COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. — Facing one of the top pitchers in the Midwest League in All-Star Austin Kubitza, TinCaps starter Ronald Herrera was better through five innings. But once both starters left after five, West Michigan proved to have the better bullpen on this night and Fort Wayne fell, 5-2.
Kubitza set the tone for a pitching-predicated night by striking out the side in the top of the first. Herrera, meanwhile, pitched to contact and only struck out one batter all night, yet held the Whitecaps scoreless for five innings. Kubitza couldn’t say the same.
In the top of the fifth inning, Henry Charles singled and Rey Bruguera doubled him to third base with one out. Josh VanMeter then executed with a groundout to shortstop to score Charles and give the TinCaps the game’s first run. Fort Wayne took a 2-0 lead when Trea Turner hit a grounder to third that was misplayed by Francisco Contreras, allowing Bruguera to touch home.
The 19-year-old Herrera departed after five innings and on his 23rd birthday, Josh Richardson came in out of the bullpen. During their previous series against Great Lakes, the TinCaps’ bullpen went 14 1/3 innings without allowing a run. Richardson was responsible for two of those scoreless frames. Friday night was a different story.
Richardson (1-2) faced six batters and allowed five hits and a walk. With RBI singles from Dominic Ficociello and Raph Rhymes, West Michigan (27-13, 68-42) tied the game, 2-2. Jeff Holm hit a two-run double that proved to be the game-winning hit and Contreras provided an RBI single for insurance that made it 5-2. That was all the scoring for the night.
Fort Wayne (17-23, 47-62) brought the tying run to the plate in the top of the ninth, but Trea Turner struck out against Zac Reininger to end the game. The TinCaps struck out 15 times — the sixth game in a row in which they’ve K-ed at least 10 times. Joe Mantiply (6-3) was responsible for three of those strikeouts as he worked a scoreless sixth and seventh to get the win. Reininger pitched the eighth and ninth for his ninth save.
In relief of Richardson, Jorge Guzman tossed two blank innings for Fort Wayne and Nick Mutz another.
The TinCaps return to West Michigan Saturday night for a 7:10 p.m. game. Jimmi Brasoban will start for Fort Wayne against Jon Maciel. The game can be heard on ESPN Radio 1380, TinCaps.com, and the TuneIn Radio app.