The TinCaps' week-long doldrums ended Thursday night, when they snapped a seven-game losing streak with a hard-fought win over Lake County, 5-4 at Parkview Field. It was the latest in a string of close games for Fort Wayne, which has played six games decided by two runs or fewer in the first nine games of this homestand. Unfortunately for the TinCaps, they've gone only 2-4 in those games and also lost the other three, leaving them 2-7 overall with three games remaining to salvage some pride before heading back out on the road.
The atmosphere in the clubhouse after the victory Thursday was raucous, according to outfielder Grant Little, and there appears to be hope the TinCaps can build on that win and start to create some momentum going in a positive direction after the most difficult week of the season so far.
As the TinCaps try to get a winning streak started, they'll send 24-year-old right-hander Matt Waldron to the mound. Waldron was one of the better pitchers in High-A Central for May and most of June as he used his combination of a low-90s fastball and a knuckleball that can touch the low 80s (plus a bevy of other pitches) to befuddle hitters and rank in the top 10 in the league in ERA. In late June, however, the Padres started pushing Waldron to throw the knuckleball more often and really make it a focal point in his arsenal. That led to back-to-back starts in which he struggled mightily to throw strikes, walking eight and gave up 13 hits in 7 2/3 innings, posting an ERA above 10 in those starts. In his most recent outing, however, he settled in after walking two in the first inning. He eventually worked seven frames, didn't walk another hitter and gave up three runs (two earned) with eight strikeouts. A side-effect of his knuckleball-heavy repertoire is the ability to pitch much deeper into games because there is less wear and tear on his arm. That would help the TinCaps, whose relievers have not pitched well on this homestand. Ethan Elliott worked six innings Thursday and Fort Wayne would love to get another lengthy start.
The Captains will counter Waldron with 22-year-old right-hander Tanner Burns, the No. 20 prospect in the Cleveland farm system, per Fangraphs. Burns has already had success against the TinCaps this season, pitching five shutout innings in his most recent start in Fort Wayne and giving up just one hit along the way with six strikeouts. He did walk three in that start, however, part of a pattern in which he's struggled to limit free passes in his most recent outings after hardly walking anyone near the start of the season. That could play into the hands of the TinCaps, who have averaged six walks per game in the last 15 contests. As for Burns' stuff, here's what Fangraphs had to say:
"I have him sitting 90-92 (mph) and touching 95 during the college season, then throwing about that hard in a single-inning Fall outing with Cleveland. Burns does have a tight slider in the 78-81 mph range; his curveball velocity band overlaps with the slider a bit but it has distinct shape. He also throws a mid-80s changeup with sink, but worked very, very heavily off the fastball in college."
The TinCaps won't have their best hitter, catcher Jonny Homza, in the lineup tonight. He's getting a night off after going 1 for 10 in the last two games. He'll be replaced in his usual leadoff slot by newly-arrived infielder Chris Givin, who has reached base seven times in his first three games with Fort Wayne, including five walks. Grant Little will also be back in the lineup after returning from some bruised ribs Thursday and doubling twice in his first game in almost two weeks.