TinCaps vs Lansing

The TinCaps’ Lucas Dunn relays to second in the fourth inning during their win over Lansing on Wednesday at Parkview Field.

The TinCaps evened their six-game series against the Lansing Lugnuts at a game apiece, triumphing for just the fourth time in their last 14 home games with a 5-3 win on Wednesday at Parkview Field behind five shutout innings from starting pitcher Jared Kollar and a couple of hits, including a home run, from Jakob Marsee.

3 Takeaways

Kollar belongs

In a pitching rotation full of precocious youngsters, highly-touted prospects and flamethrowers, Kollar is something of the odd man out. He was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers last year and spent the first four years of his collegiate career pitching at Division II Seton Hill (not to be confused with Seton Hall), a Catholic school in his home state of Pennsylvania.

Kollar, two months shy of his 25th birthday, did not earn a spot with an affiliate out of spring training and spent the first couple of weeks of the season in extended spring training at the Padres' facility in Arizona after posting a 5.27 ERA in seven appearances at Low-A Lake Elsinore in the second half of last season.

But Fort Wayne needed a replacement for Padres No. 19 prospect Garrett Hawkins, who went on the injured list with an oblique issue earlier this month, and Kollar fit the bill. Since he has gotten to Fort Wayne, he has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season, going 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA in 18 innings without giving up a single home run. He doesn't throw particularly hard, with his fastball sitting in the low 90s most of the time, but he has refined his arsenal with a cutter added after spring training at the suggestion of a friend from a summer league in the late 2010s. The pitch replaced what had been an ineffective slider in an arsenal which also includes a curveball and changeup and Kollar has ridden that variety and an ability to throw a lot of strikes to one run or fewer given up in four of five appearances this year.

"It's been really nice because you lose a starting pitcher and you're like, 'Oh, man,'" TinCaps manager Jonathan Mathews said. "But (Kollar)'s stepped right in and done every bit as well as Garrett was doing, so it's been a pleasure."

Hawkins seems relatively far from a return – he is still at San Diego's Arizona complex – so Kollar could become a fixture in Fort Wayne's rotation and could stick there for a while if someone like Jairo Iriarte or Ryan Bergert gets moved up to Double-A at midseason.

Change it up

Mathews made a change to the lineup Wednesday, moving Marsee from the leadoff spot he has occupied all season down to the No. 6 hole after the former Central Michigan standout had gone 1 for 15 at the plate over his previous five games. Leading off instead was Padres No. 1 prospect Jackson Merrill, who hit in the No. 1 hole for the first time since high school.

The move worked all the way around with Marsee dropping down a bunt single in a three-run fourth-inning rally and then unloading a home run to right in the eighth to complete Fort Wayne's scoring. Mathews said he was hoping to unlock some of Marsee's power with the move and a home run seems like exactly what the skipper was looking for.

"He's very coachable," Mathews said, laughing. "You know, I'm going to put you in the middle of the order and let you hit homers."

Merrill, meanwhile, took to hitting leadoff well, pulling a triple down the first-base line, scoring a run, driving in another with a hard-hit one-hopper to short and then flying out the other way to the warning track in left-center. He hit leadoff often in high school because otherwise pitchers would almost automatically walk him and while that is no longer the case, he was effective enough there Mathews said he is thinking of keeping the same lineup for Thursday's game.

A familiar face

In the eighth inning, right-handed reliever Edwuin Bencomo made his 2023 TinCaps debut, working around a bloop single to center to deliver a scoreless frame and send the game to the ninth with Fort Wayne comfortably in front.

Bencomo, 24, arrived in the Summit City from Double-A San Antonio earlier this week – the TinCaps had to send first baseman Cole Cummings to the higher level in return – making this the fourth consecutive season in which the Rio Chico, Venezuela, native has made an appearance with the TinCaps. He was excellent last season in High-A, going 4-2 with a 2.44 ERA in 25 appearances with excellent walk numbers and only two home runs given up in 55 1/3 innings. He struggled somewhat at Double-A, but he's proven he can be successful at this level – his changeup is nearly unhittable for High-A bats when it's working – and Fort Wayne needs all the help it can get as its bullpen has been one of the most mercurial in the league.

"He was great, he hadn't pitched for a few days, so we got him out there tonight, he got the left-handers out, did a nice job," said Mathews, who was the TinCaps' hitting coach when Bencomo was in Fort Wayne in 2021. "I love having him around, it's great energy. I'm going to put him on the mound, I love having him on the mound. It's nice to have someone you trust, who you've seen have success before. ... And I think he's happy to be here. He likes it here."

Player of the Game: Jared Kollar

Kollar had a pitch-count limit of 70 pitches, Mathews said, and needed just 64 to get through five innings, finishing strong with a 1-2-3 fifth and a strikeout of Brayan Buelvas to end his night. He surrendered only three hits, didn't walk a batter and struck out three. He has given up one run in nine innings with 10 strikeouts and no walks over his last two starts.

Extra Innings

The TinCaps (16-25) are 4-10 in their last 14 home games and 8-4 in their last 12 road contests. ... ESPN's newest prospect rankings have Merrill as the No. 9 prospect in all of baseball as of Wednesday. ... Marsee is one of only Midwest League two players, along with Peoria's Nathan Church, to appear in every game this season. His two runs scored Wednesday leave him with 32 this year, second in the league. ... Lucas Dunn reached base three times for Fort Wayne with two walks and an RBI double. ... Lansing designated hitter Euribiel Angeles is a former TinCap (2021) who was slated to be Fort Wayne's Opening Day shortstop in 2022 before a spring trade sent him to the Oakland system for MLB pitcher Sean Manaea. He went 0 for 3 and drove in a run Wednesday. ... The game was played in two hours, 18 minutes. ... Fort Wayne reliever Raul Brito pitched two innings and gave up a run on a hit and a walk a day after his 26th birthday. ... Fort Wayne third baseman Marcos Castañon missed a second straight game with the hamstring issue which knocked him out of Sunday's game. ... TinCaps reliever Adam Smith gave up two runs on three hits in the ninth before striking out Buelvas swinging to end the game. Fort Wayne's bullpen ERA rose to 4.91, second-worst in the league.

What's Next?

These teams will meet again Thursday for the third matchup in the six-game series at Parkview Field. First pitch will be at 7:05 p.m. The TinCaps will send right-hander Adam Mazur (0-0, 1.77 ERA), the reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Year out of Iowa, to the mound. He is the Padres' No. 6 prospect and has surrendered one earned run in 14 1/3 innings over his last three starts. The Lugnuts will counter with right-hander Jake Garland (1-2, 2.78 ERA at Low-A). 

It is also Colts At-Bat at Parkview Field. Colts defensive tackle Grover Stewart and team mascot Blue among others will be on hand for the game and signing autographs from 5:35-6:30 p.m. Stewart will throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

College Sportswriter

Dylan Sinn is a College Sportswriter, covering mainly Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame, as well local colleges in northeast Indiana and Fort Wayne TinCaps baseball. He is a graduate of Indiana University and an AP Top 25 football voter.