FORT WAYNE, Ind.— Despite a two-run ninth inning rally, Fort Wayne fell to Lansing 4-2 as the Lugnuts clinched one of the first-half Midwest League playoff spots.
Although right-hander Mason Thompson, 20, took the loss, the six-foot-seven Texan may have had his best outing all year as he demonstrated much better command of his fastball through five innings while flashing an improved curve and changeup.
“[Mason] is attacking hitters better this year than last,” said TinCaps manager Anthony Contreras on Thompson’s improvement. “At the beginning of the year, I think he was being a little too fine and he would miss over the plate and get hurt. He has a live arm and an arsenal of pitches to compete. He’s been going after hitters more.”
Last year Thompson finished with an ERA of 4.67 in 27 innings. While that has jumped to 5.59 in 48.1 innings this year, he has made steady improvement. He had an ERA of 11.85 with little command in the cold of April but lowered it to 2.55 in May. The Midwest League is only hitting .226 against him.
“The most important thing in baseball is your mental ability,” Thompson said on the improvements that he has seen in himself. “Everybody is talented and here for a reason. To set yourself apart, you have to attack these guys and not back down. My biggest thing was to compete with the things that I got.”
The Padres drafted Thompson in 2016 in the third round and signed him for an over-slot bonus even though he only pitched one inning his senior year of high school after undergoing Tommy John surgery at the end of his sophomore year and missing his entire junior season. Thompson had touched 97 mph when he was a sophomore in high school and tonight he was able to get up to 95.
“My arm is feeling better and better as the season has progressed. I think the added velocity is going to come as I mature and get stronger. I wasn’t really reaching for anything extra tonight, but just a case of my arm feeling good.”
As Thompson’s fastball touched 95 and sat around 91 to 94, he also was able to consistently place his curve in the high 70’s, which created not only separation but was able to spin it for strikes and throw it as a hammer into the dirt.
“When Mason lets his ability take over a lot of times good things will happen,” said Contreras. “He’s starting to build the confidence that he has what it takes to play professional baseball and be successful and is starting to see the benefits of this approach.”
Offensively, right fielder Tirso Ornelas had two hits on the night, but the TinCaps were held to only six hits, all of them singles. At 18, the left-handed hitting Tijuana native has a slash line of .267/.358./411 and has been very good through nine games in June at .294/.415/.529.