Ryan Weathers couldn't catch a break tonight. The TinCaps left-hander had some of the best stuff he's had in the second half of the season, hitting 93 mph with his fastball, snapping off some terrific sliders and working in an effective changeup, but it wasn't enough against a South Bend Cubs team that found the outfield grass with bloop hits time and time again in a 6-4 win at Parkview Field.
It was the final start of the season for Weathers, the Padres' 2018 first-round draft pick, who came into the year as the expected ace of the Fort Wayne staff. After a dominant beginning to the season – his start on April 22, when he went six shutout innings and struck out six while giving up only one hit, was a masterpiece – he went on the injured list for three weeks and was never quite that good again, though he has gained much of his strength back here in late August. Tonight he went five innings, giving up three runs on 10 hits with four strikeouts and no walks. Ten hits is obviously a less-than-ideal figure, but none of those 10 were hard-hit and most of them were bloops or seeing-eye ground balls. It was essentially just an unlucky night for Weathers, who had all three pitches working.
It probably wasn't the way he would have liked to go out, but it was overall a solid inaugural pro season for the 2018 No. 7 overall pick. He finished 3-7 with a 3.84 ERA, but was much better at the end of the season and has plenty to build on as he heads into the offseason. Though his velocity dipped after his injury, he didn't do anything to dissuade me or anyone else in the Padres organization that he can be an important starter for San Diego at the MLB level. At 19 he was one of the youngest pitchers in the league and still made hitters look silly with regularity, though he was overshadowed by Joey Cantillo for a good portion of the season. He told me that his offseason work will focus significantly on pitch sequencing and getting better with two strikes.
"A lot of (the work) this offseason is going to be about watching film and learning about pitch selection," Weathers said. "There were several times this year, almost every game, where guys were getting hits when it's 1-2, 0-2. Just figuring out that pitch I need (with two strikes), reading swings, getting better pitch selection and just staying focused 24/7 on the mound."
The TinCaps' loss tonight turned out to be a significant one less than 15 minutes after the game ended. That was when the game between Lansing and West Michigan finished, with West Michigan winning in extra innings and eliminating the Lugnuts from playoff contention. The Lansing loss clinched the final Eastern Division playoff spot for the Cubs, who immediately broke out in a raucous celebration in their clubhouse, which I could hear all the way down the hall as I was talking to Weathers. The only saving grace for Fort Wayne was that Lansing tied its game in the ninth inning, preventing the Cubs from celebrating on Parkview Field after beating the TinCaps.
Fort Wayne begins its final series of the season Saturday against the Lugnuts, a matchup that is now devoid of playoff implications. The season is winding down at Parkview Field.