his low-key ritual. But Klipp, a self-described former head case, has found something that works without having to think about it too much.
“I had a little breakdown my sophomore year (of college) in my confidence,” Klipp said. “Then Fullerton got a hold of me, and turned everything around. Turned me into a warrior, as I like to put it.”
Home cooking — Wichita’s team batting average at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium is hovering near .330, while the majority of the Wingnuts home runs — and wins — have also happened at home.
The Wingnuts are 25-7 at home, having won 12 of their last 13 in Wichita, with an 11-11 record on the road through Friday. It’s not an alarming trend because it’s tough to play better than .500 away from home, but Hooper expects more.
“I don’t know what it is about being home,” Hooper said after a home win over Kansas City last week. “We’ve got to start taking this on the road with us. We’ve got to start translating this to the road. There’s no reason we shouldn’t.”
The conditions at Lawrence-Dumont have helped the Wingnuts hit 38 of their 62 home runs there.
“Anytime the wind blows out here, boy, we’ve got good approaches,” Hooper said. “But a lot of the balls we hit here, no matter where you’re at, are going to be either home runs or doubles. We’ve got to start acting like the wind is blowing out no matter where we’re at.”
That’s his job — The Wingnuts have four capable outfielders and, of course, just three spots. Lately, Colt Loehrs has taken hold of one of them with seemingly no intention of letting go.
Loehrs has 11 hits in his last nine games, and though that isn’t attached with much power, Loehrs’ ability to get on base from the bottom third of the lineup has served Wichita’s offense well.
Loehrs’ hot streak has coincided with the cooling off of David Amberson, whose average has dropped from .343 to .269 since June 18. Amberson still brings plenty to the table with his speed and defense, though, so he’ll likely receive chances to work himself back into regular playing time.