South Xtra: Middle infielders helping Wild Things succeed

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A baseball team must have a seamless aspect for it to be successful.

That quality is vastly important in what's referred to as the middle infield, which is occupied by the shortstop and the second baseman.

In the eighth inning of a 3-2 loss to the Windy City Thunderbolts on June 1, a play took place that epitomized the agility and speed required of quality middle infielders.

With the bases loaded and one out in a 2-2 game, the Thunderbolts' Max White scorched a line drive that appeared to be headed for center field and likely would score two runs for Windy City.

Washington second baseman Garett Rau, however, had a different idea as he snared the line drive and threw the ball to shortstop Ryan Kresky for a rally-killing double play.

"I made a decent catch on the line drive, and Ryan was right there on second so we could turn the double play and we got out of the inning," said Rau, a Ventura, Calif., native who was hitting .259 with 8 RBIs heading into Wednesday's doubleheader at home against the Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers.

"We talk between pitches," Kresky said. "After we get the sign from the catcher, we position ourselves [defensively]. We're always communicating and that gets us into a good situation."

Kresky believed the defense would be solid following a good spring training last month.

"When we got here, we took a lot of groundballs and worked on double-play feeds," he said. "When you have a great guy like Garrett working with you, it's easy to mesh. You learn each other's ins and outs and what you do well and what you need to work on together. It's been easy for me getting used to him over at second, and I hope it's been easy for him."

Kresky, a Freehold, N.J., native who was hitting .180 with 2 home runs and 7 RBIs before Wednesday, said the truest test for success for a middle infielder is when a pitcher does his job and gets the hitter to hit a groundball to either Rau or himself.

"You need to make that big play for him," he said. "You need to turn that double play, especially when there's a runner on first and the tying or go-ahead run is on third base. Just be on the same page and make plays, and that will take care of itself."

A lot has seemingly been taking care of itself for the Wild Things. They are 14-6, having won 14 of 17 since starting the season with three consecutive losses. They lead the Frontier League's Eastern Division standings.

Six of their 14 wins have been by one-run margins.

"Every night, we have a chance to put up 10 [runs], and if we don't, our pitchers are going to hold the other team to two runs, and our defense is going to do the work."

Kresky said the team's character has a lot to do with the composure it's displayed in those close wins.

"The guys take care of business, and they do their job," he said. "That's what we've been doing. Nobody panics. The pitchers throw strikes, and the infielders field groundballs and we've been getting timely hitting."

Rau really likes the way the team is playing defensively.

"We're solid everywhere," he said. "It helps when you have a good catcher like Jimmy [Vahalik], and all of us up the middle contribute. Jimmy doesn't shut up back there. He always has us on our toes and has us focused on the game."

Rau said the team's 14-6 record games is no fluke.

"We have a chance to win no matter who we put on the mound," he said. "Pitching is strong and the defense is strong. People should come out and watch some good baseball."

They'll have a good chance to do that during the next four days. The Wild Things finish a three-game series against Schaumburg tonight, then play host to the Joliet (Ill.) Slammers Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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