Zach Nehrir was on his best roll of the season two weeks ago. With four straight multi-hit games, the Class A Kane County center fielder was looking to add to a 2-for-3 night on May 6 when a 96-mph fastball from Fort Wayne reliever Trey Wingenter pummeled his right hand.
Two weeks away didn't throw Nehrir off track.
The D-backs prospect returned with a career night Thursday, tallying five hits for the first time and scoring two runs as Kane County routed Peoria, 10-0.
"I definitely didn't expect 5-for-5," Nehrir said with a laugh. "It was definitely a nice surprise. I was a little worried just because I'd had a great week right before I got injured. I was heating up. I'd been struggling for like a week, week-and-a-half prior to that week, so I was feeling great. Then I got plunked in the hand with a fastball, so I was pretty upset."
Nehrir had boosted his slash line from .230/.269/.299 entering May 3 to .279/.315/.404 after a 9-for-17 stretch over his next four games that included five extra-base hits. Thursday's return came with a bit of excited apprehension and some added pressure when Nehrir saw he was starting in the No. 3 spot in Kane County's lineup.
"There's a little bit of nerves, I think more so because I haven't played in two weeks," he said. "Wherever I am in the lineup, I don't try to change anything. I always have the same approach. I'm always out there just trying to be as confident as possible. It was awesome that the coaches believed in me that much to pencil me into the three-spot."
The Houston Baptist product got started quickly, grounding a single to right field in the bottom of the first inning.
"I was just trying to see the ball deep and catch the ball a little out front with the barrel and look middle-away, right-center gap," Nehrir said. "I got some pitches right there, outer third of the plate. I was able to put a good swing on them. After the first hit, my nerves calmed down and I relaxed a little bit. Every at-bat, I got another [hit] and was like, 'OK, that's awesome.'"
Nehrir added singles to right in the third and fourth before lining a single to left in the sixth and reaching on an infield hit to short in the seventh.
"I mean 5-for-5, heck yeah, it felt better than I expected," he said. "For me personally, it's all about my swing direction. I'll usually try to look gap-to-gap. I try to stay middle of the field. When I struggle, it's because I'm coming off the ball too soon. Whether I'm making contact or pulling off, I'm not staying through the ball. My direction is just off when I'm struggling, so I've really been focusing."
With his hand feeling almost 100 percent and his fifth straight multi-hit game in the books, Nehrir knows he has more work to do to be completely back.
"I hit some balls well, but they weren't doubles off the wall or anything like that," he said. "I had five singles, so I was hitting the ball well, but it was to shallow outfield or a ground ball in the hole. I think as time goes on and my hand heals more and more, I'll get that power back and hopefully get some more doubles and some more home runs."
The Cougars tallied 11 more hits and cleanup hitter Trevor Mitsui went 3-for-5 with a triple, a double and two RBIs.
Despite sometimes lengthy innings at the plate -- Kane County scored in six of eight frames -- Cougars pitchers were unfazed. Joel Payamps worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the first on the way to scattering five hits over six innings. He fanned six and walked two. Carlos Hernandez gave up three hits in the final three frames to pick up his first save of the season.
Tyler Maun is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun.