The TinCaps' starting rotation, which at various times this year has featured five pitchers ranging from "very good" to "dominant" (though unfortunately for Fort Wayne, never really all at the same time) is beginning to break up after remaining remarkably stable for the first two months of the season.
First, ace Ethan Elliott was promoted to Double-A San Antonio. Then, right-hander Gabe Mosser was placed on the Injured List – he is not scheduled to start this week against the Dayton Dragons and it's unclear when he'll return. On Tuesday, the TinCaps announced that right-hander Matt Waldron, who had been the team's No. 2 starter most of the season behind Elliott and who was one of the hottest pitchers in High-A Central, had been promoted to San Antonio, as well.
Waldron's season has been defined by his knuckleball, which he started throwing essentially as a joke in spring training. He refined it in the final few weeks of camp and used it as one of the pitches in a large arsenal early in the season to a good deal of success. In mid-June, however, the Padres began pushing Waldron to throw the knuckleball more often and make it his main pitch. He did so and the results the first few starts were disastrous: an ERA over 10 and eight walks in 7 2/3 innings.
After taking a few starts to adjust, however, Waldron found his groove with the knuckle-heavy repertoire. In his final three starts in Fort Wayne, he had a 1.63 ERA and 21 strikeouts against six walks in 22 innings. The high knuckleball usage helped him pitch deep into games and he worked at least seven innings in all three of those starts, including an eight-inning appearance in his last outing with the TinCaps, during which he gave up only one unearned run, struck out eight and surrendered just four hits. It was the longest start by a Fort Wayne pitcher this season.
At the time of his promotion, Waldron led the league in innings pitched (72 1/3), was third in ERA (3.24), sixth in WHIP (1.22), seventh in strikeouts (72) and seventh in lowest walk rate (6%).
With Elliott and Waldron promoted and Mosser on the shelf, the TinCaps have moved Erik Sabrowski into the starting rotation from the bullpen; Carlos Guarate has been promoted from Low-A Lake Elsinore (he gave up two runs in five innings in his first High-A appearance Tuesday) and lefty reliever Danny Denz has moved into the rotation, as well. Denz will start tonight, though he is not thrown more than 2 2/3 innings yet this season, so he's still getting stretched out. It's possible that Edwuin Bencomo will make a piggyback start behind Denz.
When the Padres promoted Waldron to Double-A, they also sent lefty reliever Fred Schlichtholz to the TinCaps. Schlichtholz spent most of 2018 in Low-A Fort Wayne, making 28 appearances out of the bullpen with a 3.83 ERA and modest walk and strikeout numbers. His strikeout numbers jumped significantly (to nearly 12 per nine innings) in 2019 at High-A Lake Elsinore, but so did his walk rate and this season at San Antonio, his walk numbers have remained high, but the strikeout rate has gone back to its 2018 level. That has resulted in a 5.93 ERA in 23 appearances across 30 1/3 innings. The 25-year-old southpaw is trying to find what made him successful in '18 and '19 again as he returns to High-A. If he pitches well, he'll be an important bridge to Michell Miliano and Mason Feole in the late innings.