The TinCaps opened their series this weekend against Dayton with a fourth consecutive defeat, losing 14-7 on Saturday night. They fell behind 13-0, but kept grinding and made the final score at least reasonable.
That's a positive to take away, but at this point in the season, sitting in last place and watching hope for the playoffs fade fast, moral victories aren't enough. Actual wins on the scoreboard are needed. Thanks to Brandon Komar, who saved the Fort Wayne bullpen with five laboring innings in relief of starter Efrain Contreras, who did not record an out Saturday, the TinCaps still have a chance to get some of those "actual" wins in this series, beginning today.
The Fort Wayne bullpen will probably be taxed again today because the TinCaps will send 21-year-old left-hander Cullen Dana to the mound to start the game. The 6-foot-4 Dana, a 30th-round pick in the 2018 draft, spent most of his time at Low-A Tri-City as a reliever and has not pitched more than four innings in a game this season. He has a 1.50 ERA in seven appearances over 18 innings, striking out 18 and walking only three. He struggled a bit for the first time in his Midwest League debut, giving up three runs in three innings while walking two and striking out two. Those were the first earned runs he'd surrendered this season and it will be interesting to see how he handles the first adversity (if you can call one subpar start "adversity") of his pro career. Dana will have to deal with a Dragons offense that scored 13 runs in the first two innings Saturday, but was held scoreless over the final five.
Dayton will counter with another 6-4 hurler, 22-year-old right-hander Jhon De Jesus. He has been simply an innings-eater for the Dragons this season, making 19 starts and pitching to a 5.18 ERA while racking up nine losses, the second-highest total in the Midwest League. The conventional wisdom in baseball used to be that the pitcher who led the league in losses probably had a decent season because you have to be decent to keep earning starts despite those defeats. That hasn't been the case for De Jesus, who doesn't strike out many (6.06 per nine innings), walks too many (3.42 per nine) and has given up 10 home runs in 81 2/3 innings. The TinCaps had a good night at the plate in the series-opener and will have an opportunity to knock a pitcher out early and get some revenge for Contreras's abbreviated outing Saturday. Dwanya Williams-Sutton and Jawuan Harris each come in with double-digit on-base streaks and have formed a dangerous combo near the top of the lineup recently.
The Dragons aren't a world-beating team. They come into this game in sixth place in the Eastern Division's second-half standings. There's no reason the TinCaps shouldn't be able to beat them. Fort Wayne just has to play like it did the last seven innings of Saturday's game and not like it did the first two.