While the TinCaps were losing five games in a row against Great Lakes last week, manager Anthony Contreras repeatedly insisted that his team was playing good baseball and just not getting results. He said he liked the energy and intensity in those contests and what was needed was to finish games. That explanation made sense: the TinCaps had dropped four straight games in which they held a lead in the sixth inning or later.
Contreras was singing a different tune after Fort Wayne lost in the opener of a six-game series against Lake County 12-3 tonight, committing a pair of errors along the way and not looking competitive at any point beyond the first inning.
"No energy, very lackadaisical, I'll tell it how it is," Contreras said. "We can't play this way. You have to be able to come out and do the right things, throw strikes, not allow big hits. ... We just have to have some urgency at the plate and in the field. These games are obviously not fun to be a part of, hopefully they learn something.
"I thought we played good baseball (against Great Lakes). ... I thought getting a day's rest (Monday) after a long week, you expect more. To fall flat like we did was surprising."
The TinCaps have now dropped a season-high six straight games and have fallen a season-worst eight games below .500 and eight games out of the final playoff spot in High-A Central. This remains a talented team, capable of pitching well for stretches, getting good work out of the bullpen (though that has been far from obvious lately) and scoring runs in bunches thanks to a discerning approach at the plate. That seemed to be coming together during a stretch of six wins in eight games that included the opener of the series against Great Lakes. Instead, Fort Wayne has gone the opposite direction and its playoff hopes took a significant hit as a result. As the season nears its midway point, the TinCaps are looking for answers.
Some of the biggest news for Fort Wayne came off the field Tuesday. Contreras told The Journal Gazette that right-hander Anderson Espinoza, the TinCaps' top prospect, has been suspended 10 games, effective Tuesday. Espinoza was ejected from his most recent start after umpires believed they had found a foreign substance in his glove. Espinoza is the first TinCap to fall victim to the new, stricter policy on sticky stuff that has filtered down from MLB into the minor leagues. The 23-year-old flamethrower will be eligible to come off the IL on Saturday, July 17 at West Michigan.
Espinoza's absence opens a spot in Fort Wayne's rotation that will be filled by left-hander Erik Sabrowski. The 2018 14th-round pick will take the mound Wednesday for his first start as a pro. He has pitched four pro games as a reliever with the TinCaps after recovering from the Tommy John surgery he underwent shortly after getting drafted. Sabrowski throws a fastball that touches 93 mph, but his money pitch is a 12-6 curveball that is one of the best I've seen at this level. He commands both pitches well and has used them to dominate in his short time in Fort Wayne, posting an 0.90 ERA and striking out 21 in 10 innings of work. He tossed four innings in relief his last time out with nine strikeouts (including six in a row) and he started in college, so there's no reason he can't work relatively deep into the game in his first start.
Sabrowski told The Journal Gazette he doesn't plan to change his strategy just because he's starting rather than coming out of the bullpen. As he has before, he emphasized it is his job to get as many outs as possible and give the team some innings. He recognized that might be a little more necessary Wednesday after the already-struggling Fort Wayne bullpen needed six innings to get through tonight's game because starter Moises Lugo worked a season-low three innings and gave up five runs on six hits.
Lake County came into this series last in the league in runs scored, but pounded 15 hits tonight and slugged against every pitcher the TinCaps threw at them. Sabrowski will get his turn Wednesday after throwing eight consecutive scoreless innings over his previous three appearances. Maybe he'll be the spark Fort Wayne needs to get back on track.
Notes: The TinCaps announced Tuesday that infielder Kelvin Melean was promoted to Double-A San Antonio. He hit .375 in his final 13 games with Fort Wayne. … Prior to the game, Fort Wayne placed infielder Ethan Skender on the Injured List. Skender has not played since Thursday and Contreras said he is suffering from concussion-like symptoms, though it remains unclear exactly what is causing the issue.