The TinCaps have an opportunity to do something today that they have not done since May: win a series at Parkview Field.
Fort Wayne defeated Dayton 8-2 on Saturday night in a wild game that featured multiple players playing out of position, including a first-time catcher, a parade of walks and wild pitches and a technological snafu that led to Fort Wayne's Connor Lehmann being ruled ineligible to pitch after warming up. The victory was Fort Wayne's sixth in the last eight games and clinched a series split for the TinCaps. With another victory today, they will win their first home series since defeating the West Michigan Whitecaps in the first set of the season May 4-9. Since then, the TinCaps have split six series at Parkview Field and lost one. A win today would also give them four victories in a home series for the first time this season (the victory over West Michigan was a 3-2 finish after the sixth game was rained out) and would bring Fort Wayne within two games of .500 for the first time since June 24.
The TinCaps have a new-look lineup taking the field to try to accomplish all of that. In the starting nine are three players called up from Low-A Lake Elsinore on Saturday, all of whom are top 25 prospects in the Padres organization, according to Fangraphs. Robert Hassell III, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2020 draft, is the fourth-ranked San Diego prospect and No. 72 overall and he'll make his High-A debut today in center, leading off. Then, No. 23 Padres prospect Euribiel Angeles will hit second and play third base and ninth-ranked San Diego prospect Brandon Valenzuela will bat cleanup and do the catching, with Adam Kerner getting another day off to nurse the sore shoulder that kept him out of Saturday's game and put emergency backstop Zack Mathis behind the plate. For more on the Fort Wayne newcomers, I broke them all down here:
The Fort Wayne lineup also features Justin Lopez at shortstop and Luis Almanzar in left field; both of them had two hits, including three extra-base knocks and a home run (Lopez's, his eighth) in Saturday's victory) between them. Usual left-fielder Grant Little gets the day off after jamming his finger sliding into second base Saturday and leaving the game in the third inning.
That TinCaps lineup will face 23-year-old right-hander Carson Spiers, with whom Fort Wayne is plenty familiar at this point. Spiers is making his fifth start against the TinCaps this season and second this week, the second time he has faced Fort Wayne twice in the same series after also doing so in July. Spiers' first three starts against Fort Wayne were good (2-0, 1.84 ERA in 14 2/3 innings), but the TinCaps roughed him up on Tuesday, scoring five runs on five hits in 3 1/3 innings against the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder. Spiers struggled to throw strikes in that outing, walking a season-high four hitters, striking out only one and hitting a batter. By contrast, in his first three starts of the season against the TinCaps he had 22 strikeouts and four walks total. The talented pitcher, who had a 2.10 ERA in his previous six starts entering Tuesday, will be motivated to bounce back and the TinCaps will have to deal with his 94 mph fastball and good changeup in the same way they did Bryce Bonnin's terrific stuff Saturday: don't swing unless it's good.
The TinCaps will counter Spiers for the fourth time this season and second time this week with 20-year-old right-hander Carlos Guarate, who is coming off his first High-A victory Tuesday following five losses in his previous seven starts. Guarate earned that win, cruising through four innings with his 92 mph fastball and excellent slider, before faltering in the fifth. In part that was understandable: he had to sit in the dugout for a long time in the bottom of the fourth as Fort Wayne sent 10 hitters to the plate, scored four runs and chased Spiers from the game. Guarate showed some mental fortitude in that game, bouncing back from his previous start in which he gave up eight runs in two innings. With a lot on the line this afternoon, Guarate will have to show some more of that mental toughness today. He'll be helped by getting to work with Valenzuela, the catcher with whom he became familiar at Low-A Lake Elsinore before Guarate was called up in July. Neither of Fort Wayne's battery mates this afternoon is old enough to have a celebratory beer if the TinCaps win today.
Note: It appears that Padres reliever Trey Wingenter, who was scheduled to make a one-inning minor-league rehab appearance with the TinCaps this week, will not pitch today. Wingenter did not pitch Thursday as scheduled because the game was rained out and then did not see action either Friday or Saturday, either. He is coming off Tommy John surgery.