Wichita Wingnuts

Andy LaRoche provides boost in his Wingnuts debut

The Wingnuts' Andy LaRoche slides to the plate ahead of Grand Prairie pitcher T. J. Bozeman after a wild pitch in the fourth inning Tuesday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
The Wingnuts' Andy LaRoche slides to the plate ahead of Grand Prairie pitcher T. J. Bozeman after a wild pitch in the fourth inning Tuesday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The Wichita Eagle

Andy LaRoche has played more than 400 major-league games, but for now he’s just a guy with no name on the back of his jersey.

LaRoche didn’t come to Wichita for the spotlight, and his nameless uniform represents the Wingnuts’ barrage of recent transactions made to solidify a tenuous spot in first place – six other players are also blank on the back because there hasn’t been time to sew.

LaRoche paid immediate, anonymous dividends on Tuesday night, driving in two runs and scoring another after a fourth-inning double in Wichita’s 7-5 win over Grand Prairie at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.

The win snapped the Wingnuts’ three-game losing streak and allowed them remain ahead of hard-charging Joplin in the American Association South.

“I’m just trying to win every game no matter what,” said LaRoche, who played third base and batted fourth in his Wingnuts debut. “I’ll take (no hits) the rest of the season just to win every game, because that’s what we’re here for. No matter where you are, that playoff atmosphere is just electric, and it’s something else.”

The 31-year-old LaRoche spent time in spring training with the Chicago White Sox, with whom his brother, Adam, signed this winter before beginning his 12th major-league season. The brothers played at Fort Scott High, where Andy was born, and are the sons of another ex-big-leaguer, Dave LaRoche.

After a cursory look with the White Sox, LaRoche planned to take the summer off except for an occasional slow-pitch softball outing. He went more than four months without facing competitive pitching before playing three games for the Wichita Alumni team in the NBC World Series.

“The tournament definitely helped out a little bit,” LaRoche said. “It kind of eased my way into it. It was pretty much just college pitching, it’s not the caliber that this is. It got me seeing a little bit of live, so it helped out.”

If three NBC games didn’t nullify a mostly inactive summer, the tournament did help LaRoche discover his desire to continue playing. The Wingnuts have been desperate for offense and added LaRoche on Tuesday while re-signing outfielder Harrison Kain after Kain spent time away because of injury.

LaRoche was a major prospect in the Dodgers system and is perhaps most well-known for his involvement in a trade in July 2008 that brought slugger Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers and sent LaRoche to Pittsburgh.

LaRoche’s potential never materialized with the Pirates or two other organizations, and his last major-league action came when he got four at-bats for Toronto in 2013.

The Wingnuts needed one game to see LaRoche begin to blossom. He had a sacrifice fly in his first plate appearance, then a double in the fourth inning and an RBI groundout in the fifth. His timing at the plate and arm strength from third base are areas for growth, but LaRoche made a positive impression.

“He’ll help, he’ll definitely help,” Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. “… It’s probably going to take a little bit. The thing that I think will probably take him the most (time) is getting his arm in shape. If you take any time off throwing, it’s going to take a little bit of time to get back in shape. But as you could see, he made every play and got it over there fine.”

Wichita took cues from LaRoche and took advantage of a deeper lineup, notching 10 hits against last-place Grand Prairie. Another former major-leaguer, Luis Hernandez, had three hits for the Wingnuts and three RBIs.

The Wingnuts had hiccups, like allowing the go-ahead run to come to the plate in the ninth after Grand Prairie rallied from a 7-1 deficit, and allowing a run to score on a play with two errors. But LaRoche’s presence has Wichita’s sights set higher than on Monday, when Hooper bemoaned another listless defeat.

G. Prairie

Wichita

ab

r

h

bi

ab

r

h

bi

McGruder 2b

3

1

0

0

Ray cf

3

2

1

0

Richardson rf

4

1

2

2

Espinosa rf

3

0

2

0

Chavez c

3

0

0

1

Padgett 1b

4

0

0

0

Cabrera lf

4

0

0

0

LaRoche 3b

3

1

1

2

Diaz dh

3

0

1

0

Mittelstft dh

4

1

1

0

Hoo-Hslm 3b

3

0

0

0

Nester c

3

2

1

1

Fraazier 1b

4

1

1

0

Kain lf

4

1

1

0

Hart cf

3

1

1

0

Hernandez ss

3

0

3

3

Castano ss

3

1

1

1

Smart 2b

3

0

0

0

Pair ph

1

0

0

0

Totals

31

5

6

4

Totals

30

7

10

6

Grand Prairie

000

101

030

5

Wichita

100

312

00x

7

E— Frazier, Castano, Ray, Padgett. DP— Grand Prairie 2, Wichita 1. LOB— Grand Prairie 4, Wichita 3. 2B— Hart, Espinosa, LaRoche, Kain. HR — Castano (1). SB — Hoopii-Haslam. CS — Hernandez 2. SF — Chavez, LaRoche.

Grand Prairie

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

Bozeman L,2-10

5

7

5

4

2

2

Neptune

2

3

2

2

1

0

Martin

1

0

0

0

0

2

Wichita

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

Medina W,3-0

7 1/3

4

5

4

3

3

Pardo

2/3

1

0

0

0

0

Bennett S,3

1

1

0

0

1

1

WP — Bozeman 3, Pardo.

T— 2:30. A— 3,128.

Grand Prairie at Wingnuts

When: 7:05 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Lawrence-Dumont Stadium

Records: Grand Prairie 26-49, Wingnuts 43-32

Pitchers: Grand Prairie, LH Bennett Whitmore (2-6, 4.53 ERA); Wichita, Jon Link (4-0, 1.82)

Radio: KWME, 92.7-FM

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