FORT WAYNE – A night after riding an excellent pitching performance to a win, the TinCaps could not repeat that formula despite a strong effort from starter Matt Waldron.
Waldron turned in seven solid innings but the TinCaps offense mustered just five hits and lost to Lake County 3-1 Friday night.
The TinCaps had their best opportunities to score in the first two innings. With two outs in the first, Tirso Ornelas lined a single through the infield and Justin Lopez drew a walk, but Kelvin Alarcon struck out to end the inning.
In the second inning, Luis Almanzar and Grant Little both drew walks to start the inning. Catcher Adam Kerner moved them into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt but Jawuan Harris popped up and Chris Givin struck out to end the threat. Fort Wayne went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position.
Waldron hard troubles of his own in the first two innings, allowing a hard-hit single and a walk but he was able to get George Valera – one of the top prospects in the Cleveland system – to ground out to end the first inning.
Varela would be prominent in tonight’s game. In the third inning, he lined a Matt Waldron fastball into the left field seats to give Lake County a 2-0 lead that they would not relinquish. The blast was an opposite-field shot and it left the field at 106 mph.
“I don’t know if I was giving away what I was throwing but I tried to sneak a fastball in there, and [Valera] is a good hitter and I left it too much over the plate and it happened,” said Waldron after the loss.
Waldron did his best work in the later innings. He allowed a leadoff single in the fourth inning but was able to limit the damage by inducing a pop-up and a double play to end the inning.
The 24-year-old is developing a true knuckleball that he complements with a changeup, slider and a low-90s fastball. His ability to change speeds kept the hitters off-balance in the late innings. It’s a pitch that he is getting more comfortable with.
“I think [the knuckleball] is a little bit better movement-wise and knocking the spin down,” said Waldron. “I think mainly I am just throwing it for strikes better. It’s really important to have count-leverage to throw this pitch. It’s hard to work back into counts with this pitch when you are behind, so that first [strike] is really what’s helping me out.”
Waldron saved his best inning for last. He allowed at least one runner to reach base in each of the first six innings of work, but got through the seventh inning easily, striking out the final two batters. It was the second consecutive game that Waldron completed seven innings of work.
“With the new transition to the knuckleball and him starting to throw it more, I think it takes some time and feel to find his groove and get his rhythm,” said TinCaps manager Anthony Contreras postgame.
“I think the last couple of outings – today and the last one he had – he’s gone seven innings and it’s been the same. He starts to feel his fingers; it’s a whole transition right there. He starts to find out what these guys are trying to do at the plate and he starts mixing in all his other pitches. He’s a smart kid and he’s learning on the fly how to utilize his knuckleball along with mixing in his fastball and slider and he gets stronger as the game goes and I think he is starting to understand what he is trying to do as a pitcher and I think he is understanding what these hitters are trying to do against him.”
Waldron believes that his pitch-mix has been the big reason why he has been successful in working deeper into games.
“Once you start to throw [a knuckleball] for a strike, then you can start looking for another pitch, and it just kind of builds up throughout the outing,” said Waldron. “Once I get that knuckleball working then I can mix in the slider or fastball and once that starts working, I can bounce back and forth between [the pitches]. It’s just establishing one pitch at a time.”
- Tirso Ornelas went 1-for-3 with a single. He has reached base in all eight games in July and has hit safely in seven of them. Ornelas is hitting .355/.444/.452 for the month.
- Grant Little scored the TinCaps’ only run of the game when he stole home as part of an attempted double-steal. The trail runner was tagged out after Little crossed the plate. Little hasn’t shown much power this season in limited action, but he does have an on-base percentage of .374.
- Matt Waldron has been the horse of the Fort Wayne staff. He has thrown at least five innings in 10 of his 12 starts. He leads the High-A Central league in innings pitched with 64.1.