MIDLAND Last year he sported a goatee. This year he has a Mohawk and a mustache that’s straight out of the 1970s.
Ryan Lipkin says he always does something different and “a little crazy” with his hair, which is part of the fun of being a professional baseball player. The Midland RockHounds’ 24-year-old catcher from California usually wears a smile, too, at least when he’s at the ballpark.
“It’s a fun thing,” Lipkin said. “I enjoy playing the game, and I’m looking to any way I can have a fun, happy day.”
Lipkin has had a lot of happy days as of late. He started the season as the backup to Ryan Ortiz, who was a returning RockHound from last year, but has played at least every other day for most of the last month.
Lipkin said Ortiz, who is batting .168 in 38 games this year, hasn’t been able to play as much because of an elbow issue. RockHounds manager Steve Scarsone, who had a third catcher (Juan Nunez) assigned to his team on June 7, said it’s also a matter of trying to keep players fresh at a physically demanding position.
Either way, Lipkin is taking advantage of his increased role. He has hits in seven of the nine games he’s played in this month, and he’s hit home runs in three of his last eight games.
“Over the course of this half, especially this last month, Ryan Lipkin has proven to be a worthy guy to get more playing time,” Scarsone said.
Lipkin, a 24th-round draft pick of the Oakland Athletics who’s in his third minor league season, batted .248 last year with Single-A Stockton (Calif.). He hit 20 doubles and six homers while driving in 47 runs in 83 games.
Through 28 games with the Double-A RockHounds of the Texas League, Lipkin is hitting .240 with six doubles, four home runs and 13 RBIs. He said he’s starting to get in a groove because of the increased playing time and his work with RockHounds hitting coach Tim Garland, who has tried to improve Lipkin’s footwork in the batter’s box.
Lipkin, who entered this season with seven homers in 135 career games, said his power surge has been a “pleasant surprise.”
“I’m at a level I haven’t been in, and when I first got here I was kind of looking to survive,” Lipkin said. “Now I feel like I can survive at this level and now I’m looking to thrive a little bit more and kind of take off a little bit better.”
Lipkin also has been solid defensively. He’s committed four errors and has a .983 fielding percentage, and he’s thrown out five of the 35 runners who have tried to steal a base against him.
RockHounds closer Jonathan Ortiz said through a translator, teammate Leonardo Gil, that Lipkin is an intelligent backstop who builds a good rapport with pitchers.
“He’s good behind the plate. He concentrates all the time,” said Ortiz, one of seven RockHounds selected to play in the Texas League All-Star Game on June 28 in Tulsa, Okla. “He knows how everything happens in the game and what pitch to throw in any count. It’s good to have that confidence between catcher and pitcher.”
Ortiz also said Lipkin is an affable, and fashionable, presence in the clubhouse. Lipkin likes to keep things light and keep his teammates in a good mood, which has been easy at Citibank Ballpark.
The RockHounds improved to 20-9 at their home field after Thursday’s 5-1 win against San Antonio, which started a 12-game homestand, and Lipkin continued his strong stretch offensively with a double and his first stolen base of the season.
“I’m having a good time and I think I’m in a good place,” Lipkin said. “I’ve just got to work hard and keep doing what I’m doing.”
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