It was a relatively frustrating first half of the season for the Wisconsin softball team, but the Badgers finally look to be hitting their stride.Illinois (18-18, 2-10 Big Ten) came to Madison over the weekend and, after sweeping the Fighting Illini in a three-game series, Wisconsin (22-15, 6-5) has extended its winning streak to five games.The Badgers set the tone right from the get-go Friday in their first game with the Fighting Illini this season.The score remained 0-0 for the first five innings of the game. Finally, in the bottom of the fifth, Wisconsin broke the scoreless tie. Senior Stephanie Peace led things off with a double down the left field line, making her way around the bases on a string of fielder’s choices, and eventually crossing home plate for the first run of the game on a fielder’s choice to Illinois pitcher, Brandi Needham.Not long after, senior Mary Massei singled to bring in teammate Ashley Van Zeeland to build a 2-0 lead.Any momentary relief the Badgers experienced with their two-run lead was extinguished the next inning, when the Illini responded with a pair of runs of its own in the top of the sixth.Illinois senior Alex Booker singled up the middle after teammate Remeny Perez led off with a hit by pitch. The second and third hitters went on to score the two runs of the inning, Perez batted in on a fielder’s choice and Booker stealing home right after.The score remained tied until the bottom of the seventh, when Wisconsin junior Maria Van Abel stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded. Van Abel came up with the walk-off single to third, allowing Chloe Miller to cross home and give Wisconsin the 3-2 win in the first game of the series.After a short intermission the teams took the field for the second game of the evening, one that Wisconsin third baseman Michelle Mueller decided she would take into her own hands.Wisconsin hit the ground running as Mueller homered over the center field fence in the first inning, batting in teammate Mary Massei who had reached on an error, giving Wisconsin the early 2-0 lead. But she was only just getting started.After a second hitless inning for Illinois, Mueller knocked another one out of the park, this time to right center, batting Massei and Peace around the bases for another three RBIs and putting the score at 5-0.The Fighting Illini finally got on the scoreboard in the fourth inning, putting up three runs on three hits.The outfield backed up as Mueller approached the batter’s box for the third time in the fourth inning, but it didn’t matter as the junior infielder sent a third pitch sailing over center field wall, adding three more RBIs for Wisconsin.The sixth inning brought UW two more runs, as Van Abel and Massei scored on Illinois errors, putting the final score of the night at 10-3, eight of which belonged Mueller.Mueller, currently batting .385 (third highest on the team) has now racked up eight home runs for the 2014 season, along with more than 40 RBIs (team best).If the last game had belonged to Mueller, then the third game of the Wisconsin-Illinois series was due to the effort of UW pitcher Cassandra Darrah, who tallied up 10 strikeouts over the six innings she threw.After Darrah struck out two batters in the top of the first, Massei and Peace led things off with a double to left and single, respectively. Mueller batted Massei in on a ground out for her ninth RBI of the weekend. Miller stepped up right after and singled to right field, batting in Peace from third base and making the score 2-0.Illinois responded in the top of the second when catcher Jenna Mychko put one over the left field fence, and again in the third when Perez gained an RBI off a double. Darrah shut down the Illini after the third inning, though, going on to throw seven more strikeouts over the next four innings.Wisconsin put up the last run of the day in the bottom of the sixth inning, when Van Zeeland picked up an RBI off a single, to bring the final score to 3-2 and giving Wisconsin its fifth straight win.The Badgers will look to continue their hot streak against in-state rival Green Bay (21-8) in a double-header Wednesday.
ARLINGTON, Texas >> In 2,090 major league starts before Tuesday, Jimmy Rollins had never batted ninth.The best trick to avoiding the nine-hole, of course, is to play for a National League team. Rollins debuted with the Philadelphia Phillies in September 2000 and did not leave until he was traded to the Dodgers in December.But with the Dodgers in an American League park the last two days, they were able to use a designated hitter. Alex Guerrero drew that card Tuesday and batted eighth. Rollins batted ninth.“It’s like a second leadoff” hitter, manager Don Mattingly said. “Hopefully (Rollins) looks at it like that. I didn’t think about it, but to me in the American League, a lot of times you use it like that. You’ll put a guy like a leadoff guy in the ninth spot, and hopefully he’s a guy getting on base toward the back of the lineup, rolling it over.” Rollins didn’t exactly embrace that explanation.“You can state it anyway you want, but you’re still hitting ninth,” he said. Then he paused.“Better in the lineup than out of the lineup. In there, you can do some damage.”Fact is, Rollins hasn’t been doing much damage this season, regardless of where he’s hit in the lineup. Batting first or second until May 29, Rollins had a .210 batting average and a .278 on-base percentage when he was dropped to eighth in the order for the first time.Since then, batting no higher than sixth, Rollins is hitting .170 with a .200 on-base percentage. If anything, hitting ninth might have offered Rollins a break.“Hitting eighth, that’s a major adjustment,” he said. “That’s always been and always will be the toughest place to ever hit on a National League team, hitting in front of a pitcher. Anywhere but eighth, you’ve still got a pretty good shot to be part of the action because they’ve still got to come to you because there’s a buffer between you and the pitcher.“You can’t allow yourself to get in bad habits, which is very difficult because when you’re not hitting eighth, you’re used to a 17-inch plate. Maybe it’s 24 inches now, going both ways. You just have to not get in bad habits.”Is Rollins satisfied with how he’s adapted?“It’s an everyday thing; it doesn’t matter where you are in the lineup. In the eight-hole … they’re not going to always challenge you so you have to get used to that — you have to maybe try to expand the zone.”The numbers bear this out.Before he moved down in the lineup, Rollins was seeing an average of 2.21 pitches per plate appearance outside the strike zone. He was swinging at 31.5 percent of them.Ever since, Rollins is seeing an average of 2.93 pitches per plate appearance out of the zone and is swinging at 40 percent of them.At the time of the switch (which saw Joc Pederson assume the leadoff spot), Mattingly spoke openly about balancing the needs of the team against the needs of the player. The team, he said, would be better served by having Pederson get more plate appearances. Meanwhile Rollins, a struggling hitter, would see fewer pitches to hit.Turns out those concerns were justified — even before Rollins found himself batting ninth for the first time ever Tuesday.“You have to learn how to discipline yourself,” he said, “and it takes time.”AlsoThe pitching matchups for the final two games of the home-and-home series: Clayton Kershaw (5-3, 3.21 ERA) will oppose Wandy Rodriguez (3-2, 3.03) today, and Zack Greinke (5-2, 1.95) will oppose Colby Lewis (6-3, 4.37) on Thursday. … Hector Olivera was removed from a Triple-A game in Colorado on Monday because of altitude sickness, Mattingly said. The Dodgers’ $62.5 million infielder was not in the Oklahoma City Dodgers’ lineup again Tuesday. … Brandon Beachy faced six batters in 1 2/3 innings, and Brandon League faced four batters in one inning, and the two rehabbing pitchers did not allow a run in their rehab appearances with Single-A Rancho Cucamonga. For Beachy, it was his first competitive game since 2013. The right-hander is attempting to come back from two Tommy John surgeries on his right elbow. … Outfielder Scott Van Slyke (back) is expected to be activated from the 15-day disabled list today. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error