It's not often a player who goes 1 for 2 with a double, two walks and three stolen bases could be said to have had a rough night, but that's what happened to TinCaps center-fielder Reinaldo Ilarraza tonight.
Ilarraza was involved in two of the biggest plays of the game and neither of them went Fort Wayne's way in a 4-3 loss to the Dayton Dragons at Parkview Field that snapped a three-game winning streak and sent the TinCaps sliding back into fifth place in the High-A Central East Division.
Ilarraza's first moment in the spotlight came in the top of the seventh. With the game tied at 1, the first pitch of the inning was sent deep to center off the bat of Quin Cotton. Ilarraza seemed to lose the ball in the lights, standing almost still in center, looking at the sky for the ball but unable to locate it before it landed 25 feet behind him on the warning track as Cotton raced to third with a triple. One pitch later, a sacrifice fly gave the Dragons a lead they would not relinquish.
To his credit, Ilarraza did not let that play affect his performance the rest of the game. He came up in the bottom of the inning, walked and then stole second and third before getting stranded by a Grant Little ground ball.
In the ninth, with Fort Wayne down a run, he led off the inning with another good plate appearance that ended in a hard-earned walk. He immediately stole second, his 25th steal of the season, elevating him to fifth in the league in thefts. At that point, he had only been caught five times.
Then, Ilarraza (or possibly manager Anthony Contreras) got just a little bit greedy. With one out, Ilarraza took off, trying to steal third again. He did not get a particularly good jump and he was out at third, taking the tying run off base with two of Fort Wayne's hotter hitters, Little and Agustin Ruiz, due up next. The play was not really close, though the TinCaps speedster tried to slide creatively into the base. Two batters later – the Dragons gave Fort Wayne a gift when Little grounded back to the pitcher and reliever Ricky Karcher flat-out booted the ball, letting Little reach first – Ruiz struck out to end the game and Fort Wayne's winning streak was over.
Ilarraza's failed steal attempt at third was the second time this season that the TinCaps have tried to steal third late in a game and been thrown out in a key moment. Jawuan Harris, another one of Fort Wayne's best base-stealers, was cut down in the 10th inning of a game earlier this year when he was the free runner on second. All season, the TinCaps have been very aggressive on the bases, a tactic that has been preached throughout the Padres organization since spring training. There have been times when it has been successful for Fort Wayne, putting pressure on the defense – the TinCaps have stolen several runs this season with steals of home when a runner on first breaks for second and the catcher's throw goes there, a move they have pulled off so often that teams have more or less started conceding the steal of second to stop the TinCaps trying to score from third – but there have also been a lot of times where Fort Wayne has run itself into outs in inopportune moments.
Overall, this was one of the more frustrating losses of the season for the TinCaps because it felt like there were so many moments that could have led to the game going a different direction. In addition to the misplayed fly ball and the out on the bases in the ninth, Ethan Skender hit with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth and was out by a hair at first on a slow grounder. Skender was out on another close play at first in the fourth with two outs and a runner on second and then in the eighth Luis Almanzar was a split-second quick on a hanging curveball, launching a ball with home-run distance that could have put Fort Wayne in front but instead twisted foul. To have all of that go against them and still have the tying run on base in the ninth shows Fort Wayne's perseverance, but it also make it an extremely difficult way for a losing streak to end.
The TinCaps saw several of their players released before the game tonight. One of those was Jawuan Harris, who also played for Fort Wayne in 2019 and who was getting on base at just a .290 clip this season. He was red-hot to start the year, but the outfielder went into a deep slump in late May and never really recovered. He's a very good defensive center-fielder and baserunner and if he can rediscover his contact ability he should be able to catch on somewhere. First baseman Seamus Curran was also cut. This was a more puzzling move because Curran was getting on base at a .353 clip, but he was also slugging only .354 and striking out at a 32% clip, so he ended up getting released for the second time since March. The Padres also released catcher Andelson Arias, who played only one game in Fort Wayne.
It appears as though these kind of cuts could become an annual ritual at this time of year. The new MiLB rules stipulate each major-league franchise can only have a certain amount of players in its farm system and so teams have to clear room for the draft picks they are now signing to contracts. Unfortunately, Harris, Curran and Arias are stuck on the wrong side of a numbers game.
To fill one of the roster spots vacated by that trio, the Padres sent 22-year-old infielder Zack Mathis to Fort Wayne. Mathis, a 38th-round pick in 2019, has played most of this season at Low-A Lake Elsinore, getting on base at a .333 clip with two home runs and 22 runs scored. The TinCaps might also have some draft picks coming their way soon, or at the very least players from Lake Elsinore who get promoted to make room for draft picks on the Low-A roster.