It seems all the TinCaps needed to get back on track was a return to Parkview Field. That and some clutch hitting.
Fort Wayne played one of its sharpest all-around games in several weeks and finished off the Peoria Chiefs in just two hours and 12 minutes, winning 6-2 behind Ryan Weathers and some improved hitting with runners in scoring position.
Weathers will be the story for fans who care most about Padres prospects. The 19-year-old left-hander had his longest start since April 22, working six innings and striking out five while walking one and giving up just two runs on three hits. Weathers looked as confident as I've seen him in a long time. He threw 73 pitches and hit 93 mph at least once with his fastball, which he commanded well and threw with purpose, according to catcher Blake Hunt.
This still isn't the Weathers we saw at the beginning of the year when he was dominating the league and we might not see that version again this season as the TinCaps' top prospect navigates the rigors of his first full pro season. Nevertheless, he's pointing in the right direction. Manager Anthony Contreras still thinks there is room for improvement, but he was pleased to see Weathers smiling again after his start tonight. The next step is for the southpaw to command his off-speed pitches the way he is commanding his fastball.
"We want him to keep progressing from what he's been doing, he's obviously been building up his pitch count," Contreras said. "That's giving him some leverage to go deeper into games. Today he looked like he had more conviction behind his pitches. The fastball was spotted up much better late in the game.
"The slider still, in my eyes, needs work. (Brendan Donovan's sixth inning home run) was off a slider, left it over the plate. That's one of his main focuses is getting that slider back to where it was at the beginning of the season. Overall, you build off the confidence."
While Weathers' performance will be the takeaway for prospect hounds tonight, the bigger deal for the TinCaps' season might be their hitting with runners in scoring position. They went 3 for 7 for the second straight game in those situations after hitting an anemic .162 in the previous 11 contests and leaving runner after runner on base. They finally were able to string some hits together in that third inning and that paved the way for the victory.
If they can get their confidence back as a team in clutch situations, this season could turn around quickly.
"Balls are hit hard with runners in scoring position sometimes and today they found holes, which is good," catcher Blake Hunt said.
Hunt was at the center of both of Fort Wayne's rallies, walking in the first inning and singling and scoring in the third. The backstop had been red-hot before a 1-for-16 stretch to end the road trip, but he seems to have found his groove again after the off-day Tuesday and went 1 for 1 with three walks. That's a solid day at the plate considering he also caught nine innings in some of the muggiest weather of the season.
This is the type of game the TinCaps need more of. This can't just be a one-off if the playoffs are going to be anywhere close to a possibility. This six-game homestand will go a long way toward determining whether Fort Wayne is in the playoff race come August. This was a good start.