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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, May 20, 2018 6:20 pm

TinCaps win 5th in a row, finish 6-1 homestand

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

For the second straight game Sunday, the TinCaps offense was stymied in the first six innings against a dominant starter. Right-hander Erich Uelmen tossed six shutout innings and left with 1-0 lead, but once again the bullpen failed a South Bend Cubs starter.

The TinCaps rallied for three runs in the seventh against struggling South Bend reliever Jose Albertos and the bullpen held the lead in the late innings for a 3-1 victory. The win gives the TinCaps a season-long five-game winning streak and completes a 6-1 homestand. 

The Cubs came into this series a half-game ahead of the TinCaps in the standings and Fort Wayne dispatched them in three straight games. It's early in the season, but if the TinCaps are going to make a playoff run this year, they need to start by beating the teams close to them in the standings and beginning to move up. It's tough to make a statement against a sixth-place team, which is what South Bend was when this series started, but Fort Wayne certainly showed that it's ready for some better competition. It'll get a chance on the road this week when it takes on third-place West Michigan – which it just beat in 3 of 4 games at Parkview Field – and then has plays three games against first-place Lansing.

As that road-trip begins, the TinCaps are clearly playing their best baseball of the season. They're scoring in bunches, getting clutch hits up and down the lineup, getting excellent starting pitching and playing much better defense than they did at the start of the year – three errors today notwithstanding. As I wrote Saturday night, the bullpen has also been great in recent games, demonstrably better than it was at the beginning of the season.

"They've been very consistent," manager Anthony Contreras said of his relievers, who have pitched 14 innings, giving up one run in the last four games. "We're very happy with the way they've been throwing the ball. Obviously our starters have been going some good lengths during their outings, but to hand the ball over to pretty much anybody in that bullpen and get good results, that's what we wanna see.

"It's a tight-knit group that works well together and I think they're trying to keep up with each other, which is good for their camaraderie."

The bullpen was such a problem to start the season that it's really remarkable how much of an asset it has become. With the relievers closing the door in the late innings, it's tough to see where the TinCaps' weakness is right now. They're playing all-around solid baseball and they'll try to continue that when they go out on the road starting Monday.

The only bad news from Sunday was Contreras telling the media MacKenzie Gore will "most likely" go back on the disabled list after his blister recurred. Contreras didn't know anything officially yet, but he said the Padres want to figure out why the blister keeps popping up.

"This blister thing is kind of lingering," Contreras said. "He probably could've started today, but we didn't want any more setbacks with that thing. We're trying to figure out what exactly is causing the blister to keep re-occurring but for right now, I think still early in the season, we'd rather take care of it and err on the side of precaution."

That makes it seem like Gore won't be out for long, whether he goes on the DL or not. The way the TinCaps are playing right now, the talented left-hander is under no pressure to return too soon. He can take his time, because the TinCaps have plenty of starting pitching to hold them over in his absence.