The TinCaps overcame an early two-run deficit thanks to home runs by Cole Cummings and Brandon Valenzuela and beat the Dayton Dragons 4-2 at Parkview Field tonight, snapping a season-long six-game losing streak in front of an announced crowd of 3,744.
Fort Wayne manager Brian Esposito returned to the dugout tonight after missing the team's series against the Lake County Captains last week while on vacation. The TinCaps (45-64, 18-25 second half) were swept in the series.
With the game tied at 2, Valenzuela walked to lead off the bottom of the eighth and pinch-runner Reinaldo Ilarraza reached second on a wild pickoff throw to first. Cummings followed and on an 0-1 pitch broke the deadlock with a line-drive home run just over the fence in right, his fifth home run with the TinCaps and 11th of the season.
The game was scoreless through two innings as starting pitchers Efraín Contreras for the TinCaps and Thomas Farr for the Dragons combined to face the minimum.
In the third, however, Contreras ran into trouble. First baseman Michel Triana led off the inning with a bouncing-ball single up the middle to break up Contreras's perfect game and bring designated hitter Steven Leyton to the plate. On a 1-1 count, Leyton got a hanging curveball over the middle of the plate and powered it well over the wall in left-center for a two-run home run and a 2-0 Dayton lead. It was Leyton's 10th home run of the season and second with Dayton after he hit eight long balls at Low-A.
The breaking ball Contreras hung to Leyton was something of an outlier. His curveball was outstanding most of the night and he touched 95 mph with his fastball (though he was closer to 92-93 in his final inning). He struck out three without a walk in his three innings, but the long ball he surrendered broke his string of seven consecutive scoreless innings, which extended over three appearances. His stuff continues to impress, though he likely won't pitch deep into a game this season as he returns from his autumn 2020 Tommy John surgery.
The TinCaps were hitless through three innings against Farr, who struck out five in those first three frames, including four in a row, but Jarryd Dale broke up the no-hitter in the fourth with a single to right and Fort Wayne broke through against Farr in the fifth. The rally began when Fort Wayne slugger Joshua Mears took a pitch off what looked like his forearm. He walked gingerly to first and, after a visit from the Fort Wayne trainer, remained in to run. Carlos Luis followed with a single to center and two batters later Olivier Basabe lined a single in nearly an identical spot to drive in Mears and bring Fort Wayne within 2-1.
Fort Wayne's rally was somewhat Pyrrhic, however. After scoring Fort Wayne's first run and playing an inning in the field, Mears did not make his next at-bat. Wyatt Ulrich, making his first appearance at Parkview Field after getting sent to Fort Wayne from Double-A San Antonio last week, pinch hit for him.
Basabe, Fort Wayne's No. 9 hitter tonight, went 1 for 2 with a walk, a stolen base and an RBI. He is working on a seven-game hitting streak and is batting .410 with a .489 on-base percentage since the TinCaps returned from the All-Star Break.
Fort Wayne drew even with the Dragons in the sixth when catcher Brandon Valenzuela ambushed Farr on the first pitch and launched a 387-foot home run on a line to the concourse in right field, his pull side, knotting the game at 2. It was Valenzuela's seventh four-bagger of the season.
Fort Wayne stayed in the game through the middle innings thanks to an impressive performance from the TinCap bullpen. Left-hander Gabe Morales came on in relief of Contreras and turned in easily his best appearance of the season, working a season-high four innings and striking out eight while walking one. He touched 96 mph, flashed a very sharp-breaking curveball, commanded them both and did not give up a hit.
Morales got through the seventh inning and fellow left-hander Ramon Perez picked up where he left off in the eighth, striking out two in a 1-2-3 frame. Nick Thwaits followed in the ninth and, after giving up a leadoff double, retired the next three hitters in a row to close out the victory and earn his first save of the season.
These teams will meet again Wednesday for the second matchup in this six-game series at Parkview Field. First pitch will be at 6:35 p.m. The TinCaps will send right-hander Dwayne Matos (1-4, 5.12 ERA) to the mound. Matos has taken the loss in two straight appearances and gave up four runs on six hits in 4 2/3 innings in his last outing. The Dragons will counter with 19-year-old right-hander Chase Petty (0-2, 6.75 ERA), the No. 14 prospect in the Reds' farm system, according to Fangraphs.