The TinCaps are in the midst of one of their better stretches of the season, winners of four of their last five and nine of their last 14 games since a seven-game losing streak. They've beaten the Dayton Dragons in each of the last two games, winning with an offensive explosion Wednesday night 9-3 and then triumphing behind an outstanding pitching performance (15 strikeouts, two walks) Thursday, a 3-1 final.
Those last two wins were enough to boost Fort Wayne out of the cellar in the High-A Central East Division and drop the Dragons out of first place in the division and out of the final playoff spot in the HAC. The TinCaps have played Dayton tough all year and are playing with a significant amount of confidence with three more games remaining in this crucial home series.
Fort Wayne will try to continue its run of success with 22-year-old right-hander Moises Lugo on the mound. Lugo is coming off arguably his best start of the season: four shutout innings with just two hits and nine strikeouts, one off his season-high. It was also the first time all season he has not walked a hitter, which is significant because Lugo's biggest issue has been a lack of command, which has limited how deep he can pitch into games. He only worked four innings in that last start because he was coming off a missed start for a fatigued arm. If he's pitching well again tonight, he could go deeper into the game and the TinCaps could really use that because their bullpen has been taxed in recent games.
The Fort Wayne relievers have been magnificent two nights in a row, giving up only one run in 12 1/3 innings, including 6 1/3 shutout frames Thursday. Still, that's a lot of innings for a bullpen in a two-day span, especially with three more games to get through before an off-day. Red-hot relievers Edwuin Bencomo (2 1/3 innings Thursday) and Austin Smith (a scoreless inning each of the last two games) are likely unavailable for Fort Wayne tonight, so the TinCaps will look for good appearances from Mason Feole and Sam Keating, who each pitched Tuesday. Keating especially could get multiple innings if he's pitching well, though his ERA is still hovering around 10. Fred Schlichtholz, newly-arrived from Double-A, could also get more work after making his 2021 TinCaps debut Wednesday.
The Dragons will counter Lugo with 24-year-old right-hander Noah Davis, the No. 32 prospect in the Reds farm system, per Fangraphs. Davis has been very good most of the season in Dayton, ranking No. 2 in the league in ERA at 3.23 and striking out more than 10 hitters per nine innings. He has walked 29 in 61 1/3 frames, however, so the TinCaps will have a chance to put some runners on base against him, even if his stuff (91-94 mph fastball, solid slider and curveball) is difficult to square up.
Fort Wayne will send out a lineup that includes Grant Little and Agustin Ruiz in the corner outfield spots; with Jawuan Harris in center that not only is the team's best defensive alignment, but Little and Ruiz are two of the team's hottest hitters. Ruiz has homered twice in the last three games to give him 12 for the season and Little has six doubles in the last 10 games, including one in the eighth Thursday that led to an all-important insurance run.
Note: Fort Wayne has three former players participating in the Tokyo Games, which kicked off today. Left-hander Oliver Perez, who pitched for the Wizards in 2001 before going on to a 19-year MLB career, will play for Mexico; Diego Goris, who played for the TinCaps in 2013, is on the Dominican Republic team and Tim Federowicz, an MLB veteran who played for the TinCaps on a rehab assignment in 2015, is a member of Team USA.