The TinCaps have not had a good start to their six-game series against the Lake County Captains. Fort Wayne has dropped the first two games, extending its losing streak overall to four games and running its record against the Captains this season to 1-7, compared with 12-11 against everyone else in High-A Central.
Fort Wayne was much more competitive in its loss Wednesday night, falling 3-2 despite a solid pitching performance from Ethan Elliott and a two-run rally in the sixth inning that featured a game-tying triple from slugger Dwanya Williams-Sutton in his return from a concussion. The struggling bullpen turned in a very good performance, giving up only one unearned run in four innings, but it wasn't enough and the final seven TinCaps were retired in order with the game on the line.
After seeing two of its best starters fail to stop the losing streak, the TinCaps turn to the third member of their three-headed monster tonight: 24-year-old right-hander Matt Waldron. Waldron, who throws six different pitches including a knuckleball and touches 94 mph with his fastball, has a 2.93 ERA that is sixth in the league. He is coming off a start in which he went five innings and gave up two runs on six hits while striking out five without a walk. He did not have his best stuff, but he grinded his way into the later innings and kept his team in the game in an eventual 4-3 victory, the last time the TinCaps won. That's exactly what you want from a pitcher when they're not at their best. He's gone at least five innings in four straight starts and 5 of 6 so far this season. Unfortunately for Waldron, the one time he pitched fewer than five innings in a start was a mid-May outing against the Captains, when he gave up four runs (three earned) on eight hits in 4 2/3 frames.
Waldron's opponent tonight is one of the five qualifying pitchers in the league with a better ERA than the knuckleballer this year. In fact, 22-year-old left-hander Logan Allen (not the Logan Allen that pitched for the TinCaps for most of 2016 and 2017 and has pitched parts of three seasons in the major leagues) is the High-A Central ERA leader at 1.63 in five starts. He's 3-0 with 35 strikeouts and only five walks in 27 2/3 innings and he pitched five shutout frames against the TinCaps on May 12. He is the No. 21 prospect in the Cleveland farm system, per Fangraphs, which described the 2020 second-round pick this way:
"Though his fastball only sits 88-91 at times, Allen is a great athlete (he played both ways in college) with a well-balanced, repeatable delivery and plus command projection, and he hides the ball well, which should enable him to work at that velocity without getting shelled."
Allen hasn't gotten shelled much this year and his fastball has actually touched 94 mph at times, which he combines with a terrific changeup. The TinCaps were mostly quiet offensively Wednesday and this could end up in a pitcher's duel through the early innings. The TinCaps might try to steal some runs with baserunning, especially with infielder Reinaldo Ilarraza hitting leadoff. Ilarraza is getting on base at a career-best .358 clip and he went 2 for 3 with a double and two stolen bases in Wednesday's loss, his first multi-hit game since May 23. Fort Wayne has been aggressive at taking extra bases this season and it might need to do so in order to give Waldron some help today. Another defeat would run the losing streak to a season-high five games.