Fort Wayne, IN - On a night when the TinCaps needed a quality start, Joe Ross delivered, and then some. Fort Wayne's 20-year-old starter went seven strong innings to lead the TinCaps to a 5-2 win over the South Bend Silver Hawks on Thursday night at Parkview Field. With the win, Fort Wayne has won five of its last six, including two straight over South Bend for the first time this year.
The TinCaps, who used five relievers in their 16-inning win Wednesday, broke open a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the seventh inning with three runs. Playing small ball, Rodney Daal plated Mallex Smith for the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly, Alberth Martinez laced an RBI double, and Reynaldo Bruguera successfully executed a safety-squeeze bunt to score Martinez. Fort Wayne (24-35, 67-61) extended its lead to 5-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning, as Hunter Renfroe doubled and later scored on a wild pitch. Renfroe was playing for the first time since Saturday at Great Lakes when he was hit on the right hand by a pitch.
Ross (5-7) set the tone for the evening with a one-two-three top of the first inning. In the second seven-inning performance of his career, he yielded only five hits. Perhaps more impressively, for the fifth time in 22 starts, the Oakland, Calif., native didn't walk a batter. Ross' only blemish Thursday was allowing a solo home run to South Bend (33-27, 77-52) cleanup batter Rudy Flores in the top of the fourth inning. The right-hander also received some defensive help in the fifth inning when Fidel Pena doubled with Andrew Velasquez at first base. The 19-year-old base-runner ran through his manager Mark Haley's stop sign and paid the price. TinCaps left fielder Luis Domoromo picked up the ball in the corner and fired the ball to shortstop Tyler Stubblefield, whose relay throw to Daal at the plate was in time to tag out Velasquez.
However, as has been the case all season, Fort Wayne's offense did little to support Ross' cause. Entering Thursday, the TinCaps had averaged 3.7 runs per game in his starts - the lowest average for any of their 11 starting pitchers this year. In fact, in the last 12 games started by Ross, Fort Wayne's bats were averaging just 2.3 runs.
The trend continued Thursday until the seventh inning. Before that, the only run the TinCaps scored against Jesse Darrah (11-9) came in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game, 1-1. Maxx Tissenbaum hit a two-out, bloop single down the left-field line that scored Gabriel Quintana (who led Fort Wayne at the plate with three hits).
Following Ross' superb outing, Matthew Shepherd entered as a reliever for the first time since June 30. The right-hander had been in the starting rotation since July and spent the last week on the disabled list. But Thursday, Shepherd picked up his first save of the season, despite allowing a run in the top of the ninth on Flores' second solo homer of the night that made it 5-2.
The TinCaps seek their first sweep of the Silver Hawks this season at Parkview Field on Friday at 7:05 p.m. Walker Weickel (3-6, 5.55) starts for Fort Wayne against South Bend's Aaron Blair. The game can be heard on WOWO 1190 AM / 92.3 FM and WOWO.com, and seen on XFINITY Channel 81.