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The Journal Gazette

  • The TinCaps' Brad Zunica watches a pitch on his way to a walk in a recent game. The TinCaps are averaging 4.1 walks per game, which is one walk per game better than last season and 1.4 better than in 2015. (Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette)

Thursday, May 18, 2017 1:00 am

TinCaps showing some patience

Team drawing more walks in spite of offensive struggles

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

TinCaps vs. Great Lakes

When: 7:05 p.m. today

Where: Parkview Field

Tickets: $12.50, $10, $8, $5 (lawn)

TV: Comcast Channel 81

Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM

Even in baseball, sometimes it is better to walk than run.

Receiving a free pass to first base by taking four pitches outside the strike zone might not be the most exciting outcome for an offense, but to the TinCaps it has been the strength of their lineup.

Despite occasionally struggling to score runs this season, Fort Wayne ranks second in the 16-team Midwest League with 156 bases on balls.

“We're laying off breaking pitches out of the zone and pitches we can't do any damage with,” TinCaps manager Anthony Contreras said. “I think we're doing a good job of getting to counts that (are) in our favor and that we can do damage in. We preach discipline and looking for a good pitch to hit.”

At 4.1 walks per game, the TinCaps' lineup isn't quite reaching the bar set in 2009, when they won their lone Midwest League championship. That team drew a franchise-record 681 walks, 4.9 per game.

Yet this year's pace shows significant improvement on 2015, when Fort Wayne totaled a franchise-worst 359 walks (2.6 per game), and last season when they averaged 3.1.

While no one would suggest there is a “best way” to hit, the patience of these TinCaps is owed in part to new hitting coach Doug Banks, who is in his second season in the San Diego Padres' farm system. In 2016, Banks worked with several of these same players (Hudson Potts, Eguy Rosario, Jack Suwinski and Fernando Tatis Jr.) when Banks was a hitting coach in the Arizona Rookie League.

“The biggest thing with these guys is that they trust themselves and that they stick to their approach, whatever it is that night,” Banks said. “They're young, 17, 18. They're humble. They're coachable.”

Perhaps the best at-bats have belonged to Suwin­ski. Fort Wayne's 18-year-old outfielder leads the league in pitches taken per plate appearance.

“He has a good eye,” Contreras said. “There's times he has games that look like he's 18 years old. There's other ones where he looks like a professional hitter up there. Yeah, he has a good idea of the strike zone.”

The TinCaps (16-23) return home tonight for a four-game series against Great Lakes (17-22) at Parkview Field, hoping they can continue their trend of forcing opposing pitchers to throw strikes.

“It's up to us now, when we do get those pitches, to do damage with them and put balls in play and make hard contact,” Contreras said. “With this team, it's baby steps with them, and as of right now we'll keep preaching to take those pitches out of the zone.”

Notes: Two Colts players, receiver T.Y. Hilton and defensive back Darius Butler, will sign autographs at Parkview Field tonight. They will be at a table on the concourse from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. … Colts In Motion, the franchise's traveling museum, will also be on hand along with cheerleaders and the mascot, Blue.

cgoff@jg.net