The TinCaps got a break Wednesday night when their game against the South Bend Cubs was rained out. That postponement, which sets up a doubleheader for Saturday, allowed Fort Wayne time to get reinforcements on to its roster after playing Tuesday's contest with only nine healthy position players because of the flurry of trades the Padres made before the deadline.
Tonight, Fort Wayne will start one of the new players the Padres sent to the team Wednesday: left-handed slugger Albert Fabian, who will hit second and play left. The 20-year-old Fabian slugged .502 in 62 games with Low-A Lake Elsinore this season and totaled 12 home runs and 55 RBI. He swings and misses somewhat more often than San Diego would probably like, but he has plenty of pop and his walk rate was over 10% at the lower level. Fabian's fellow Lake Elsinore call-up Carlos Luis is available off the bench, as is Reinaldo Ilarraza, who has returned to Fort Wayne after stints in Double-A, the Arizona Complex League and, most recently, Triple-A El Paso.
The TinCaps also get a boost on the mound tonight. Right-hander Efraín Contreras, who left a start July 13 with what looked like an elbow issue, will take the ball for the first time since then. Contreras had Tommy John surgery in the fall of 2020 and there was concern he had re-injured his repaired elbow, but he is back today after missing only three weeks and not spending time on the IL. It's unlikely he goes longer than three innings tonight (he did not have a start of more than five frames even before his recent layoff), so the Fort Wayne bullpen will have to be ready. Long relievers Jose Espada, Luis Madrazo and Gabe Morales each pitched at least two innings Tuesday, so look for Edwuin Bencomo to make a lengthy appearance tonight. Contreras is 0-3 with a 6.03 ERA this season, though he has 41 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings.
The Fort Wayne bullpen should be plenty fresh behind Contreras and Bencomo in part because the Padres also sent reinforcements there today. Before this evening's matchup, San Diego promoted two of the best bullpen arms from Lake Elsinore: right-handers Alan Mundo and Keegan Collett. Collett, 24, is 5-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 45 innings across 31 appearances this season and has posted ridiculous strikeout numbers, whiffing 82 while holding opponents to a .183 batting average. He has walked 31, however. Mundo, 22, is 5-1 with a 2.23 ERA and 68 strikeouts against 20 walks in 48 1/3 innings over 27 appearances. Opponents are batting just .194 against him. The pair combined for seven saves in Lake Elsinore and should further bolster the back end of a Fort Wayne bullpen that has been generally good recently.
The Cubs will counter Contreras with 21-year-old right-hander Porter Hodge, who is having an excellent season. The 2019 13th-round draft pick went 4-2 in 17 starts with a 3.00 ERA at Low-A to open the year and has been even better in two starts since getting promoted July 22. He has an 0.93 ERA in his first two outings at the higher level and has surrendered only seven hits and three walks in 9 2/3 innings in those appearances while striking out 14. He has whiffed 10 in two of his last three starts across two levels, using a fastball that averages 93.5 mph and a biting slider to befuddle hitters. At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, the TinCaps will have their hands full with Hodge tonight.
Fort Wayne is of course without top hitters Robert Hassell III and Corey Rosier, who were among those traded away, but Joshua Mears has returned with gusto and blasted his first home run at Parkview Field on Tuesday in his first game at the downtown stadium since May. He has eight hits in his last six contests and will bat sixth tonight.
Mears' six-game hitting streak was not put in jeopardy Wednesday because of the rainout and it is questionable whether it will be tonight. There is once again rain in the forecast, though it is not nearly as certain as it was Wednesday. The TinCaps will do everything they can to get this game in because no one wants to play back-to-back doubleheaders Friday and Saturday before a day game Sunday.