The TinCaps have been a difficult team to pin down this season. Just when you think they're playing well – as they were when they left for this week's road trip to Bowling Green – they blow a couple of leads and get swept. On the other hand, every time they seem to be reeling, they come out and play a solid all-around game to flip the script.
Today's 7-1 win over the Dayton Dragons was one of those solid games. Fort Wayne came in losers of four in a row and it dropped the first game of this series, 14-7. Naturally, the TinCaps went out today and played a nearly-flawless game in all facets: they pitched well (starter Cullen Dana and two relievers), hit well overall, came up with clutch hits, stole a run on the bases and were mostly sound defensively, despite a couple of meaningless errors. The Jekyll and Hyde TinCaps roll on and they'll have a chance to win their third straight home series if they can beat the Dragons again Monday.
"We came out swinging right from the first inning and it was good to see," third baseman Ethan Skender said. "Hopefully we can keep this going and get on a roll."
Skender played a significant part in the TinCaps' early offensive outburst, which saw them score three runs in the second and three more in the fourth to pull away. The 22-year-old infielder blasted a two-run homer and singled in a run, as well. He said he'd gotten out of his comfort zone a little at the plate and tried to keep things simpler today. It seemed to work, as he went 3 for 4.
Skender, who has only played 10 games for the TinCaps, clearly loves being in Fort Wayne and is a big fan of Parkview Field, which he goes out of his way to praise when he's talking about the team. After spending so much time at rehab facilities in Arizona (he was unable to play for nearly three full seasons because of a knee injury that required three surgeries), it's probably thrilling to play in a facility like this. The big crowds the TinCaps have drawn recently don't hurt, either.
"This place is so cool, honestly," Skender said. "It's my favorite place I've ever played. The atmosphere is unbelievable, the fans are awesome. Just Fort Wayne in general is awesome and I've had a blast here. Just look forward to finishing the season strong and make a (playoff) push."
Agustin Ruiz joined Skender with three hits today and scored twice to boost the offense, but the TinCaps didn't need nearly as many as runs as they piled up. The pitching was excellent, too, beginning with starter Dana, who earned his first Midwest League win. He was spotting his fastball much better than he did in his first TinCaps start and kept the Dragons off balance.
After Dana exited, Jose Quezada shut down Dayton for 2 1/3 innings, although he did let an inherited runner score after a couple of wild pitches in the sixth. Once Quezada was finished, it was Adrian Martinez's turn. The big right-hander was dominant again, working around a walk to pitch a scoreless ninth. Over his last seven appearances, going back to July 7, Martinez has worked 13 straight scoreless innings. That's been especially important in the absence of Carlos Belen, who was called up recently. Martinez provides a similar flamethrowing right-hander who can get outs in the late innings.
"(He has) the ability to overpower guys," Contreras said of the 22-year-old Martinez. "He's touching 98 (mph) and then he has that off-the-table changeup that he throws. Now he's starting to spin the baseball and throw the slider in there. It just gives him a different weapon. At this level, when you've got that many weapons and you can throw the ball that hard and you have a changeup that works like his, you're going to be pretty successful."
The rubber match of this series will be Monday night, followed by the TinCaps going back out on the road against Great Lakes. They're hoping Jekyll is back at the ballpark for that series-finale.