Justin Farmer hit a home run and drove in a season-high-equaling three runs, the TinCaps piled up 11 hits and walked seven times and Fort Wayne won for the seventh time in 10 games with an 8-1 victory over the Lansing Lugnuts on Thursday at Parkview Field in front of an announced crowd of 5,917.
A bumper crop of hits
Farmer has been the TinCaps' hottest hitter recently, extending his hitting streak to five games Thursday. During that stretch he is batting .400 (8 for 20) with six RBI and Thursday's home run. The long ball was a two-run shot in Fort Wayne's five-run sixth which chased starter Jake Garland from the game. The ball barely left the yard, hitting directly on the yellow line on top of the left-field wall's padding which denotes a home run.
"We established a good gameplan before the game, (Garland) was trying to sink things under my hands, so for me I was just trying to stay through the middle of the field, get underneath the baseball and try to hit a line drive," Farmer said. "Honestly, I thought it was a double off the bat, I didn't even know it went out. ... The wind was blowing in and I know this is tough park to get it out."
Farmer has been focused on hitting line drives recently. Manager Jonathan Mathews says when the 24-year-old undrafted free agent out of Florida International struggles it's because he is hitting the ball in the air too often. That has not been the case in the last week and it's providing Fort Wayne some pop from the lower third of the order (Farmer hit eighth Thursday).
"He's really tried to lower his trajectory on his ball flight during his work, batting practice, cage work," Mathews said. "It's kind of starting to come to fruition on the field. When he's not as good he misses under a lot and it's fouling balls back and outs in the air. So he's made a conscious effort to try to control that."
Milacki provides bullpen stability
Fort Wayne's bullpen ERA coming into Thursday was 4.91, second-worst in the league. One of the few pitchers in the TinCap relief corps who has not been contributing to that bloated figure is right-hander Bobby Milacki, who has worked 17 innings over his last seven appearances without surrendering an earned run.
Milacki made the latest in that string of excellent appearances Thursday, pitching 2 1/3 scoreless frames while striking out four. He ran into trouble in the seventh, loading the bases with nobody out and getting hit in the leg by a comeback ground ball in the process – he needed a couple of warmup pitches before declaring he felt well enough to remain in the game, but then hit the next batter to fill the bases – but got out of it with a Houdini act of three straight strikeouts. The last of those punchouts came from former first-round pick Max Muncy, who took a called third strike right down the middle on a 95 mph fastball, leading to the mostly mild-mannered Milacki pumping his fist and shouting as he walked off the mound.
"When guys aren't super emotional and they show that, it's cool," Mathews said. "It's a luxury to have somebody who can not only give you length but also put zeroes up on the scoreboard."
The Padres signed Milacki, a 38th-round pick of the Washington Nationals in 2018, to a free agent deal in November after he left the Minnesota Twins' organization. At 26, San Diego probably won't leave him in Fort Wayne much longer if he keeps pitching the way he is, but for now he is easily the most reliable member of the TinCaps' shaky bullpen.
Turning a corner?
Fort Wayne was the worst team in the Midwest League in April, starting 0-5 and finishing the month 5-16. Since then, however, the TinCaps have slowly but surely begun to turn their ship around. They are 12-9 in May after Thursday's win and have won back-to-back games at home for the first time since April 15-16.
While they are still in last place in the ML East Division, their run differential of minus-7 is seventh in the 12-team league, indicative of a run of bad luck in close games rather than overwhelmingly poor performance. This team always seemed to have too much talent to be struggling as much as it did at the outset of the season and it appears as though better days might be on the horizon for the Summit City's High-A entrant.
"We started to feel it honestly a couple of weeks ago," Farmer said. "I know we had a stretch against Beloit (a home series in which the TinCaps lost four of six games earlier in May) that wasn't too good, but going into Dayton (last week) and taking four there, that's a really good team. ... We definitely feel like something big is coming."
Player of the Game: Justin Farmer
Farmer went 2 for 4 with a double in addition to his long ball. The home run was his second of the year and first since April 15 against Lake County, which was also the last time he had multiple extra-base hits in a game. He has three multi-hit games in his last five. He also made an outstanding running catch down the left-field line with a runner on first to end the first inning after Lansing had already scored one run in the frame off Fort Wayne starter Adam Mazur.
Colts defensive tackle Grover Stewart threw out the ceremonial first pitch, part of the annual Colts At-Bat event. Stewart signed autographs at Parkview Field prior to the game. ... The TinCaps went 4 for 10 with runners in scoring position while Lansing was 1 for 8. ... Mazur, the reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Year out of Iowa, gave up a run in 4 2/3 innings, striking out five, walking one and retiring 10 in a row at one point. He has a 1.80 ERA and has given up two earned runs in his last 19 innings. ... Padres No. 1 prospect Jackson Merrill went 2 for 4 with a walk, his third multi-hit game in his last six. He has a hit in 10 of his last 11 contests. ... First baseman Nathan Martorella also went 2 for 4 with a walk and drove in a run. He has 31 RBI this season, second in the league. His .896 OPS ranks sixth. ... Designated hitter Colton Bender went 1 for 1, drove in two runs, walked three times and scored three times. He had scored six times all season coming into the game. ... Fort Wayne right-hander Ethan Routzahn pitched two scoreless innings to finish the game.
These teams will meet again Friday for the fourth matchup in the six-game series at Parkview Field. First pitch will be at 7:05 p.m. The TinCaps will send right-hander Ryan Bergert (2-1, 2.16 ERA), the Padres' No. 24 prospect, to the mound. Bergert, whose ERA is more than 3 1/2 runs lower than it was with Fort Wayne last season (5.84), gave up a run in four innings with five strikeouts and three walks last week against Dayton in most recent outing. The Lugnuts will counter Bergert with 22-year-old right-hander Jacob Watters (0-5, 9.49 ERA).