Caught up in a rare first-half playoff race, the Dragons received an unexpected power boost against the visiting Great Lakes Loons on Wednesday night.
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Cincinnati Reds pitcher Homer Bailey, returning from multiple elbow surgeries in his talented right arm, made his second impressive Major League Baseball rehab start. Not only did he go six almost flawless innings, the Texan earned a win following a 4-2 defeat of the Loons. That was his first Class A minor-league victory since pitching for the Dragons in 2005 as a 19-year-old.
Just as important, it padded the Dragons’ first-half wildcard lead to one full game over South Bend, which was rained out on Wednesday. Dayton has four first-half games remaining and South Bend five, including a doubleheader with Lansing on Thursday.
West Michigan is likely the Midwest League East Division winner, but the wildcard will just as likely be determined in the final first-half games. The division and wildcard winners earn postseason playoff spots.
“It’s pressure,” kidded Bailey after allowing just one sixth-inning double, no runs, no walks and striking out six. “Double-A (Pensacola in his previous rehab start) is in (a pennant race), too. They wanted to go over hitters before the game and I’m like, hey, they got to hit me. No, I’m not playing this game.”
The Dragons gave Bailey all the support he needed by bunching three runs in the first inning on run-scoring hits by catcher Tyler Stephenson and Taylor Trammell. T.J. Friedl produced another run in the fourth inning.
Meanwhile, Bailey was everything the Reds had hoped for. He threw 76 pitches and 54 went for strikes. He was laser sharp before, during and after the game and was locked into Stephenson, a No. 1 Reds draft choice in 2015.
“I told him to pretend like he’s playing a video game,” Bailey said. “Give me a sign, put the glove down and I’m going to try and throw it there. There were a few times after a pitch I told him what I wanted to in our own little way. He did an outstanding job.”
Stephenson was just as appreciative of catching Bailey. He said Bailey had control of all four of his pitches and “attacked the zone.
“That’s the first time I’ve actually gotten to catch somebody like that,” said Stephenson, one of seven Dragons who will represent Dayton in next week’s Midwest League All-Star Game at Midland, Michigan. “After he was done I got to talk to him and pick his brain. He did a fantastic job and he’s there for a reason.”
Jesse Stallings allowed two runs after relieving Bailey. Joel Kuhnel and Aaron Fossas each worked a scoreless inning to close out the combined four-hitter.
Bailey guesses he and Dragons manager Luis Bolivar would have played together at some point in their minor-league careers. Bolivar is the first for Dragon to be a coach, then manager of the Reds’ affiliate.
“Homer did a great job out there,” Bolivar said. “It was nice to see him back on the mound. For Tyler to see a guy like that, a major-league guy, and handling himself back there well, is huge. The guys can see how you go about your business and they learn from that.”
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Great Lakes at Dayton, 7 p.m.