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The Journal Gazette

  • TinCaps second baseman Reinaldo Ilarraza singles in a run during the fifth inning Wednesday at Parkview Field. (Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette)

Thursday, April 20, 2017 1:00 am

TinCaps 3, West Michigan 2

Tatis, TinCaps win 1st series of season

Game-winning single reinforces star status on offense, defense

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

If you want to see a TinCap with all the makings of a future star, watch Fernando Tatis Jr.

Or – try not to watch him.

Tatis' game-winning RBI single in a 3-2 decision against West Michigan on Wednesday offers yet another reason Tatis' manager, teammates and fans can't keep their eyes off him.

“He has the ability to be a game-changer every single day he goes out there,” Fort Wayne manager Anthony Contreras said. “I see him on a day-to-day basis, so it doesn't surprise me, but I think the average fan is going to say, 'Wow, that's a superstar in the making.' Fun to see those things that he can bring in pressure situations.”

The TinCaps (5-8) took two of three from West Michigan for their first series win, and Tatis ended a 2-2 deadlock in the eighth inning of the rubber match at Parkview Field.

He hit a game-saving RBI double in the ninth inning Tuesday night to forge a 1-all tie in a game Fort Wayne won 2-1 on Rod Boykin's walk-off single later in the inning. And the Whitecaps learned the hard way, as he tracked down balls at shortstop, that Tatis shows signs of being a slick fielder.

“I've been working at it pretty hard,” Tatis said of his defense. “It's been pretty good.”

His average is .163 in 49 at-bats, but a mammoth home run April 9, as well as the late-game heroics, have illuminated why the 18-year-old is ranked the eighth-best prospect in the San Diego Padres farm system.

Contreras believes pitchers in the Midwest League will be throwing to Tatis with greater caution in the near future.

“Everybody knows how good he is,” Contreras said. “It is getting around the league already, how much the talent is there. He sometimes gets a little free-swinging, and I think if he can just be a little bit more patient like he's doing in those last couple of at-bats (Tuesday) and (Wednesday), where he gets a pitch he can drive, he makes the most of it.”

Wednesday's matinee affair had a final twist when Blaise Salter and Jake Robson started the ninth with singles, but Ben Sheckler – the lone left-hander in Fort Wayne's bullpen – got out of it. Austin Athmann hit into a 6-4-3 double play, and Elvis Rubio grounded to first to end the game as Sheckler turned in two shutout innings.

The TinCaps' relief corps received fresh arms before the game as Wilmer Torres and Lou Distasio were taken off the roster and replaced by Will Stillman and Evan Miller, each of whom pitched at low-A Fort Wayne in 2016. Miller wore an IPFW T-shirt in the clubhouse.

“This year I won't have any more nerves,” said Miller, who pitched for the Mastodons last spring en route to the Summit League Championship Series.

Tonight the TinCaps start a four-game set at Great Lakes; after that, they'll play three at West Michigan before finally returning home next Thursday.

“Our longest road trip so far,” Contreras said. “We'll see if the momentum keeps going.

“I think (players) like being on the road. They can stay in a hotel, catch up on sleep and get to the field a little later.”

It's there that they will watch to see what Tatis, the son of ex-major leaguer Fernando Tatis, will do for his next exploits.

“It's going to be exciting to see how he can perform,” Contreras said. “These bright lights won't be too big for him. I think he's going to thrive in this type of atmosphere.”

cgoff@jg.net