The TinCaps left Fort Wayne four days ago with some confidence, coming off a 4-2 home stand and a couple of electrifying comeback wins. They return today with that momentum mostly gone after getting swept on the road in a three-game series against the Eastern Division-leading Bowling Green Hot Rods.
The way TinCaps lost those three straight games against the Hot Rods was particularly discouraging, as they let late leads slip away in two of them and were blown out in the middle game. There was a real chance for them to win a series against a very good team and come back home to see if they could really get a hot streak going, but instead they return even further behind than before, still sitting in last place and two games behind seventh-place West Michigan in the eight-team division.
Fort Wayne still has a ways to go before it gets officially eliminated from playoff contention – such is the nature of split-season baseball, even the teams struggling the most are playing meaningful games in mid-August – but the types of losses the TinCaps had against the Hot Rods are the kind they can't afford. They're only back home for three games this weekend against the Dayton Dragons before returning to the road. They desperately need to make these home games count.
In the opener of that three-game series against the Dragons, who haven't been world-beaters themselves, checking in at sixth place in the second-half standings and seventh overall, the TinCaps will send right-hander Efrain Contreras to the mound. Contreras will be making his second start in a week at Parkview Field, after giving up six runs (five earned) in five innings against the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Before that outing, Contreras had been on a roll, striking out 21 and walking seven with a 1.80 ERA in his previous four starts. He's been one of the league leaders in K/BB rate all season and currently ranks fourth in the league in that category among pitchers with at least 70 innings, with a mark of 4.24. He's been getting some swings and misses recently on a power changeup at close to 90 mph, which dips down late and has been an effective complement to his 93-94 mph fastball.
The Dragons will counter with 21-year-old right-hander Eduardo Salazar. Salazar has been a reliever almost all season and has made 24 appearances out of the bullpen to go along with three starts. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Salazar moved to the rotation on July 10 and has made all three of his starts since then, putting together two good outings and one bad one. He pitched 4 2/3 shutout innings on July 15, but on July 21, his most recent start, he went just 3 2/3, giving up five runs (four earned) on five hits, including a home run. He isn't much of a strikeout pitcher and opposing teams are hitting .345 against him on balls in play, so the TinCaps should have opportunities to score tonight and will likely face plenty of bullpen innings even if Salazar is pitching well (those 4 2/3 innings on July 15 are the most he's thrown this season).
The TinCaps went just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position in a 4-2 loss to Bowling Green on Friday and will try to bounce back today. Their hottest hitter coming into the series is easily Dwanya Williams-Sutton, who had seven hits in three games against the Hot Rods. His last game at Parkview Field, on Monday, he got hit by a pitch four times. He leads the league in that category with 19.
The TinCaps are back home and they have a favorable pitching matchup and good weather. It's a good night for them to wash out the bad taste in their mouths following the sweep in Bowling Green.