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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, June 19, 2018 6:50 pm

Pregame: Midwest League All-Star Game

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

LANSING – We've reached the midway point of the Midwest League season and tonight is the league's All-Star Game, which this year is hosted by the Lansing Lugnuts at Cooley Law School Field in Michigan.

Four TinCaps are representing their team at the A-ball version of the Midsummer Classic: starting pitchers Aaron Leasher and Nick Margevicius, reliever Travis Radke and catcher Luis Campusano. The only TinCap in the starting lineup for the Eastern Division is Leasher, who found out when he got to the ballpark today that he is his team's starting pitcher.

It's ironic that Leasher is starting in the All-Star Game, because he hasn't actually started for the TinCaps since May 29. Since then, he's made three "piggyback" appearances, two of which have come in relief of MacKenzie Gore in Gore's first two starts back from the disabled list. 

Leasher (3-3), who ranks fourth in the league with a 2.77 ERA and 11th with 63 strikeouts, said he will pitch the first inning and Eastern Division manager Cesar Martin (the manager of the Lansing Lugnuts) told him to treat the game like a start. Leasher has been one of the hottest pitchers in the league, posting a 1.75 ERA since May 11 and giving up just one run in 13 innings in those three piggyback appearances in June.

Leasher will be challenged from the very first hitter he faces. Hitting leadoff for the Western Division is Twins prospect Royce Lewis, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft. Lewis, who turned 19 earlier in June, hit .296 in 18 Midwest League games last season and has improved upon that this year. In his first full season of pro baseball, Lewis has hit .302 with six home runs and 37 RBI. He's also stolen 16 bases, so Leasher will be occupied if the shortstop reaches.

Later in the first inning, Leasher will face Lewis' Cedar Rapids Kernels teammate Alex Kirilloff, who was the Twins' first-round pick in 2016. Kirilloff has been probably the best hitter in the league this season. He leads the circuit in home runs (13) and RBI (56), while ranking second in doubles (20) and third in batting average (.333). In short, Leasher will have his work cut out for him in the first.

Hitting in the seventh spot for the Western Division is designated hitter Torii Hunter Jr. Hunter is the son of former Fort Wayne Wizard and MLB All-Star Torii Hunter. The younger Hunter plays for the Burlington Bees, a Los Angeles Angels affiliate, and is getting on base at a .343 clip this season. He's also stolen 15 bases. Before playing pro baseball, Hunter played wide receiver at Notre Dame, catching 38 passes for 521 yards and three touchdowns in 2016.

Radke, who has nine saves for the TinCaps, said the key will be attacking the talented Western Division hitters.

"You don't wanna be throwing a lot of balls because these are not the kind of hitters you wanna get behind in the count with," the left-hander said. "Being that it's an All-Star game, most of the guys here are going to be taking some pretty big hacks, so try to exploit that early, keep the fastball up above the belt and working offspeed early, trying to get them to swing and miss."

dsinn@jg.net