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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, May 29, 2018 11:10 pm

Pregame: TinCaps (23-27) vs. Bowling Green Hot Rods (32-18)

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

The TinCaps are back at Parkview Field tonight after a season-long eight-game road trip that ended Monday afternoon with a 3-0 victory over the then-first-place Lansing Lugnuts. Fort Wayne went 3-5 on the long road swing, but could easily have been several games better, losing late leads in two straight against Lansing, including a five-run, ninth-inning advantage Saturday.

The road trip was mostly marked by solid pitching and subpar hitting for Fort Wayne, which won games 4-3 and 3-0 (twice) on the trip, while also losing 2-1 and 1-0. That continues a pitching trend that has lasted all May: The TinCaps are third in the league with a 3.14 ERA this month and will start red-hot left-hander Aaron Leasher to open the series against the Bowling Green Hot Rods tonight.

Leasher has strung together three straight excellent starts, giving up just two runs in 18 innings since May 11. His overall ERA is an excellent 2.89 and the 22-year-old is striking out nearly a batter per inning. 

He'll have to contend with a Bowling Green lineup that has piled up runs in recent weeks. The Hot Rods have scored at least five runs in 11 of their last 15 games and have won 10 of those games. With the Hot Rods' win Monday and the TinCaps' victory over Lansing, Bowling Green moved into first place in the Eastern Division, meaning Fort Wayne will have played five straight games against first-place teams after tonight. 

The potent Bowling Green lineup is led by infielders Zach Rutherford and Taylor Walls, who rank fourth and fifth in the league in batting average at .327 and .323, respectively. Rutherford has driven in 29 runs, the second-most on the team, while Walls has scored 34 runs, which ranks fifth in the league. Neither is much of a power hitter, but they both have impressive plate discipline, walking frequently.

The Hot Rods will send right-hander Austin Franklin, a third-round pick in the 2016 draft, to the mound in the series opener. Franklin is the No. 13 Tampa Bay Rays prospect, per Fangraphs, and has pitched well at three different levels in his pro career, including a 3.48 ERA this season. 

The 20-year-old Franklin hits 95 with his fastball and has a curveball that can be an out pitch. His changeup is inconsistent, but when's he throwing it well, it looks very similar to the fastball out of his hand. 

A former Fort Wayne baseball standout will also be returning to the Summit City tonight. Bowling Green pitching coach Brian Reith is a Fort Wayne native who played high school baseball at Concordia Lutheran. Reith was a sixth-round draft pick out of high school in 1996 by the Yankees and eventually pitched parts of four seasons in the majors with the Cincinnati Reds. 

This will be a short homestand for Fort Wayne, which will only play the three games against Bowling Green before going back out on the road to face Great Lakes beginning Friday. The TinCaps are in the middle of a stretch of 21 games in 21 days.

dsinn@jg.net