The TinCaps registered an important bounce-back victory Saturday in the series-opener against first-place Bowling Green, erasing the memory of an awful 19-1 loss to the Lansing Lugnuts the night before. Fort Wayne also served notice that it won't be pushed around by the Hot Rods, who are trying to hang on to their lead in the Eastern Division with barely two weeks of the regular season left. Parkview Field is not an easy place to whittle away a magic number.
Today, Fort Wayne will try to make it two in a row to open this four-game series, earning at least a series split before the weekend is out. On the mound to try to accomplish that goal will be 19-year-old left-hander Ryan Weathers, the TinCaps' top pitching prospect. Weathers is coming off a start in which his stuff wasn't up to his usual lofty standard, but he managed to turn in a solid line anyway, giving up one run in five innings. He only struck out one hitter and manager Anthony Contreras said the lefty's slider didn't have the same bite to it that it usually does. He grinded his way through, however, which is exactly what the TinCaps need pitchers to do when they don't have their best stuff. Crucially, Weathers didn't walk anyone, the third straight start in which he has not issued a walk after running into some (slight) command issues in late June and early July. Missing bats will be the key for the 2018 first-round pick today against the high-powered Hot Rods offense, which ranks third in the league in runs and OPS.
Bowling Green will counter with 23-year-old right-hander Caleb Sampen, who has been one of the Midwest League's most consistent pitchers this season. Sampen comes in 9-4 with a 2.68 ERA (and a 2.86 FIP, meaning he hasn't been overly lucky) and ranks sixth in the league in innings pitched with 114 over 20 starts (Saturday's Bowling Green starter, Easton McGee, ranks fifth). He isn't much of a strikeout pitcher – he's whiffing just 7.97 per nine innings – but he is on a nice roll over the last two months, posting a 6-1 mark with a 1.29 ERA in 10 starts since June 10. He's given up two runs or fewer in each of his last four outings and will make life difficult for the TinCaps this afternoon.
The TinCaps' lineup will once again feature newcomers Ripken Reyes and Chris Givin today after both reached base in their Midwest League debuts Saturday and Reyes had two hits, including a triple.
It's also Bark in the Park Day at Parkview Field, meaning there will be good boys walking all over the stadium even if the game goes poorly for the TinCaps. Unfortunately there is some rain in the forecast, but it might hold off until the late innings or after the game. Fingers (and tails) crossed.