As the first half of the Midwest League season nears its end, the TinCaps' bullpen underwent a significant reshuffling Tuesday, with a couple of players leaving, a few familiar faces returning and some new arms arriving. Here's a rundown of everything that happened:
Brandon Komar promoted to Double-A: This one was obviously coming. Komar, 23, did not give up an earned run in his final 21 2/3 innings, striking out 23, walking only three and giving up five hits in that span, which dates to May 19. The right-hander capped his time with the TinCaps with two lights-out performances against the Lake County Captains last week, working nine innings, giving up only one hit and one walk and striking out eight on his way to Midwest League Pitcher of the Week honors. Komar spent much of the 2021 campaign at Double-A and it was somewhat surprising to see him on the High-A roster to start this season. It seemed like it was only a matter of time until he got promoted again and, after a rocky start to the season, his recent performance leaves him nothing left to prove at this level. The TinCaps will miss their best long reliever.
Fred Schlichtholz promoted to Double-A: Schlichtholz, 26, was also never likely to be long for Fort Wayne after spending most of last season in Double-A. He made four appearances in all with the TinCaps – separated by a stint on the Injured List that kept him sidelined from May 19 to June 10 – during which he struck out eight, walked none and gave up six hits and one run over six innings. At his age, that's plenty good enough for a promotion; the Padres likely want to see if he can conquer San Antonio on his second try after posting a 5.93 ERA there last year.
Wen-Hua Sung activated off COVID list: One of a litany of TinCaps who have been shelved with the virus recently, Sung's next appearance will be his first since May 22. He's had an odd trajectory this year, starting with four appearances in Triple-A and then returning to Fort Wayne, where he pitched 25 excellent innings last season. He made seven appearances with the TinCaps in May and six of them were solid – a combined 6 1/3 shutout innings with three hits, three walks and eight strikeouts – but one was rough: a 1 1/3-inning outing May 18 in which he gave up four hits, including a home run, and two runs in a game the TinCaps lost 9-0. Still, Sung has been mostly very good in High-A the last two years and having him back should offset the loss of Schlichtholz somewhat. If he pitches well over the next month, the 25-year-old right-hander is also a promotion candidate.
Danny Denz activated off COVID list: Denz has not pitched since May 25 and will slot into Komar's spot in Fort Wayne's rotation of long relievers (along with Edwuin Bencomo, Felix Minjarez, Gabe Morales and Dwayne Matos). He last pitched May 25, an outstanding performance in which he gave up one run on one hit in three innings while striking out seven. It's unlucky for Denz that he caught COVID when he did because that outing was easily his best of the season. Prior to that, he'd given up 27 hits (six home runs) and walked 17 in 16 2/3 innings while pitching to 12.42 ERA. The stint away from the team might have sapped the momentum the southpaw could have built from that last appearance or it might have given him a chance to reset his season. We'll know in the coming weeks.
Luis Madrazo sent from Double-A to Fort Wayne: The 6-foot-4, 185-pound right-hander signed with the Padres as a free agent out of Cuba in January and spent the early part of the season in the Arizona Complex League before getting sent to Double-A for one appearance. Now the 24-year-old is in Fort Wayne for what should be a longer stint. He signed for a somewhat meager $10,000 bonus out of Cuba, but touches 95 mph with his fastball and the fact he's skipping Low-A Lake Elsinore and getting a shot immediately with the TinCaps means the Padres want to see what he can do against some high-quality competition. He's a reliever for now, but it's unclear yet whether he'll slot in as a one-inning or multi-inning pitcher.
Ethan Routzahn sent from Arizona Complex League to Fort Wayne: Routzahn signed with the Padres as an undrafted free agent in July 2021 and spent much of the rest of the year mystifying Low-A hitters. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound right-hander went 3-0 with a 2.87 ERA in 11 appearances over 15 2/3 innings in a month with Lake Elsinore, striking out 29 and walking only four in that span. Routzahn throws with an extreme sidearm, almost submarine delivery and appears to have been slated for Double-A to start this year before an injury foreclosed that possibility. The St. John's product made his first appearance of the season in the ACL on June 11 and will now get a shot with the TinCaps. If he's as effective as he was with Lake Elsinore, the 24-year-old could advance quickly. He is mostly a one- or two-inning reliever, so he could get some chances in high-leverage situations.
Effective this week, the TinCaps are instituting a policy in which, each week, one of their five starting pitchers – the current rotation is Robert Gasser, Ryan Bergert, Jackson Wolf, Noel Vela and Efraín Contreras – will skip a start and a long reliever will get a spot start. In this week's series against the Lansing Lugnuts, it's Bergert who will get a turn off, with Matos set to start tonight in his place. This plan should keep the Fort Wayne starters fresh for the season's stretch run in August.