The TinCaps have lost three games in a row, including Tuesday's series-opener against the Lake County Captains at Parkview Field, but there might be no pitcher in High-A Central more qualified to help snap a losing streak than the one taking the mound for Fort Wayne tonight.
Left-hander Ethan Elliott was the High-A Central Pitcher of the Month in May, when he went 1-1 with a 1.46 ERA and a league-leading 38 strikeouts. He showed no signs of slowing down in his first June start, when he pitched six strong innings against the Cedar Rapids Kernels and gave up only two runs while striking out nine. His ERA now stands at 1.76, second in the league, while his 47 strikeouts are tops on the circuit before he even takes the mound to add to his total tonight.
Elliott's fastball command has been outstanding all season, but it wasn't quite as good in his most recent start, which led him to rely heavily on his changeup. The flurry of off-speed offerings, combined with the rapid pace at which Elliott pitches, kept Cedar Rapids hitters off balance and propelled the TinCaps to a win. The only blemish on Elliott's record this season has been a penchant to give up home runs. He has surrendered six runs this season and all of them have been on solo homers. That could become an issue tonight if he doesn't locate his fastball well: Lake County ripped three long balls in an 8-3 victory Tuesday.
The Captains will counter Elliott with a pitcher making his High-A debut, but that doesn't necessarily mean the TinCaps will have the advantage on the mound tonight. As good as the Fort Wayne left-hander has been this season, Lake County starter Xzavion Curry, a 22-year-old right-hander, has been even better at Low-A Lynchburg. In his five starts with the Hillcats, Curry, a Georgia Tech product, went 3-0 with a 1.07 ERA and 38 strikeouts against only four walks in 25 1/3 innings. Those are Pitcher of the Year numbers if he'd stuck around, but the Cleveland organization clearly decided he needed a bigger challenge and he starts his new assignment against the TinCaps tonight. Here's what Fangraphs, which ranked him the No. 44 prospect in the Cleveland farm system, had to say about Curry:
"His vertical arm slot creates angle and carry on a fastball that plays well at the letters even though it’s in the low-90s (Curry was 89-92 [mph] in college, but has been more 91-94 [mph] this year), and his arm slot helps create vertical action on both of Curry’s breaking balls."
The good news for Fort Wayne is that it will have its three best hitters in the lineup in the same game for the first time since June 1. Catcher Jonny Homza, who homered twice Tuesday and whose .928 OPS is fifth in High-A Central, is leading off for the second straight night, while right fielder Agustin Ruiz (second in home runs and RBI, 13th in OPS) is batting third again. Returning to the lineup is designated hitter Dwanya Williams-Sutton, who has missed the last six games with a concussion suffered when he got hit in the head by a pitch June 1 against Cedar Rapids. Williams-Sutton's .968 OPS would be third in the league if he had enough at-bats to qualify and he was hot before he got hurt. Having Williams-Sutton, Ruiz and Homza, plus emerging slugger Seamus Curran (two doubles Tuesday) all in the lineup tonight and Fort Wayne's best starter on the mound gives the TinCaps their best possible chance at ending their recent slide.