The Fort Wayne TinCaps came up just short in their pursuit of the final three outs after a big rally on Saturday night. On Sunday, they left nothing to chance with their first three.
While San Diego’s No. 8 prospect Gasser was one of the major headlines, it was Fort Wayne’s offense that set the tone. One night earlier, the TinCaps stormed back from a 4-0 deficit in the ninth to take a 5-4 lead before falling in walk-off fashion in the bottom half. On Sunday, they wanted to make things different.
“A lot of things that we talked about were just building on what we did [Saturday], making sure that we use all 27 outs,” TinCaps manager Brian Esposito said. “We felt really strongly about what we were going to be able to do today if we came out with that same attack mentality for the first three outs that we were going to get in the ballgame instead of waiting until the last three.”
“When Corey Rosier gets on base, good things happen,” Esposito said. “He draws a walk, Hassell lines a shot and we go first-to-third, and then all of a sudden, they see our identity come out. When we get on the bases and we’re able to run, things happen well for us.”
Thirteen TinCaps batted in the first inning with eight registering hits and two more working walks. San Diego’s No. 24 prospect Agustin Ruiz launched a three-run homer, his third at High-A this year. In the bottom half, Gasser went to the mound with a substantial cushion but also following a lengthy wait.
“It was just another thing to put on the checklist for ‘Gas’ because one of the things that has been part of his development, that he’s really been working hard at, is when things get chipped off of his routine -- whether it’s a rain delay, whether it’s a long inning -- things like that get him off his game just a touch,” Esposito said. “I saw him venture down to the bullpen on the third-base side and just started playing some catch a little bit.”
Gasser walked Drew Swift to open the bottom of the first. It was the only baserunner Lansing notched against the lefty.
“The first inning, he navigated through pretty good,” Esposito said. “We were able to get him back in the dugout and talk to him about collecting his thoughts and get it back to taking it one pitch at a time and using whatever pitch he has to gather information and get back on the attack. After that, he was just in the driver’s seat.”
Gasser carved through Lugnuts hitters, retiring the next 21 in a row with eight strikeouts, five days after going five scoreless innings against Lansing in the series opener.
“To be able to turn around, some people look at it as ‘maybe the hitters have an advantage because they saw you,” Esposito explained. “I think in some cases when you have good stuff like Robert does, the advantage is in his favor because all he has to do is go out, execute his plan, be able to break out his repertoire and command it, and he’s going to be in the driver’s seat.”
Gasser finished his day with 88 pitches, 55 for strikes. Throughout, his offense was providing the punch. Hassell drove an RBI double to left in the third and singled on a grounder to right in the fifth.
“Even in April, a lot of the conversation we had with him was just putting himself in an optimal position to drive the baseball, impact the baseball as hard as we can, because that’s what’s going to play at the big league level,” the manager said. “For him to get himself into a really good hitting position and look to drive the baseball is something that he has been focusing on.”
The performance ran Hassell’s hitting streak to 10 games.
“He has impacted the baseball to all fields,” Esposito said. “He’s shown the ability to pull the ball deep out of the ballpark. He’s shown the ability to drive the ball off the left-field wall, and then he’s hard through the middle of the field with low line drives. I’ve been very impressed with him being a student of the game, understanding what pitchers are going to try to do to him, knowing who he is and what his strengths are but also what the pitcher’s strengths are and how those guys are going to try to get him out.”
Ruiz added three more knocks to his homer, one of eight multihit TinCaps lines. The outfielder was just 3-for-40 in his first 13 High-A games after returning to Fort Wayne from Double-A San Antonio last month.
“With him, it’s a matter of being on time with somebody’s best fastball,” Esposito said. “Sometimes with the way that guy’s being pitched after hitting 20 homers last year, they’ll dangle that offspeed carrot out there a lot. It looked as if he was in-between trying to cover the whole plate and trying to cover the fastball and the offspeed stuff.
“He’s had some struggles, but today was definitely more consistent with him getting to [optimal] position and getting the barrel to the spot.”