The TinCaps have been an up-and-down team all season, capable of playing with the best teams in the league on any given night and also prone to dropping some winnable matchups. Through it all, Fort Wayne has done what manager Anthony Contreras has always asked them to do: compete. Even with nothing but pride left to play for in this final series of the season against Lansing, the TinCaps are still putting together good at-bats and they're still pitching well. It all came together tonight in a 9-2 victory over the visiting Lugnuts in the series-opener.
Almost all of the hitting came in the second inning, with Justin Lopez and Dwanya Williams-Sutton drilling home runs. Williams-Sutton's was a grand slam, his first as a pro and his third long ball in the last three games. He's been impressive late in the season and he picked a good time to get hot – several members of the Padres' player development staff are in town to watch this series against the Lugnuts.
"Obviously you want to climb up the ladder as fast as you can," Williams-Sutton said of his ability to stay motivated late in the season. "My approach is just being aggressive at the plate, just working on my swing, swing path, just trying to be on top of fastballs and putting good swings on it while the scouting director and all of the (Padres player development staff) are here this week. I'm just trying to show them I can play at the next level."
On the mound, the TinCaps have had no problem finding motivated players this week, because the organization keeps sending them young hurlers to get a taste of the Midwest League. Tonight, it was Carlos Guarate, who was the second 18-year-old this week to make his Midwest League debut. Signed for $300,000 out of Venezuela, Guarate isn't a top prospect, but he certainly has some talent, the latest in a seemingly endless parade of pitchers in the Padres farm system that could contribute at the major-league level some day. For these young pitchers – 18-year-old Jesus Gonzalez also debuted in the Midwest League this week – making a late-season start in A-ball can give them confidence if they return to this level next season, in much the same way a cup of coffee in the big leagues can propel a Triple-A player the following year.
"It's a good experience for them," pitching coach Jackson Quezada said. "They come here and test the league. Probably next year they can end up here or start the season in (short-season) Tri-City and then middle of the season come up here and they've already tested what this league is: better hitters, they have to make better pitches, the strike zone is different, it's (smaller). Really good experience for them."
The TinCaps' bullpen was solid tonight, as well. Right-hander Dylan Coleman did a terrific job, throwing a season-best three innings and giving up only one unearned run. He seems to be all the way back after losing a significant amount of velocity in the middle of the season and going down from High-A Lake Elsinore to rookie ball to fix it. It wasn't the season he was hoping for, but he ends it on a high note and with hope for 2020.
"He was ready to compete tonight," Quezada said of Coleman. "I told him, 'Hey, I want you to throw three. If you give me three innings, then you're done for the rest of the season.' He said, 'Yes, okay, I'm going to give you three.' He was ready to compete, he went out there with that good slider, the slider looked good tonight."
Nearly all of the TinCaps have come ready to compete in the final week of the season. This isn't a team that's playing out the string, even though it has been eliminated from playoff contention. Only two games remain, but there's still a chance to leave an impression.