SIOUX CITY – The numbers on his five years of baseball at the University of Tennessee-Martin certainly didn’t project the job he’s done in three seasons with the Wichita Wingnuts.
Matter of fact, what 26-year-old pitcher Alex Boshers has accomplished would be quite impressive even if the Nashville native had been the very best pitcher ever from a mid-major in a northern Tennessee city of 10,000 people.
Saturday night was just the latest case in point as Boshers countered two walk-off victories for the Sioux City Explorers with the first eight innings of a 5-1 victory for Wichita’s runaway American Association South Division leaders.
The impressive outing sent the righthander to 10-2, becoming just the second double-digit winner this season in the 12-team independent league. No coincidence, either, the leader with 11 is former major leaguer Mark Hamburger of St. Paul, who matched Boshers’ 12 wins for the league lead a year ago.
Boshers (pronounced bow-SHEERS) allowed just four hits (reliever James Campbell yielded another in the ninth inning) as he lowered his earned run average to 3.17. Two of those hits came off the bat of resurgent catcher Tyler Ogle, who homered for the second night in a row, providing the only Sioux City run.
Suffice it to say, this is not the same pitcher who went 7-21 with a 6.79 ERA over four-plus seasons with a UT-Martin program that struggled to a 77-190 record during that span. Opposing hitters piled up 369 hits in 246-plus innings for a hefty .346 batting average.
However, Boshers pitched got an extra year of eligibility after having his original senior season halted by an elbow injury after just six innings in 2013. The Tommy John surgery he underwent has been a career-saver for countless pitchers. Few, though, have benefitted quite so much.
“The Tommy John gave me a lot of movement, actually,’’ he said. “I got to change my arm angle and I started getting movement I hadn’t had before on my fastball. I’d been a guy that just tried to blow it by everybody and 91 (mph) doesn’t blow it by everybody in college baseball.’’
Returning for his injury hardship year in 2014, he hadn’t changed his mindset. The different approach came after taking a year off, studying “the different variables that go into making the ball move.’’
Then, he got in touch when then-Wichita Manager Kevin Hooper, who turned him down twice before finally watching him throw in a workout in Nashville.
“He told me, ‘Since Day 1, I saw something,’ ‘’ said Boshers, who joined the Wingnuts in 2015, pitched solidly out of the bullpen and then became an ace after getting a shot at a starting role.
Ironically, Wichita’s first regular season series at Lewis and Clark Park was also a flashback, of sorts, to Game 2 of the league semifinals last Sept. 8, when Boshers got the win in a 9-3 triumph that knotted best-of-five at one game each. Coincidentally, lefthander Cody Forsythe, an 11-game winner last season and the loser for the X’s that night, was also on the hill Saturday.
Wichita, which finished off the Explorers in four games before losing in the finals to Winnipeg, got all the support Boshers needed in the second inning. That’s when a routine one-out bouncer that looked like an inning-ending double play was booted by second baseman Joe Bennie. Brennen Salgado followed with a two-run triple and then a sacrifice fly by Leo Vargas gave the guests an early 3-0 lead.
Ogle’s homer in the home half of the second was an encouraging sign for a Sioux City team that use late-inning heroics to win the first two games of this four-game set. However, the Explorers couldn’t solve Boshers and the Wingnuts simply tacked on two more runs with a sixth-inning sacrifice fly to Richard Prigatano, who also homered in the ninth.
Wichita, 44-27, came into the contest with a 14-game lead on second place Cleburne in the top-heavy South Division and has all but locked things up with only 29 games remaining.
Forsythe surrendered just two earned runs in a six-inning performance, but his team has now lost seven of his last eight starts. Chris Powell, scheduled to start the Wednesday series finale in Cleburne, was superb in his first bullpen appearance for the X’s, retiring nine of 10 batters – all but Prigatano’s ninth-inning blast.
The series concludes tonight at 6:05, wrapping up an eight-game homestand that will leave just 12 home dates on the Sioux City schedule.