Wichita Wingnuts

Revamped Wingnuts rotation paying dividends

The Wingnuts’ Jon Link pitches against Sioux Falls on July 21.
The Wingnuts’ Jon Link pitches against Sioux Falls on July 21. The Wichita Eagle

The Wingnuts have lost 60 percent of their starting rotation since the start of the season. That’s the solution, not the problem.

Jon Link, Scott Richmond and Eddie Medina are pitching nothing like replacements, and they each had a start in Wichita’s three straight shutouts on the road this week. The Wingnuts have the American Association’s fourth-best ERA even though they’ve rebuilt the entire staff during the season – the bullpen multiple times.

“Replacing that big of a percentage of your rotation – (pitching) is what wins,” Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. “Two big-leaguers up front, Link and Richy, those guys are tough night-in and night-out. If we’re fortunate to get in (the postseason), that’s going to be a huge advantage for us Game 1 and Game 2.”

Twelve players have been the Wingnuts’ starting pitcher for at least one game this season, but the travails of the rotation can basically be broken into two periods. The first included Anthony Capra, Omar Bencomo and Charlie Lowell, members of an opening-day rotation that was a strength.

Capra departed for the Mexican League after six starts and fellow former Wichita State left-hander Charlie Lowell was injured following his first six. Bencomo made it through a trade to Laredo, then a trade back to Wichita, before he was sold to the Minnesota Twins organization this month.

Capra, Lowell and Bencomo combined for a 4.29 ERA in 126 innings. Though it took a few detours, the Wingnuts have settled on ex-MLB pitchers Link and Richmond, along with Medina, as their replacements. Those three have totaled 19 earned runs in 107 1/3 innings, good for a 1.59 ERA.

Medina has been the most surprising, taking a pedigree that included three seasons of lower-level independent baseball and turning it into four mostly dominant starts. He rounds out a rotation of known commodities that include 2014 holdovers Jason Van Skike and Tim Brown.

“Rotation-wise, I love where we’re at,” Hooper said.

The Wingnuts aren’t as stable in the bullpen, where injuries and defections have plagued them since Jarret Leverett was sold into affiliated ball after one game. Wichita has lost two closers to major-league organizations. Left-handed reliever Frankie Reed and setup man Daniel Bennett are injured.

Hooper leans on his bullpen heavily – sometimes not by choice – and values the structure that enables each pitcher to slot into a role that is essentially permanent. He often hasn’t been afforded that luxury.

“It makes it tough,” Hooper said. “I like those guys to have roles and have an idea of when they’re going to be pitching. …A couple things that have haunted us, the signings of some late-inning guys and the injuries, too. It’s been work in progress, and it looks like it’s going to continue to be.”

Laredo at Wingnuts

When: 7:05 p.m. Friday

Where: Lawrence-Dumont Stadium

Records: Laredo 44-38, Wingnuts 50-33

Pitchers: Laredo, TBA; Wingnuts, RH Jason Van Skike (6-5, 4.51 ERA)

Radio: KWME, 92.7-FM