The TinCaps' win over Dayton on Wednesday, in which Fort Wayne clubbed 15 hits and a season-high nine extra-base hits, felt like a breakthrough after a week of muddling through offensively. The TinCaps put together good at-bats all night, working deep counts, fouling off tough pitches and not trying to do too much. The result was a 9-3 win over the division-leading Dragons and a chance to build some momentum in this important series.
In order to turn that one good performance into a string of good games, the TinCaps will have to stay locked in at the plate – Grant Little said there was a different feeling in the dugout Wednesday and he was hopeful it could carry over – but they'll also need another solid performance from their bullpen. Fort Wayne's relievers went six innings and gave up just one run on four hits, keeping the Dragons from even thinking about a late-inning comeback after the TinCaps pushed across a combined seven runs in the sixth and seventh innings.
The bullpen will once again be called on tonight because starter Anderson Espinoza has not pitched more than three innings in a game this season. Espinoza is coming off one of his best starts of the season: three no-hit, shutout innings with two strikeouts and a walk. It was his second start in the last three in which he's given up no earned runs in three innings of work, but sandwiched in between those outings was a 10-game suspension after he got ejected from a start for what umpires decided was a foreign substance on his glove. He bounced right back after the suspension and tonight he makes his return to Parkview Field, so the TinCaps and Padres can begin to hope the suspension was just a blip on his path to becoming a full-blown, pitch-deep-into-a-game starter again. It's possible he could work into the fourth inning tonight if he's cruising and that would be an ideal situation for the TinCaps, who used four relievers in Wednesday's game.
Among those who might get work for Fort Wayne out of the bullpen tonight are right-hander Edwuin Bencomo, who has thrown six consecutive shutout innings over his last three appearances and lefty Sam Williams, who also has back-to-back scoreless outings under his belt. Wen-Hua Sung has been hot since coming back from an injury and could get some work, as well.
The Dragons, who are hanging on to a precarious half-game lead in the High-A Central East Division, will counter Espinoza with 23-year-old right-hander Eduardo Salazar, the No. 29 prospect in the Reds farm system, per Fangraphs. Salazar is 2-3 with a 4.26 ERA and he possesses an electric fastball that can touch 99 mph, though his off-speed pitches leave something to de desired at this point in his career. He's coming off a rough start in which he gave up eight runs, including two homers, in four innings against Great Lakes and he's struggled in two starts against the TinCaps this season, going 0-1 with a 6.42 ERA, though he did strike out 10 Fort Wayne hitters in five innings in one of those starts.
The TinCaps' lineup is much the same as the one that mashed Wednesday, although slugger Agustin Ruiz will get a rare start in center in place of Reinaldo Ilarraza and doubles machine Tirso Ornelas will get the start in right. Little, who has five doubles in the last two weeks, starts again in left after driving in a pair of runs Wednesday and Kelvin Alarcon is also back in the lineup after coming a home run short of the cycle in the last game.