The TinCaps are back from their road trip, on which they played the longest series in franchise history: seven consecutive games against the West Michigan Whitecaps over six days, including a doubleheader. Fort Wayne triumphed in four of the seven games, making it the second straight road series the TinCaps have won after going 0-2-1 in their first three this season.
Unfortunately for Fort Wayne, those road series victories were sandwiched around a 4-8 homestand, so the TinCaps have been unable to pick up much ground in the standings. They open today 6 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot in High-A Central and in last place in the HAC East Division. They have a good chance to make some noise this week, however, with first-place Dayton in town. The Dragons beat the TinCaps in four out of six games in a series in Dayton in June, but Fort Wayne won two of the last three and its opening three losses were by a combined four runs.
The TinCaps will open the series with their newest starter on the mound. That's 20-year-old right-hander Carlos Guarate, the No. 17 prospect in the Padres farm system, per Fangraphs. Guarate was recently called up from Low-A Lake Elsinore, where he had an up-and-down season, mixing fantastic starts with some really tough outings. His last appearance with the Storm featured Good Carlos. The youngster tossed six no-hit, shutout innings, striking out six without a walk. He had a 2-2 record with a 4.49 ERA at Lake Elsinore, but at his best he was one of the top pitchers in the league, possessing a fastball that touches 93 mph and a breaking ball that has "depth and power," per Fangraphs. Guarate will be the youngest pitcher in High-A Central this season and he'll start twice this week, also getting the ball Sunday.
The TinCaps' rotation has seen a significant shakeup recently, first with ace Ethan Elliott getting promoted to Double-A and then with Gabe Mosser going on the Injured List last week. The rotation underwent another change today as workhorse Matt Waldron, the team's No. 2 starter most of the season behind Elliott, was called up to Double-A, as well. Waldron, who began throwing a knuckleball in spring training and used it more and more as the season went on, pitched a team-season-high eight innings in his most recent start, striking out eight and giving up only one unearned run. He led High-A Central in innings pitched in his time with Fort Wayne (72 1/3) and was third in ERA (3.24) despite two dismal starts in mid-June as he adjusted to throwing the knuckleball on a much more regular basis. In his final three starts with the TinCaps, he pitched 22 innings (working at least seven in all three), struck out 21, walked six and posted a 1.63 ERA.
With Elliott, Waldron and Mosser all out of the rotation at least temporarily, the TinCaps have moved Erik Sabrowski and 23-year-old lefty Danny Denz into starting roles along with Guarate. When Waldron was promoted, the Padres also sent Fort Wayne Double-A reliever Fred Schlichtholz, who spent most of 2018 with the TinCaps and had a 5.93 ERA in 23 appearances with San Antonio. He'll likely help in late-inning situations with Carter Loewen and Jose Geraldo on the IL.
The Dragons, a Cincinnati Reds affiliate, will counter Guarate with 23-year-old right-hander Carson Spiers, who has excellent walk and strikeout numbers, but has given up seven home runs in 35 1/3 innings at High-A this season. Spiers has a 4.79 ERA overall and gave up seven hits and four runs in 4 2/3 innings when he faced the TinCaps in June. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound righty has served up a pair of gopher balls in each of his last two starts.
The TinCaps' offense really struggled during part of its series with West Michigan, going 4 for 40 with runners in scoring position in its first six games of the series before breaking out with a 7-for-12 performance in such situations Sunday. They'll try to carry that over tonight and open the six-game homestand with a third consecutive win.