TJ Mittelstaedt Leads 15-Run Wichita Wingnuts Barrage
Wichita Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper has been tinkering with his lineup over the last few weeks, trying to get the club out of its early season hitting funk. If Sunday’s results are any indication, he may have just found the right combination. The Wingnuts battered the Lincoln Saltdogs pitching staff for 20-hits in a 15-9 win, improving the club’s record to 11-4 early in the 2015 American Association season.
The Wichita Wingnuts dominated this game from the start. It was 14-0 before the Saltdogs got on the board, but Lincoln showed a lot of heart, battling back in the final few frames of the game to make it closer.
Zach Staniewicz started for Lincoln and he struggled early and often. The Wingnuts scored two runs in each of the first three innings against the right-hander. Jayce Ray led off the game with a walk but was caught stealing. Alberto Gonzalez followed with a single and David Espinosa walked to put two runners on with one out. Two batters later John Nester continued his clutch run, doubling to the wall to score both runners and stake his team to the 2-0 lead.
In the top of the second, back-to-back singles by Luis Hernandez and Ray put runners at first and second with one out. Gonzalez was hit by a pitch to load them up, and Espinosa followed with his second walk of the game, this time driving in Hernandez. Matt Padgett grounded out, but Ray scored to make it 4-0.
In the top of the third with one out, Brent Dean lined a shot into the gap that he legged into a triple. Two batters later Hernandez drove him home with a single. The Wingnuts second baseman then stole second and scored on a single by Ray. That made it 6-0 and it was just the third inning.
In the fourth Espinosa walked again to lead off the inning and moved to second on a ground out. Nester walked and that was it for Staniewicz. Former Wingnuts pitcher Jared Gaynor relieved and gave up a base hit to TJ Mittelstaedt that loaded the bases. Two batters later Dustin Geiger walked, scoring Espinosa to make it a seven run lead.
In the fifth the Witchita Wingnuts blew it open. Ray rapped out another single to begin the inning, moved to second on a balk, and went to third on a ground out. Espinosa finally got to make contact with the ball, lining it into right field for a base hit to score Ray. Back-to-back singles by Padgett and Nester loaded the bases for Mittelstaedt, who drilled a towering shot over the wall for a grand slam to make it 12-0.
In was a quiet sixth inning, but in the seventh Wichita added two more. With one out Mittelstaedt homered for the second time of the game, a solo shot that was also his second home run of the year. Two batters later Geiger hit his second home run of the season, and it was 14-0.
Scott Kuzminsky (1-0) started for Wichita and he pitched well through 5.2 innings. The righty was making his first start of the season, and allowed just 3 hits and 4 walks, while striking out 5. In the sixth he loaded the bases with two walks and, after throwing 91 pitches, Hooper decided to remove him. Daniel Bennett closed out the sixth.
It looked like this was going to be an absolute blowout, but these Saltdogs have no quit in them. In the bottom of the seventh the Lincoln Saltdogs plated four. Jeremy Hamilton, Saturday night’s hero, singled to lead off the inning, and moved to third two batters later on a single by Ryan Lashley. Ryan Wiggins followed with a double that scored Hamilton, and Eddie Young grounded out to score Lashley. With two runs in Brian Joynt walked and Jon Gaston followed with a single that scored both Joynt and Wiggins. That made it 12-4 after seven.
The Wingnuts scored a single run in the top of the eighth. David Espinosa doubled against Mackenzie King and came around to score on a ground out by Padgett. That made it 15-4.
Most teams would have thrown in the towel at this point, but Lincoln Saltdogs manager Ken Oberkfell doesn’t manage a team with quit in them. Brad Mincey relieved in the eighth and was greeted by a CJ Ziegler double on the first pitch he threw. Curt Smith walked and both runners moved into scoring position on a ground out by Hamilton. Forgatch came to the plate and lined a single into right center field, scoring both runners. A Lashley single moved Forgatch to second, bringing Wiggins to the plate. Wiggins took two quick strikes then fouled off a pitch to stay alive. Two pitches later he drilled the 1-2 offering from Mincey for a three-run homer, his first home run of the year. That made the score 15-9, but that was as close as Lincoln would get.
Kuzminsky earned the win. Staniewicz (0-3) continues to struggle, seeing his ERA move to 16.20 through three starts.
The bottom of the order did most of the damage for the Lincoln Saltdogs. Forgatch, Lashley and Wiggins all went 2-4, with Wiggins driving in four.
Jayce Ray set a career high with five hits for the Wichita Wingnuts. Espinosa was 2-3 with 3 walks, 4 runs and 2 RBI. Mittelstaedt hit two home runs, and was 4-5 with 2 runs and 5 RBI.
By Robert Pannier