Persistent late-afternoon rain washed out the TinCaps' game against the Lansing Lugnuts on Friday night, precluding Fort Wayne from trying to stretch its win streak to a season-long four games.
It will have another chance to do so tonight when the TinCaps and Lugnuts play a doubleheader at Parkview Field. The pair of seven-inning contests will get underway at 4:35 p.m., an hour earlier than doubleheaders have usually started this season because the team wants both games to be done before the Three Rivers Festival fireworks show gets underway at 10 p.m. The fireworks won't wait for the games to be over, so there's a chance the final innings of the second game will be played Sandlot-style, with the sky exploding on top of the players.
The stakes are the same for the TinCaps today as they were Friday. They can continue their climb up the Midwest League East Division stands with a sweep tonight, which would be their second doubleheader sweep in a row after they took both ends of a twin from Lake County last week. Fort Wayne is 12-3 against Lansing, but will be without top hitter Robert Hassell III, the No. 1 prospect in the Padres' farm system, who is playing in the Futures Game tonight in Los Angeles. He has been placed on the Temporary Inactive List during his stint in LA. First pitch in that game is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST for those interested in flipping back and forth during the TinCaps' game.
In the opener, the TinCaps will send right-hander Ryan Bergert to the mound. The Padres' No. 15 prospect per Fangraphs has had a rough go of it in recent weeks, posting a 7.60 ERA in his last nine starts. He wasn't bad his last time out, zipping through two innings while touching 96 mph with his fastball, but he gave up a two-run home run in the third and was unable to finish five innings, falling one out short of qualifying for his first win of the season (he struck out four and gave up five hits and three walks in 4 2/3 frames). He has had trouble this season in his second time through the order and keeping Lansing down when the lineup rolls over will be key tonight. The 22-year-old righty has faced the Lugnuts once this season, tossing four innings and striking out seven while giving up four hits and one run April 21.
The Lugnuts will counter Bergert with 24-year-old left-hander Jack Owen, who was a reliever for most of the season in Low-A before moving into the rotation in High-A in late June. In three starts with the Lugnuts, he is 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA and a strikeout per inning. That's not much to go on, especially since he had two forgettable starts before dominating Great Lakes to the tune of six shutout innings and one hit in his most recent performance. The TinCaps have averaged better than seven runs against Lansing this season, but they'll have their hands full with a pitcher who throws in the low-90s and exhibits excellent command.
Fort Wayne has feasted at the plate in recent games by working deep counts and waiting for one pitch in one spot. Owen might not allow that: he walked a single hitter in his final 13 2/3 innings at Low-A and although he issued five free passes in his first two starts at the higher level, he followed that by not giving up any in his most recent start. The TinCaps might have to be a little bit more aggressive tonight or they may find themselves in a lot of 0-1 and 0-2 counts.
The second game will feature Fort Wayne left-handed Jackson Wolf and A's No. 21 prospect Blake Beers. Wolf has been up and down lately, but he was good his last time out, turning in a quality start with 6 1/3 innings pitched and only two hits given up. Unfortunately for him, both of those hits were solo home runs to Johnathan Rodriguez and Wolf left with the score tied at 2 in a game Fort Wayne eventually lost 5-2. Wolf retired 17 of the last 19 hitters he faced (the pair of home runs were the only exceptions) and his sweeping slider paired well with his effectively wild fastball. He has struggled somewhat in two starts against Lansing this season, giving up eight runs in 12 innings over work (a 6.00 ERA) while giving up 15 hits.
Beers, meanwhile, has split his season between Low-A and High-A and has been above-average but not great at either stop. The 24-year-old right-hander's best pitch is a slider, which Fangraphs thinks would be plus in the major leagues right now. He dominated the TinCaps in a start in Lansing June 18, tossing six shutout innings and giving up only three hits, though he did walk four. Fort Wayne will have to take better advantage of its free passes tonight.
The TinCaps will be without Hassell, but they return a key piece of their bullpen in Luke Boyd, a 24-year-old right-hander, who turned in 11 scoreless appearances in his first 12 outings this season before struggling mightily in a couple of June outings and going on the Inactive List. The TinCaps' bullpen has gone from a weakness to a strength lately and if Boyd can find his early-season form, he will add to the depth that is there right now.