By CONOR NICHOLL
On June 11, Kyle Peterson went 1-for-2 at the plate against Derby. On the mound, Peterson coaxed the last out in the eighth inning and then entered the ninth to protect a four-run lead. Instead, Peterson allowed two hits, four walks and five runs and allowed Derby to score eight runs in an 11-7 loss by the Hays Larks.
Because of a shoulder injury, that game marked Peterson's last plate appearance until Tuesday against Dodge City. He also hasn't pitched for two weeks, but will likely return to the mound this weekend against El Dorado.
Peterson delivered what appeared to be a pinch-hit double in Hays' 3-2, 10-inning loss to El Dorado on Thursday at Larks Park. But he was called out for missing first base by the field umpire.
"My shoulder is all back to normal," Peterson said. "I am just trying to get back in the lineup now. Hopefully that double will get me back in the lineup. Just pinch-hitting for now. I will be able to throw whenever they need me.
"I am going to throw at some point in this series. I am excited because I wasn't throwing nearly as hard as I normally did, so we knew something was wrong. I just needed time off. I should be able to go now," he added.
Peterson has played in 10 games with eight starts, though his 24 at-bats are the second-fewest of any Lark that has been in Hays all summer. He carries a .167 average (4-for-24). On the mound, Peterson was expected to be the Larks' closer at the start of the summer, a position that has been in flux. The Larks picked up 11 saves en route to a 35-17 record in 2008 with three pitchers -- Kevin Hennessey, Steven Mazur and Chase Johnson -- sharing closer duties. This year, the Larks have one save after 14 contests.
Andy Lewton has been the Larks' top reliever with a 1.50 earned-run average in six games, but can't go more than one inning after arm injuries forced him to miss nearly two years. Eric Rose, who has a team-high 10.57 ERA, has the lone save.
"That was what they were thinking," Peterson said. "Right before my arm got hurt, that is what they said, 'You are our closer right now.' and then I kind of blew it with that loss (to Derby), and so we have just been trying out like three different guys over and over to step up and see who could do the job.
"Really, Lewton has been doing well in that spot, but really we don't have the closer that we need yet, that guy that can go every other game just to close it out," he added.
In the spring, Peterson went 1-1 with a 5.32 ERA in 10 games (nine in relief) for Chandler Gilbert (Ariz.) Community College. In 231βΡ3 innings, he allowed 30 hits and 14 walks against 20 strikeouts.
"Hopefully, I can get back in there and do it for them," he said. "Because I have the velocity when my arm is good and I can definitely overpower some guys, so I definitely want to get back in there."
Bieker joins club
Greg Bieker, a former all-state player at Hays High School and a two-time all-Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association player at Fort Hays State University, has joined the Larks. Bieker started the summer playing for the Madison Mallards of the Northwoods League on a 20-day contract and batted .200 with eight hits in 13 games.
Bieker talked with HHS baseball coach and Larks manager Frank Leo before he went north.
"I said, 'Greg, you are welcome to come back. We will work you in,' " Leo said. "Just be patient. It is going to be a long summer, maybe some pinch-hits early and keep your head up and work hard, and maybe a lot of opportunities towards the end."
Bieker picked up first team all-conference honors and all-region second-team honors after he led Fort Hays with a .399 average, 79 hits and 21 doubles. This spring, he earned second-team all-MIAA after he hit .363 with 11 homers. His 27 homers rank fifth on the all-time Fort Hays list.
Bieker was hit by a pitch and scored the eventual winning run in a victory over Dodge City on Tuesday. On Thursday, he was on deck as a pinch-hitter when Codi Harshman grounded into a game-ending double play.
"It's the case of the guys I recruited here, I want to give them first chance and Greg understands that," Leo said. "He wants to keep working out, and maybe have an opportunity to help us."
Hitting with RISP
Two weeks ago, the Larks started Jayhawk League play with two blowout losses against El Dorado, 11-1 and 9-1. Hays kept the game closer Thursday with a 3-2 extra-inning defeat versus El Dorado.
"This is a better ball club (than earlier this summer)," Leo said. "This ball club had a lot of fight tonight."
However, one area of concern is hitting with runners on base and with runners in scoring position (RISP). Last year's club averaged 5.78 runs per game and left 7.57 men on base a contest.
This year, Hays is struggling offensively. The Larks' on-base and slugging percentages are similar to 2008, yet Hays has averaged 5.0 runs a night. Hays has left 8.28 men on base a game, including 11 versus El Dorado.
"We still got to take care of some RBI situations early in the ball game," Leo said. "We have to bear down at the plate and get the job done. If we do that in this game, we have a little bit of a lead.
"We are getting runners on base, but what we need to do is get them home. That is what we are not getting done right now." Leo added.
Heck in the 10th?
With his family in the stands, Andrew Heck became the second Larks pitcher to throw nine innings this summer. Heck spread 100 pitches over nine innings and matched Kurt Wunderlich's feat against Liberal on June 13. Heck pounded the strike zone all night; through two innings, he had 21 strikes in 25 pitches. After four innings, it was 39 pitches, 33 strikes. Heck began to tire in the late innings. At one point, he had 11 balls in a 29-pitch stretch.
In the ninth inning, Hays pitching coach Keith Harper told Heck it would his last inning. After the Larks tied the game, Heck wanted to pitch the 10th, but Travis Lumby took over.
"You are at 100," Heck said he was told. "That is kind of my limit for you. I definitely wanted to. I told him that I was still fine when we scored the run because I wanted to go back out there and win it, but I think he knew that I was probably getting tired."