The weather at Parkview Field tonight matches the TinCaps' mood at the moment. Dark clouds hang over the downtown stadium, portending significant rain in the coming minutes as I write this, more than an hour before the scheduled first pitch time.
The TinCaps are going through a dark period of their own: they've lost a season-high six games in a row and the most recent defeat wasn't particularly competitive, a 12-3 drubbing at the hands of the Lake County Captains in the opener of a six-game series Tuesday night. That loss dropped Fort Wayne a season-worst eight game below .500 and eight games out of first place in the High-A Central East Division. Manager Anthony Contreras said his team had played "lackadaisical" baseball after the nine-run loss and declared, "We can't play like this." The big loss to the Captains was a departure from the early portion of the losing streak, when Fort Wayne was competitive, but simply struggled to finish games.
To try to stop that slide, the TinCaps will send to the mound a pitcher making his first professional start. Left-hander Erik Sabrowski was a 2018 draft pick of the Padres, but had Tommy John surgery shortly after getting picked and missed the entire 2019 season. He returned in mid-June of this season and has made four appearances with Fort Wayne out of the bullpen. He has dominated in those outings, posting an 0.90 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 10 innings. That includes eight consecutive scoreless innings and 17 strikeouts in his last three appearances. His last time out, he struck out six consecutive hitters. Sabrowski throws a fastball that touches 93 mph, but his money pitch is a 12-6 curveball that has Barry Zito-esque shape on it, dipping into the mid-70s. He commands both pitches relatively well (he has four walks in his 10 innings of work) and knows how to mix up his pitches for maximum effect. He has been the most dominant TinCaps reliever since right-hander Mason Fox ran roughshod through the Midwest League in 2019, throwing seven shutout innings and striking out 16 before being promoted to High-A.
Sabrowski is getting the start tonight in place of right-hander Anderson Espinoza, the TinCaps' top prospect, who has been suspended for 10 games after getting ejected in his previous start because umpires believed they found a sticky substance in his glove. Espinoza won't be eligible to pitch again until July 17 at West Michigan, so it's possible Sabrowski gets more than one turn in the TinCaps rotation. The big left-hander was a starter in college and worked four innings in his previous start, so he should have no problem pitching relatively deep into the game. Fort Wayne could use that after starter Moises Lugo went just three innings Tuesday.
The Captains will counter Sabrowski with another red-hot pitcher, 22-year-old right-hander Xzavion Curry. Curry was nearly unhittable at Low-A early in the season and has now made four solid starts at High-A. The best of those was his first, which also came here at Parkview Field: he worked five shutout innings, giving up just two hits and striking out seven. He could be in for another big night tonight: the 5-foot-11 hurler's Achilles heel is the long ball – he's given up five of them this season – but the TinCaps don't hit many homers and the rainy night isn't conducive to moonshots anyway.
The TinCaps are hoping to bounce back offensively from a night in which they went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position and grounded into three double plays. They scored only three runs despite walking eight times. Red-hot Jonny Homza will lead off for Fort Wayne after getting on base 13 times in the last four games, while new TinCap Andelson Arias, who was called up from the Padres' facility in Arizona last week, will be the designated hitter and bat ninth.
As it stands right now, it seems unlikely this game gets started on time: the tarp is still on the field less than hour before scheduled first pitch. If it is delayed, it would be another late night for the TinCaps, whose nine-inning games at Parkview Field have lasted an average of 3:19 this season, 20 minutes longer than the average in 2019.