The Wingnuts departed last month for a 14-game road trip in first place and return home on Sunday in first place. Nothing has changed except for almost everything.
Wichita’s roster looks markedly different from the team it fielded near the end of July. Injuries and sales of two pitchers to major-league organizations mean the Wingnuts bring home a different lineup and pitching staff.
A patchwork group went 8-6 on the trip and won six of 10 games on the east coast and in Canada, including a three-game winning streak in New Jersey and Ottawa, Ontario that stretched into the beginning of August.
“I still feel like we gave a couple away. You know me, I’m never going to be satisfied,” manager Kevin Hooper said. “But to go 6-4 on that trip with what went down – the guys we couldn’t get across, the injuries we’ve had, and we had two guys signed while we were there – I’ll take it.”
Every aspect of the Wingnuts roster was affected somehow over the last two weeks. Infielders Starlin Rodriguez, since traded to Kansas City, and Luis Hernandez were both injured, as was outfielder Harrison Kain.
Ace right-handed pitcher Jon Link suffered a strained forearm in late July, and starter Omar Bencomo and closer Dakota Watts were purchased into affiliated baseball. Bencomo was scheduled to miss his next start because of injury.
The Wingnuts are expected to re-sign Link and Kain when they become healthy, but enduring so much depletion while away from home forced Hooper to scramble for replacements.
He looked toward the North Country Baseball League, an independent outfit in the northeastern U.S., to help restock the pitching staff. An acquisition from the Atlantic League, Eddie Medina, has a 0.73 ERA in two starts.
“Because we weren’t home, we had to get a couple guys from that area. We just got word out in that area and used all of our sources,” Hooper said. “Eddie Medina has been tremendous in two starts. It’s funny how it works with some of the guys we find. They just come here and have success for whatever reason.”
The injuries to Kain, Hernandez and Rodriguez have limited the Wingnuts offensively. Wichita scored three or fewer runs in four of the final five games on the road with unproven players such as Leo Vargas, Jerry Rodriguez and Tyler Heil occupying lineup spots.
The Wingnuts don’t have a single .300 hitter and have more flaws in the offense than success stories. But they’re in first place, controlling their fate with 28 games to go before the playoffs.
“I still think we’re a couple pieces away, though,” Hooper said. “I haven’t been satisfied offensively all year long, I don’t think that’s any secret. I think we’re very fortunate to be in the situation we are (while) hitting .269 as a team.
“… But it’s working. We’re three games in first place, and it’s working. But I still think we’re a couple pieces away.”
Joplin at Wingnuts
When: 5:05 p.m. Sunday
Where: Lawrence-Dumont Stadium
Records: Joplin 39-31, Wingnuts 43-29
Pitchers: Joplin, TBA; Wingnuts, RH Tim Brown (8-2, 3.45 ERA)
Radio: KWME, 92.7-FM