Fort Wayne moved to 13-9 on the season with an 11th-inning win against the Clinton LumberKings (10-11) Sunday. The game featured some stellar pitching, not-so-stellar hitting and plenty of small ball.
Starter Zach Eflin put together five good innings for Fort Wayne, surrendering only one run on five hits and striking out five. It was refreshing for manager Jose Valentin, who has seen potential from the young righty who turned 19 on April 8.
"Great outing by Eflin," Valentin said. "He made pitches when he had to."
So did the rest of the staff.
The TinCaps had given up two or fewer runs five times this month before Sunday's game. Eflin and relievers John Hussey, Roman Madrid and Genison Reyes accomplished the feat again.
Valentin was complimentary of his staff, which didn't always make good pitches, but did so in key spots. Hussey had the bases loaded in the seventh and gave up only one run in the inning. Reyes was in the same situation in the top of the 11th, but he got out of the inning without surrendering a run.
Baltz's heroics break in-game slump
Sunday's hero, left fielder Jeremy Baltz, was fourth in the Midwest League in RBI entering the game. After his game-winning double that drove in Gabriel Quintana in the bottom of the 11th, he added to that total and continued an impressive streak.
Baltz has 18 RBI through 18 games played and got his most recent one after a tough stretch. Before his double, the 22-year-old was 1 for 4 at the plate. Despite working into a hole during the game's final at-bat, Baltz remained unshaken and delivered for Fort Wayne.
Quintana stole a base during Baltz's turn at the plate, pulling the outfield in and setting up the victory.
"It was a breaking ball," Valentin said. "Quintana was aggressive, got a good jump to be able to get that base. And then (Baltz) battled with two strikes and got a pitch to drive it for a double."
'Good enough' isn't good enough for manager
Valentin called his team lucky, and the win sloppy, after another close call in extra innings.
A win is a win, the second-year manager said. But baseball at this level is about realizing potential, not always winning games.
"The way we've been playing so far, the last couple days, and we're still winning – I'm trying to send a message to my guys," he said. "They're young kids. That's why they're here: to learn. Our job is to go out there and teach them and help them learn and try and make them better."
He said his team has made more mental errors than physical ones of late. However, the TinCaps are 7-3 in their last 10 games and have won four of their last five. Fort Wayne is comfortably in third in the Midwest League, just 2 1/2 games back of the first-place Bowling Green Hot Rods.
There is time to correct the mistakes, Valentin said. He'll take the position his team is in now.
"It was a kind of sloppy game," he said. "But, hey – we're still finding a way to win. The guys are playing hard."