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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, May 15, 2018 3:30 pm

Pregame: TinCaps (15-21) vs. West Michigan Whitecaps (19-17)

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

The TinCaps snapped a four-game losing streak in the first game of their homestand on Monday and will try to make it two in a row against the West Michigan Whitecaps tonight at Parkview Field.

Fort Wayne likely won't have the benefit of five West Michigan errors as it did on Monday, but it might not need them if it can cash in more often with men on base. The TinCaps left 14 runners on in the first game of the series, including two in six different innings, and went just 2 for 15 with runners in scoring position. Fort Wayne had plenty of opportunities to put Monday's game away in the middle and later innings, but didn't take advantage and instead had to hang on in a nail-biter at the end.

Fortunately for the Fort Wayne offense, the pitching staff held West Michigan scoreless in the final eight innings and the TinCaps emerged victorious despite the lack of clutch hitting. Even better, the two "starting" pitchers were able to throw seven innings, saving the bullpen from wear and tear in the first game of a 21-day stretch without any off days. MacKenzie Gore and piggyback starter (a second scheduled "starter" after the original pitcher) Mason Thompson tossed six consecutive scoreless innings after the Whitecaps got three runs in the first off Gore.

Left-hander Osvaldo Hernandez probably won't pitch seven innings tonight – he hasn't pitched more than six this season – but he would do well to pitch deep into the game and again save the bullpen. It is Hernandez's 20th birthday and he'll be making his first start since May 3 after a stint on the disabled list. It's unclear why he was on the DL, although it seems that he might have been placed there simply to free up a spot for Gore and has now been re-added to the active roster with fellow pitcher Emmanuel Ramirez heading to Lake Elsinore.

Hernandez has been excellent this season, posting a 2-2 record with a 3.24 ERA in five starts. His most recent outing was arguably his best; he pitched six innings, giving up one unearned run and striking out six with no walks. The TinCaps won that game 3-2, completing a sweep of the Beloit Snappers.

Hernandez will be opposed by Whitecaps starter Elvin Rodriguez, a 20-year-old right-hander with a 6.85 ERA this season. As his ERA indicates, he hasn't been particularly effective, giving up at least three runs in every start and not completing six innings in any of them. Opponents have hit .322 against him after hitting .339 a season ago at the same level. 

Still, Fangraphs ranks him as the No. 17 prospect in the Detroit Tigers system and projects him as a solid No. 4 starter in the majors eventually. He has a live fastball and decent secondary pitches, he just hasn't been able to command them well enough to get batters out consistently yet. He could struggle against a TinCaps team that has made patience at the plate part of its team persona.

dsinn@jg.net