Hickman relief pitcher finds success as a hitter

Thursday, April 22, 2010 | 7:47 p.m. CDT; updated 8:43 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 22, 2010

COLUMBIA — It came as a surprise.

Five minutes before Hickman’s game Thursday against visiting Fort Zumwalt West, Kewpies closer Curtis Hicks found out he was hitting cleanup as a designated hitter.

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“I wanted to be in the lineup, but batting fourth was a little much,” Hicks said.

Stepping on deck before his first at bat, Hicks knew his new role — to reach base and drive in runs. His shock didn’t seem to affect his playing.

With Hickman trailing 3-0 in the first inning, Hicks immediately found himself in a run-scoring situation. After taking a few pitches, he hit a fastball into center field, scoring outfielder Neil Hansen.

It was a smiling Hicks standing on first base.

“The single just gave our pitcher some confidence coming out with a little bit of a rough start,” Hicks said. “To get a run back is always good.”

He does not often bat in the Kewpies lineup, but despite being a pitcher, he still hits well, Hickman coach Terry Whitney said. Against Festus earlier this season, Hicks hit a home run.

“I think of him as a good baseball player that can do a lot of different things,” Hickman pitching coach Dan Devine Jr. said. “He can play the outfield, he’s our backup catcher, and we’ve always known he can hit.”

Despite his recent hitting success, he said he wasn’t a strong hitter growing up. Before high school, he batted in the lower slots of the lineup and was mostly a pitcher.

But over the summer, he made strides in his hitting, he said. He began driving the ball up the middle, building confidence in his swing.

He credits a transition from practicing in the batting cage to practicing on the field to his success.

“Hitting on the field I can really just see that I can do a lot more than I think I can,” Hicks said.

In their last game against Jefferson City, Hicks blew the save and picked up a loss. He allowed four earned runs, unable to find his command. It was his first struggle of the season pitching, he said.

Now, after a run-scoring single in the first inning, it was Hicks who was driving in another two runs in the third inning with a double to right-center field.

“Right now, hitting is pretty fun,” Hicks said.

Hicks eventually scored on a single by third baseman Jordan Strawn to give Hickman a 4-3 lead before play was suspended by rain in the fourth inning.

“He’s a big part of our team, whether it’s on the mound or up to bat, and it was his turn to get a chance and he did something with it,” Whitney said. “He doesn’t need to redeem himself at all, but he did his job.”

For now, the game against Fort Zumwalt West is suspended, meaning the two teams will try to finish the last three innings on another day, Whitney said. If the game remains discontinued, the Kewpies will be credited with the win.

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