By CONOR NICHOLL
On June 14, in a 13-3 home loss to Liberal, Chris Larsen relieved Travis Lumby in the fourth inning. Larsen permitted four runs (two earned) with three hits in 1/3 inning. After, Larsen, who entered the year with a sore arm, felt pain. He underwent an MRI and had some inflammation in his rotator cuff and fluid in his bicep. Larsen's summer might have been finished.
"There was a real concern that he was going to have to go home," Larks pitching coach Keith Harper said.
"The thought kind of crossed my mind, but I wanted to stay around," Larsen added.
Larsen remained in Hays, rehabbed and made his first start since June 5 in Game 1 on Saturday against the Colorado Sox. Larsen worked five shutout innings in an 8-0 non-league win at Larks Park. The win was Larsen's first as a starter and second of the summer. He won the season opener against Lindsborg in a team-pitched game.
"Just going out and working on stuff just to get back into the groove," Larsen said. "Throw a lot of strikes early, make them put the ball in play and let the defense do the work."
Hays improved to 15-10 overall, 11-4 at home and 5-1 in non-league contests with a doubleheader sweep. The Larks won 7-6 in the nightcap. Colorado dropped to 22-6. The Larks, helped by an odd baserunning play from Codi Harshman, scored four runs in the first and four in the third of Saturday's opener. Manager Frank Leo was in Boston at a wedding and Harper led the team. Assistant coach Doug Dreher coached third base, while Dusty Dreher, Doug's brother, a former Lark and record holder at Fort Hays State University, helped the team by coaching first. Dusty is a HHS assistant in the spring with Leo and Harper.
"Dusty and Doug did a good job," Harper said with a smile. " I had nothing to do with it. I just put up the lineup."
The lineup produced 11 hits and eight runs and helped the Larks win its seventh game in nine tries (with the win the opener) and push its winning streak to a season high four games. Rafael Valenzuela raised his average to a season-best .397 with a 3-for-4 showing and every starter either reached base or drove in a run. With one out in the first, Andrew Heck doubled to right-center. Harshman and Valenzuela followed with bloop singles and put runners on first and second. Then, designated hitter Joe Huwer hit a ground ball to third against losing pitcher Corey Ast.
Harshman ran back to second. Colorado third baseman Austin Roff, who could have forced Harshman by stepping on third base, instead ran Harshman back to second. He threw to second baseman Colton Little and caught Harshman in a rundown.
Valenzuela now stood at second. Little ran Harshman back to third, but made an errant throw. Kyle Peterson and Rick Devereaux followed with singles.
"I have been in this game a long time and it is amazing," Harper said. "You think you saw it all and all of a sudden tonight is a play that I have never seen before. Their coach even asked the umpire, 'What happened?' I am not arguring, I just want to know what happened, because I don't get it.'"
"It was a strange play," Harper added.
Larsen, who entered the night with a 4.50 earned-run average, including 13 hits, 11 runs (four earned) in eight innings, delivered his longest start of the summer and continued his turnaround. A Chandler-Gilbert Community College product, Larsen came in hurt.
"With a bit of a sore arm," Harper said. "Real sore."
After the Liberal outing, Larsen took some time off, tinkered with his mechanics and recovered.
"There wasn't anything torn, anyway that was what the doctor said as far as the MRI was concerned," Harper said. "We just worked him back a little bit at a time, just throwing some bullpens, just getting the feel back. Changed his mechanics a little bit. Now I think he is mechanically more sound, so he is throwing more with his lower half."
Earlier in the summer, Larsen was throwing across his body, and according to Harper, "flying open a lot."
"Dragging his arm, there was a lot of a combination of things," Harper said. "He was just aware of it and when you make them aware of it, they smarten up and make those corrections."
Larsen talked with his college coach and asked if he was going to do rehab at home or Hays.
He decided to stay and did band work to keep his arm flexible.
"Pretty much just working in my lower half, worked on using my legs a little bit more and throwing the ball more out in front," he said.
He permitted five singles with three strikeouts and two walks. He left two on in the first with a inning-ending strikeout. In the second, catcher Ollie Goulder stopped a rally when he picked a batter off first. In the final three innings, Larsen allowed just three base runners. Grant Gillespie and Eric Rose finished the game with scoreless innings.
The two teams will wrap up a three-game series with a 6:30 p.m. game today at Larks Park.