Another strong bullpen performance helped a slim TinCaps lead hold up in the late innings and Fort Wayne beat visiting Dayton 3-1 at Parkview Field tonight.
How it Happened
The TinCaps had a season-high nine extra-base hits in their win on Wednesday and they continued their onslaught in the first inning. After Chris Givin had led off the inning with a walk, slugger Agustin Ruiz yanked a fly ball to straightaway right that carried into the dining seats on top of the 15-foot wall in that area of the ballpark for a two-run homer and a 2-0 Fort Wayne lead. The ball left Ruiz's bat at 100 mph and traveled 383 feet.
That was just about all the Fort Wayne offense would be able to muster, however. After serving up the early gopher ball to Ruiz, Dayton starter Eduardo Salazar settled in and dominated much of the rest of his start. The No. 29 prospect in the Reds farm system gave up only one more hit, a Justin Lopez single, also in the first, and whiffed 10, equaling a season-high. All 10 of those strikeouts came between the second and the sixth and he retired the final four hitters he faced, three by strikeout, silencing the potent Fort Wayne attack.
Fortunately for the TinCaps, their pitching staff made the early lead stand up with a mostly excellent performance across the board. Anderson Espinoza, the team's top prospect got the start and was shaky to open the game, walking Francisco Urbaez and then giving up a single to Quin Cotton to put the first two runners on base. The hard-throwing right-hander bounced back, however, whiffing the next two hitters with a 97 mph fastball and a dandy of an 81 mph curveball before getting a weak grounder to end the frame.
The second was much the same for Espinoza, who worked around two singles by striking out the side with two sliders in the mid-80s and another great curveball. The curveball was as good as I've seen it all year for Espinoza, but he curiously went away from it in the third inning and got into trouble, giving up three more hits and a run before getting pulled after 2 2/3 innings.
The 23-year-old former top prospect set a season-high with six strikeouts and had excellent stuff (all three of his pitches were working), but his command remained an issue. Sometimes Espinoza's control problems manifest in walks, but more often, as tonight, he misses in the strike zone and gives up hits. That's what happened tonight as he gave up six hits, mostly on 95-96 mph fastballs that caught too much of the plate.
Espinoza departed with the tying run on third in the third, but reliever Edwuin Bencomo bailed him out, retiring Juan Martinez on a soft grounder to second to end the inning. Bencomo then turned in another in a string of dynamic performances and he did almost entirely with his changeup, which was darting down and to his glove side. He struck out three straight in the fifth, all swinging, with the pitch and kept the score 2-1 into the late innings.
The Dragons put a runner on first against lefty Sam Williams in the sixth, but Williams capped off a nine-pitch battle with Jose Tello with a strikeout to end the inning. Austin Smith tossed a scoreless seventh and Ramon Perez worked a perfect eighth.
Finally, after 5 1/3 scoreless innings on a razor's edge for the bullpen, the Fort Wayne offense gave its relievers some breathing room. In the eighth, Grant Little came up with one out and lashed a line drive down the right-field line. Hustling all the way, he beat a strong throw to second base and slid in with a double. After a ground ball to first moved him to third, Jonny Homza bounced a grounder to the right side. Second baseman Francisco Urbaez had a long way to run – he was shaded up the middle – and when he finally got in front of the ball, which was losing speed, it took a bad hop off the lip of the outfield grass and handcuffed him, letting Homza reach with an RBI infield single to make it 3-1.
In the ninth, the fifth Fort Wayne reliever, right-hander Wen-Hua Sung, put two on with nobody out after a single and a walk, but retired the next two hitters, striking out Urbaez, one of the league's best hitters with a 93 mph fastball painted on the outside corner for the second out. Another single loaded the bases, however, bringing James Free, a three-time strikeout victim earlier in the game, to the plate. Free went down for a fourth time on a fastball at his eyes, sealing Sung's second save of the season.
Player(s) of the Game: TinCaps bullpen
The Fort Wayne bullpen was outstanding for a second straight night, going 6 1/3 innings and giving up no runs on four hits. In the last two games, the relievers have surrendered only one run in 12 1/3 frames. Two of the TinCaps' relievers, Bencomo and Smith, are among the hottest in the league. Bencomo has thrown 8 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings over his last four outings, striking out nine and giving up only four hits in that span. He gave up eight runs in three innings in his previous two appearances. Smith, meanwhile, has tossed 10 1/3 shutout innings in a row over his last eight outings, striking out 14 and giving up only three hits along the way. He and Perez made appearances for the second straight night.
The TinCaps entered the game in last place in the High-A Central Division, 6 1/2 games out of the second and final playoff spot in the HAC. The Dragons had possession of that second spot. With the win, however, the TinCaps passed West Michigan for fifth in the division standings and Dayton fell out of the playoff spot with the loss. The TinCaps are 6 games out of the final spot after tonight. ... Espinoza's six strikeouts are his most since Aug. 31, 2016. ... Ruiz is seventh in the league in home runs (12) and sixth in RBI (45) after tonight. He went 18 games without a long ball before hitting two in three days. He is on pace for 20.8 home runs; the franchise record is 21, set by Fernando Tatis Jr. in 2017. ... Dayton's Urbaez came into the game No. 2 in the league in batting at .339, but went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and a walk, snapping a 15-game hitting streak. ... Salazar has struck out 10 in a start against the TinCaps twice this season. He has not whiffed more than seven in any other start. ... The teams combined for 26 strikeouts in the game. ... Fort Wayne had just four hits after tallying 15, one short of a season-high Wednesday. The TinCaps did not have a hit after the first inning until Little's double in the eighth. Little has six doubles in the last 10 games. He had three doubles in 27 games previously. ... The Dragons had 10 hits, all singles.
These teams will meet again Friday for the fourth matchup in this six-game series at Parkview Field. First pitch will be at 7:05 p.m. The TinCaps will send 22-year-old right-hander Moises Lugo (1-3, 3.83 ERA) to the mound. Lugo is coming off arguably his best start of the season: four shutout innings, nine strikeouts, no walks and two hits against West Michigan after he missed his previous start with some arm fatigue. The Dragons will counter with 24-year-old right-hander Noah Davis (3-5, 3.23 ERA). He is second in the league in ERA and pitched six shutout, one-hit innings in his last start against Fort Wayne on June 16.