FORT WAYNE – Tuesday night began with a 53-minute rain delay at Parkview Field and ended with more showers, but it may take more than rain to wash away the memories of the TinCaps' 5-1 loss to Great Lakes.
The Loons had a pitcher, Jose De Leon, who in just his second start at the Single-A level, was nothing short of masterful in striking out a franchise-record 14 batters – he faced only 22 – while giving up no runs and four hits in six innings in front of 3,369 fans.
The 22-year-old De Leon, a 24th-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013, threw 64 of his 85 pitches for strikes and didn't walk anyone. The previous Loons record of 12 strikeouts was held by three pitchers, including Dodgers great Clayton Kershaw.
The TinCaps' strikeout record is 15, set by LaTroy Hawkins in 1993.
“I was hitting spots, and it was one of those games where I felt really comfortable with the off-speed,” De Leon said. “I was taking advantage of that, and I loved the first-pitch strikes, too. They helped me out.”
De Leon almost put his name in the Midwest League record book, too, as he struck out nine consecutive batters before a Dustin Peterson groundout – with the Loons up 1-0 – in the fourth inning. Art Groza of Burlington struck out a record 10 consecutive batters against Dubuque in 1966, and Dayton's Daniel Renken repeated the feat against Lansing in 2011.
“Whew, I thought he threw the ball very, very well and made a bunch of great pitchers,” said Fort Wayne manager Michael Collins, whose team (55-71, 25-32 in second half) is two games back of Great Lakes and Dayton for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Division
“He had pretty good stuff. That being said, I don't think the total number of strikeouts was totally on his outstanding performance, as well as he did throwing the ball.”
In De Leon's only previous league start after being called up from the Pioneer League, he was almost as good, striking out seven and giving up one run and three hits, again with no walks, in six innings of a victory over Bowling Green.
“(Since being called up), I've been doing what I've been doing the whole year and trying to stay focused on what we've got left this year,” De Leon said.
“It's the same 60 feet, 6 inches everywhere, so I'm just pitching trying to give my team a chance to win every night out.”
Against three Loons pitchers, the TinCaps struck out 17 times, one short of the TinCaps record that came against South Bend in a 12-inning game in 2010.
In the fifth, Great Lakes (61-66, 27-30) increased its lead to 3-0, when Joey Curletta followed a Brandon Trinkwon triple with a home run that lined just over the left field wall. Paul Hoenecke then made it 4-0 after Peterson followed a great sliding grab at third base with a throwing error that sailed over the first baseman's head and into the stands. Peterson's ninth-inning RBI double ended the scoring.
Jake Bauers was 2 for 4 for Fort Wayne, which totaled seven hits to Great Lakes' 15. Fort Wayne starter Cody Hebner went six innings and gave up three earned runs off 11 hits with four strikeouts and no walks.
“I thought Hebner threw the ball far better than his final line. He ended up giving up a bunch of hits, but he made a lot of good pitches with the fastball and looked to have some good life,” Collins said. “And then (Jorge) Guzman came out of the bullpen and gave us three innings, which was outstanding.”
Note: During the game today against Great Lakes, there will be a “Keeping Men Healthy” event in which men who get a PSA blood screening in the Lincoln Financial Event Center at Parkview Field will get two tickets for a future TinCaps game. The testing, as well as blood-pressure readings, glucose checks, height/weight/BMI checks and skin screenings, can also be done from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday.