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Hays Larks

Larks’ hitters off to hot start

By Randy Gonzales

HAYS – Manager Frank Leo thought this summer’s version of the Hays Larks would hit for average, but for not as much as power as last year’s club. Through the Larks’ first 15 games, Leo has been right on the money when it comes to prognostications. The Larks are hitting .308 as a team, with eight home runs.

 |  2018

Leo thinks a team that makes consistent contact at the plate is better suited for the National Baseball Congress World Series in August at Wichita’s Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.

“I think you’re better fitted for postseason play at Lawrence-Dumont; home run ball does not come into play as much,” Leo said. “You’re better equipped if you can develop that contact hitter.”

Jared Martin, a first baseman and outfielder for the Larks, leads the team in hitting with a .439 batting average. He has yet to homer and has driven in eight runs.

Leo said Martin has made some adjustments at the plate that have proved beneficial. Martin, who started almost every game at Stephen F. (Texas) Austin as a freshman this spring, said the time off between the end of the spring season and the start of summer action allowed him to take a break; he felt refreshed entering the Larks’ season.

“Now, I feel like I’m more ready to play,” Martin said.

After a three-game sweep of non-league Oklahoma City over the weekend, Hays is now 12-3 overall and will take a 6-2 Jayhawk League record into Dodge City Wednesday night, when the Larks resume action after a two-day break.

The Larks have put their depth to good use so far this summer. The players look at the lineup card to see if they are in the lineup that night – and at what position.

“You never know where you’re playing,” Martin said. “We have five or six guys who can play at least two positions. That depth and versatility is huge for us, especially as we get later into the season.”

Leo is learning about his players’ capabilities as the summer progresses.

“I’m getting a very good feel for what these guys can do,” Leo said. “They pull together for each other. One guy that sits is cheering for the guy playing that day. They’re all going to get their opportunities.”

Martin thinks one thing the Larks can do is hit for more power. In the offseason he works with Ryan O’Hearn, a slugging first baseman in the Kansas City Royals farm system who is an alumnus from the same high school as Martin.

“Last year, they did have a ton of power,” Martin said. “This year, we probably have four or five home-run hitters on the team. But the way the weather’s been lately, the wind blowing in every night, we just haven’t hit any home runs yet.”

Outfielder Matt Munoz leads the team in both home runs (3) and RBIs (13), and catcher Easton Kirk is batting .304 with two homers, including a grand slam, and 11 RBIs. Outfielder Clayton Rasbeary, pitcher-DH Walter Pennington and infielder Daryl Myers also have gone deep for the Larks. Myers is batting .378, fourth on the team, with nine RBIs. After Martin’s team-leading average, infielder Wyatt Divis is not far behind at .436, with nine runs batted in. Infielder Ryne Randle is hitting .386 with six RBIs. Infielder Devin Hager is also over .300, batting .312 with eight RBIs.

“We’ve got a lot of talent,” Martin said. “Probably bigger than the talent, we’ve got a really fun group.”

The Larks are averaging almost 10 runs per game while the pitching staff has an earned-run average of 3.96 through 15 games. Right-hander Fabian Muniz in 2-0 with three saves. While pitching as a starter, in long relief and as the team’s closer, he has yet to give up an earned run in a team-high 17 innings, allowing five hits, with five walks and 17 strikeouts. Right-hander Michael Wong is 2-0 with a 1.39 ERA in 13 innings, with one walk and nine strikeouts.

“We can do any role we want with him,” Leo said of Muniz. “He would like to become a starter, but he also understands he’s very valuable to us out of the bullpen. He gives you a lot of peace of mind out of the bullpen, knowing what you’re going to get.”

Pennington (0-0, 6.48) is the probable starter for Wednesday’s game in Dodge City, while left-hander Nick Skeffington (0-1, 3.72) is slated to take the mound when the two teams meet again Thursday at 7 p.m. at Larks Park. Hays is in first place in the Jayhawk League as the Larks start a stretch of six games in six nights.

“Now we prepare for the big June push and on into July,” Leo said.

Randy Gonzales

Randy is a long time writer for various newspapers and has a passion for sports. He has been writing about the Hays Larks for years and we are proud to have him around!