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The Journal Gazette

Monday, July 09, 2018 6:00 pm

Pregame: TinCaps (11-7) vs. Bowling Green (12-6)

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

The TinCaps have lost three in a row for the first time in the second half and must win today in order to avoid a deflating four-game sweep immediately before going on the road for six games. In addition, a win tonight would draw Fort Wayne back into a tie for first place in the Eastern Division with the Hot Rods.

Those stakes alone would place plenty of importance on tonight's matchup, but on Sunday night the TinCaps added even more drama when they announced that MacKenzie Gore would start the game, moving him from his originally scheduled start on Wednesday in Cedar Rapids to another start in front of the Parkview Field faithful.

Gore has started on five days' rest all season, but today will be starting with only a four-day break for the first time in his professional career. He'll likely be somewhat limited after throwing at least 85 pitches in each of his last two starts, but he'll at least have a chance to match his masterful Fourth of July outing, when he pitched six shutout innings and earned his first professional win. 

The start was easily the best of Gore's pro career and if he can even come close to duplicating it tonight, he'll give the TinCaps an opportunity to pick up a much-needed victory. In that last start, Gore sat 91-93 mph in the first few innings before cranking it up to 94-95 mph in the fifth and sixth. It'll be interesting to see if he does that again tonight or, knowing his start will be shorter, goes 100 percent from the opening pitch. 

If Gore happens to struggle, the TinCaps have a plenty-capable piggyback starter ready to go. Left-hander Osvaldo Hernandez was supposed to start today and will instead be first out of the bullpen, piggybacking for Gore for the second time this season. Hernandez enters the game leading the league in ERA with an even 2.00 mark in 14 appearances (13 starts). Like Gore, he's coming off a start in which he tossed six shutout innings and earned a victory against the Great Lakes Loons. Simply put, Hernandez has been the best pitcher in the league for a large portion of the season and has given up two earned runs or fewer in 12 straight outings, a remarkable string of consistent excellence.

Gore and Hernandez will face a Bowling Green lineup that has made a living off of jumping out to early leads in this series, scoring nine of its 15 runs in the first three innings of games. The key for Gore especially will be to bring his 'A' game from the first pitch and keep the Hot Rods in check early. He'll have to pay special attention to Ronaldo Hernandez, who had four hits, including a game-winning home run, on Sunday and has had three balls leave his bat at 107 mph or faster in this series. 

The Hot Rods will send polished right-hander Austin Franklin to the mound to try to complete the four-game sweep. The 20-year-old Franklin comes in with a 3.59 ERA this season and pitched 5 1/3 innings against the TinCaps in the previous series between these teams. He gave up two runs on five hits and three walks in that outing. Here's what Fangraphs had to say about the 2016 third-round pick:

"Franklin is a sinkerballer who sits 90-92 and touches 95. His frame is maxed out, so that’s probably all the velocity there’s going to be, but Franklin’s curveball is good while the changeup and strike-throwing don’t have far to go. He projects as a No. 4/5 starter, and most of the components are already in place."

He'll face a TinCaps lineup that does not include Robbie Podorsky, who has been the team's hottest hitter. Podorsky's usual No. 2 spot in the order will be occupied by second-baseman Kelvin Melean, who will be playing in just his second game with the TinCaps. He doubled and walked in his first start Sunday.

dsinn@jg.net