The Journal Gazette
Thursday, September 09, 2021 6:10 pm

Pregame: TinCaps (52-58) vs. Lansing (52-58)

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

The TinCaps split a doubleheader against the Lansing Lugnuts on Wednesday, but it was almost certainly Fort Wayne that left the ballpark feeling triumphant. The TinCaps won the nightcap 2-1 on a walk-off hit from Kelvin Alarcon after trailing 1-0 from the first batter of the game onward. Fort Wayne put runners in scoring position in each of the first six innings before finally breaking through in the seventh (and final) inning. 

That late hit earned the TinCaps the desired split after they'd dropped the first contest 7-3. Both games featured plenty of missed opportunities for Fort Wayne to score more runs and it will need to do a better job with runners in scoring position tonight. After scoring three runs in the first inning of the opener Wednesday, the TinCaps went 2 for 22 (an .091 batting average) with runners in scoring position the rest of the night. They got plenty of runners on base, so the offense wasn't really struggling, they just needed some more timely hits, like the one Alarcon provided with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh.

The good news is the TinCaps will once again have red-hot Tirso Ornelas, who is working on a nine-game hitting streak and is hitting .375 in his last 13 games, in the lineup. He'll hit fourth, instead of his usual spot in third. That third slot tonight will be filled by another hot hitter, 19-year-old Euribiel Angeles, the second-youngest position player in High-A Central. Since getting called up from Low-A Lake Elsinore in late August, Angeles, who was leading Low-A West with a .343 batting average, is hitting .344 with the TinCaps and getting on base at a .432 clip. He is playing shortstop tonight after showing solid range there in a start in the second game of the doubleheader Wednesday. The 2020 No. 8 overall pick, Robert Hassell III, will also start again, hitting in the leadoff spot he has made his own after less than two weeks with Fort Wayne.

Further down the lineup, the TinCaps have catcher Victor Duarte, who will be making his High-A debut. Duarte will be the team's backup backstop going forward after getting called up from the Arizona Complex League on Wednesday and he will spell touted prospect Brandon Valenzuela, who gets a night off tonight after catching both games of the doubleheader. Duarte is not the same kind of hitter Valenzuela is – he batted just .176 at the ACL – and he'll hit ninth, whereas Valenzuela is usually in the middle of the lineup.

Duarte will be working with TinCaps pitcher Gabe Mosser, who is making his start tonight, rather than Wednesday as originally scheduled. The 25-year-old right-hander is working his way back from an injury that kept him sidelined for a month from mid-July to mid-August and he hasn't worked more than three innings in a start since he returned. He has pitched three in each of his last two outings, however, and it's possible he goes four tonight if he is efficient with his pitch count. Regardless, the TinCaps have a piggyback starter ready to go in the form of Gabe Morales, who has followed Mosser in each of the latter's last three starts. Morales, a 22-year-old lefty, has struck out 17 and walked seven in just 10 1/3 innings since coming up from Low-A Lake Elsinore in mid-August. He had a wild appearance against first-place Great Lakes last week, when he struck out eight in 3 1/3 innings but also walked three and gave up two runs. 

The Lugnuts will counter the Pair of Gabes with right-hander Reid Birlingmair, who is making his third start against the TinCaps this season. The 24-year-old right-hander had his best outing of the year against Fort Wayne in May, tossing six shutout innings and giving up only one hit while striking out five. The TinCaps got their revenge two months later when they forced Birlingmair out of the game after only 2 1/3 innings, during which he walked five and gave up three hits. The Illinois-Chicago product hasn't posted particularly impressive walk or strikeout rates this season and his rough start against the TinCaps on July 30 opened a stretch in which he has pitched to a 5.61 ERA in seven starts, with 17 walks and four hit batters in 33 2/3 innings.

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