The beat went on for Fort Wayne on Wednesday night as the TinCaps dropped their seventh consecutive game, this time by a 7-6 score to the Lake County Captains, against whom Fort Wayne is 4-10 this season. The TinCaps rallied late, putting the tying run on second and the winning run on first in the ninth after trailing 7-0 when they came to bat in the third inning. It was a nice comeback and it was encouraging to see hitters grinding through at-bats when they trailed by 3-4 runs in the late innings, but it was also another day on which Fort Wayne fell further out of playoff contention, dropping a season-high nine games out of the final playoff spot in High-A Central.
There is still time for the TinCaps to make a run at the playoffs, but they can't afford to keep letting opportunities get away for wins at home. They have another chance tonight to snap their losing streak and this time they'll have their ace, left-hander Ethan Elliott, on the mound.
Elliott comes into the game fourth in the league in ERA at 2.94 and tied for second in strikeouts with 67. He can take the league lead in whiffs, which he held for all of May and a large part of June, with seven strikeouts tonight. Elliott was fantastic in May, but wasn't quite as dominant in June. His first start in July was his worst of the season, as he went only 4 1/3 innings and gave up a season-high six runs (five earned) and served up three home runs. One of those homers came after he appeared to strike out Leonel Valera, but the umpire ruled that Valera had checked his swing. After Elliott gave up the home run, manager Anthony Contreras took Elliott out and was ejected after leaving the mound to argue on the pitcher's behalf. It was the most agitated this reporter has seen Contreras during his three seasons covering the team. Elliott has not posted a quality start since June 15.
The Captains will counter with 24-year-old right-hander Kevin Coulter, who has been a reliever much of the season but has shifted to starting in recent weeks. Coulter has a 6.97 ERA, but has been very hit or miss this season: he's had some very good appearances and some very poor ones, with few in between. He's coming off his best performance of the season, when he pitched five shutout innings against South Bend while giving up only three hits and walking none. The TinCaps have already seen Coulter three times out of the bullpen this season and he's been very good in those appearances, tossing four scoreless, hitless innings with five strikeouts in an outing in May and then striking out four and giving up only an unearned run in 2 2/3 innings in June.
Tonight, Fort Wayne welcomes outfielder Grant Little back to the lineup. Little hadn't played since June 26 because the TinCaps were being cautious after he'd been hit by a pitch in the ribs. Little had broken the same ribs in 2019. But the speedy outfielder dramatically emerged from the dugout to pinch run in the ninth inning Wednesday and could have scored the winning run if the TinCaps had come up with a big hit. Little will play left tonight and bat seventh; he is getting on base at a .364 clip this season, but he is slugging only .263 with three extra-base hits in 80 at-bats.