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Speed on mound and bases pushes Tin Caps to victory Friday

Esteury Ruiz, Jeisson Rosario and Gabriel Arias (left to right) warm up before first pitch Friday.
Lance Brozdowski

Blink and you might have missed Osvaldo Hernandez’s six no-hit innings against the Dayton Dragons Friday in Fort Wayne.

“I was quick today because I didn’t want the hitters thinking in the box,” Hernandez said through coach and translator Felipe Blanco. “I want to work as quick as I can and that’s why I had success tonight.”

Seven batters stepped to the plate in the bottom of the sixth for Fort Wayne. Jalen Washington singled in Esteury Ruiz and Robbie Podorsky with two outs, spurring the Dragons to pull starter Mac Sceroler after 5 23 innings. The Tin Caps would go on to beat Dayton 5-2 after another pair of runs scored an inning later.

When Hernandez came back out for the seventh inning, his results were different. Facing the Dragons order for a third time, he gave up back-to-back hits before allowing a run to score on a groundout to shortstop. Hernandez was then pulled in favor of righty reliever Jose Quezada to end his night. His final line - 6 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, BB, 5 K - doesn’t aptly describe one of the 20-year-old’s best outings of 2018, with his quick pace and inclination for the strike zone integral to his success.

But did the Tin Caps rally and long bottom half of the sixth inning cause Hernandez’s lapse in the seventh?

“Absolutely not because I was [staying warm] in the dugout, I was doing running and stuff.” Hernandez said through Blanco.

Hernandez’s low-to-mid 90s fastball was lively, with his curve sitting around 80 mph. But he said his changeup was his most effective pitch of the night. Regularly in the 82- to 84-mph window, the pitch’s 10-mph differential off his fastball creates a split that’s conducive to swing and miss. His periodic arm-slot manipulation is just another characteristic of the young pitcher that stands out. Hernandez’s 1.92 ERA through 98 23 innings might be the most impressive single statistic in a rotation headlined by Luis Patino and MacKenzie Gore.

Osvaldo Hernandez throws his final warm-up pitches while young spectators look on.
Lance Brozdowski

Pace on the mound was matched by pace on the basepaths. Podorsky stole two bases and Ruiz nabbed a trio, putting two of the Tin Caps top speed threats at 23 and 37 for the season respectively. Nick Freight and Washington added their own, totaling seven bags on the night for For Wayne.

“Those guys at this level, they have the green light to run,” Tin Caps Manager Anthony Contreras said of Podorsky and Ruiz. “We want them to be aggressive and run the bases hard and if they get thrown out, we can talk about it after, but it worked out in our favor [tonight].”

Prior to the game, the Tin Caps took a 25-30 minute slot of time to review base-stealing fundamentals, specifically against left-handed pitching before the Dragons took batting practice. Even though the Dragons starter Friday was a right-handed pitcher, one could assume the extras reps on the bases versus the generally more difficult handedness to steal off of helped the Tin Caps to steal more bases than runs they scored.

Stolen bases were the reason Washington’s single scored two and continually put pressure on Dayton all game. Speed was a game-changer for Fort Wayne Friday, both on the bases and in Hernandez’s pace.

Bowling Green and Lansing have both earned a playoff spot by finishing first and second in the eastern division during the first half of the Midwest League season. As both of the first-half qualifiers are currently leading the second half in the eastern division, Fort Wayne would need to finish third or fourth to qualify for a best-of-three set.

Lansing joins the Tin Caps for a three-game set starting Saturday night.