When the season began, the TinCaps had a five-man starting pitching rotation consisting of Ethan Elliott, Matt Waldron, Anderson Espinoza, Moises Lugo and Gabe Mosser. As of Tuesday, none of those players are currently in the rotation for the first time this year.
Elliott and Waldron were promoted earlier in the season after great stints in Fort Wayne and have been pitching in Double-A San Antonio for some time. Espinoza was traded to the Cubs organization in late July for MLB outfielder Jake Marisnick. Mosser was placed on the IL in mid-July and returned just last week, working as a reliever until he gets his arm strength fully back. Then, before the TinCaps opened their series against the West Michigan Whitecaps tonight, the final domino fell: Lugo was promoted to San Antonio.
The 22-year-old right-hander certainly earned the promotion. He has been one of the best pitchers in High-A Central in his last five starts, posting a 2.40 ERA and 43 strikeouts against seven walks in 30 innings. The walks were the key factor there: he's had electric stuff – a fastball that touches 96 mph and a biting slider, mixed with a changeup that is improving – but he was held back early in the season by a lack of command, which kept Lugo from pitching deep into games. He solved that issue late in his time with Fort Wayne and went at least five innings in each of his final five starts with the TinCaps, including a season-high six frames against South Bend on Friday.
"He's been good," manager Anthony Contreras said of Lugo after that Friday start. "It's fun to watch him fill up the zone because he has electric stuff that can play. He just needs to be more efficient, which he has been the last few outings and he gets success when he does that, so that's good to see."
Overall, Lugo has gone 4-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 16 starts covering 75 1/3 innings this season. He was fourth in the league in ERA and tied for third in strikeouts (93) before receiving the call-up.
It is unclear who will replace Lugo in the rotation. The Padres did not send another starter to Fort Wayne in a corresponding move and Lugo's turn in the rotation, scheduled for Saturday, is listed as TBD on the team's schedule. It's possible that Mosser, who worked a scoreless inning for the second straight outing tonight against the Whitecaps, will make his return to the rotation that night, though it seems a little soon for that. The TinCaps could also go with a bullpen game, using only relievers to cover the nine innings. Of course, the Padres could also send a starter to Fort Wayne later in the week.
The TinCaps have hardly missed a beat as they have cycled through starters this year, getting consistently excellent starting pitching even as new faces have joined the rotation. Danny Denz, Carlos Guarate, Noel Vela and Connor Lehmann have all turned in outstanding efforts since arriving in Fort Wayne.
"They've been a bright spot for sure," Contreras said Sunday of the starting pitching. "You look back at the guys we had in the beginning (of the season), Elliott, Waldron, Espi(noza), guys who were horses for us, but the other guys were called up for a reason and they've picked up the slack big time. ... Denz has come on as one of our top-end guys right now that can give us some length and with Lehmann giving us another good (start) today, it's good to see the organization has that depth and can be able to move guys around and not skip a beat."
The Padres did send reinforcement to the lineup. In addition to sending Lugo to Double-A this afternoon, San Diego also promoted infielder Ripken Reyes from the Arizona Complex League to Fort Wayne. Reyes, 24, played for the TinCaps in Low-A at the end of 2019 and was excellent, getting on base at a .390 clip with the same number of strikeouts as walks in 59 plate appearances. In a short stint at Low-A Lake Elsinore this season, he was even better, posting a ridiculous .548 OBP and .591 slugging percentage with seven walks, five strikeouts and three doubles in nine games. He had a .471 batting average on balls in play, so those numbers are to be taken with a grain of salt, but he's hit everywhere he's been.
Reyes got hurt in late May, however, and didn't play again until mid-July, when the Padres sent him to the Complex League for a rehab assignment. He ended up going back on the 7-day IL retroactive to Aug. 10 after only five games at the ACL, making him eligible to come off the injured list today. He was in the lineup against West Michigan tonight and went 1 for 4 with a couple of strikeouts.