A Baseball Life

Stepping off the mound: Willie Schwanke switches to DH, shows off senior swing

A year ago, Willie Schwanke was on the mound, eyeing batters and disguising a signal to the catcher of how his breaking fast ball would slide through the strike zone just right.

An acclaimed pitcher, drafted to the Major League in 2015, Schwanke fit Wichita State’s system in a matter of ways. Measuring his talent, head coach Todd Butler thought of ways he could utilize his fifth-year senior in a matter of ways.

As Schwanke returned from a pulled lat muscle, Butler pulled the former starting pitcher and set him up with a new challenge.

Revitalizing his batting rotation, Butler added some senior strength by sliding Schwanke into the role of designated hitter.

“We put him in the ballgame and he gave us quality at-bats, hit line drives and possessed a quality strike-zone discipline — everything we need him to do as a designated hitter,” Butler said.

Recruited out of Frisco, Texas, Schwanke hit as a freshman. Butler said he always had intentions of utilizing Schwanke in both of his abilities.

“He was doing so well pitching that we took the bat away from him so he could concentrate on pitching, but he’s well utilized in a matter of ways,” Butler said. Schwanke set the bat down for two years while he focused on pitching, but Butler said he was able to pick up where he left off without any noticeable difference.

Right now, Wichita State, a team with an 18-21 record, most needs veteran help in the hitting rotation, Butler said.

“Right now, the No. 1 thing for our team is his bat,” Butler said.

Hitting sliders, changeups and fastballs isn’t a new style for Schwanke, whose father worked as a hitting coach for Louisiana State University, a team that won the NCAA championship four times in the 90s and twice more since 2000.

“His pitching background helps him understand what’s being thrown in different counts and different situations,” Butler said. “His approach to the game, whether he’s hitting or pitching, is very elite.”

— Story by Evan Pflugradt

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