vs. Great Lakes
Where: Parkview Field
When: 7 p.m. today
Pitchers: Nick Margevicius (TinCaps) vs. Melvin Jimenez (Loons)
TV: Xfinity 81
Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM
Since the TinCaps moved into Parkview Field in 2009, they had never lost more than four in a row to start a season. This season, they lost their first six, dropping four straight against the Lake County Captains and two more to the Lansing Lugnuts.
That streak ended Wednesday at home against the Lugnuts, as Fort Wayne exploded for eight runs in the seventh inning to win 9-4.
A losing streak of that length to start a season, with a roster that ranks as by far the youngest in the Midwest League, could easily have led to defeatism. Instead, the TinCaps stayed focused and prepared, expecting victories would come.
“We were never in a big rut,” said Jack Suwinski on Sunday, who homered in that first win against Lansing, on Sunday. “We would always come back into the dugout ready to have good at-bats and go out and compete. Being the beginning of the season, we never counted ourselves out.”
The TinCaps went through a particularly difficult stretch in the first weekend of the season, getting outscored 43-7. That string encompassed the end of the Lake County series and the first game of the set against Lansing, Fort Wayne's fifth loss in a row.
By the second game against the Lugnuts, however, there was an observable uptick in the team's level of play. They lost that day to Lansing 6-5, but led most of the game, repeatedly bouncing back after Lansing rallies. The performance left some TinCaps (2-9) believing that wins were within reach.
“The end of the Lake County series was a little rough, we played some pretty bad games, pretty bad baseball,” said pitcher Nick Margeivicus on Thursday. Margeivicus pitched 52/3 innings in the TinCaps' first victory. “The beginning of (the Lugnuts) series, I felt like, 'We might get a win this game, we might get a win this game.'”
Margevicius watched the final innings of the first victory on TV while working out.
“I was saying, we just gotta get to the (Lansing) bullpen, if we get to the bullpen (something will happen),” he said. “And sure enough, an eight-run inning. I think we were just waiting for something like that to happen, I think everybody was.”
The huge rally provided a blueprint for how this TinCaps team can be successful on offense going forward.
The team isn't full of power hitters, but it has a lot of players with good on-base skills. Fort Wayne sent 11 hitters to the plate in that seventh-inning uprising and only one of them reached on an extra-base hit.
“I mean, that inning started off with a walk, a base hit, a bunt for a hit,” said Suwinski, who had a home run in win No. 1 and whose .577 slugging percentage is the highest on the team by more than 75 points. “We're not gonna go out here and hit homer after homer. We're gonna get guys on base and have really good at-bats. ... It's gonna be a team effort.”
The offense turned a close game into a blowout with the big inning, but it was the TinCaps' pitching that kept the them within reach long enough for the hitters to break through.
Walks have been problem for Fort Wayne's hurlers this season – they allowed almost seven per game during the losing streak – but Margevicius and Co. issued just two in that first win.
Margevicius said limiting walks was one of the keys that would help the team avoid long losing streaks going forward, but he also recognizes that, in a 140-game season, such stretches are probably inevitable.
“I'm not so much for streaks, I'm for playing good baseball,” he said. “You hit those losing streaks over the course of a year anyway. It sucks that it came at the beginning, but they come, and I do think we're gonna start playing some better baseball.
“Whether it's a streak or it's we take 10 out of 12 or something like that, I feel like we're starting to play some pretty good baseball.”
The only extra-base hit in that seventh inning was the signature play of the team's first win. First baseman Carlos Belen drove a grand slam to left, plating the last four runs of the inning. After the game, Belen, the oldest position player on the roster, said this team has plenty of potential.
“I think we have a lot of talent here, a lot of young guys,” he said. “(If we) do our jobs, I think we can have a very good year and make it to the championship this year, too.”