Blandino makes first Dragons start one to remember

Matt Blandino’s phone was going crazy.

The right-hander from Bristol, Connecticut, making his first start for the Dragons, received close to 30 text messages from friends, family and former teammates after throwing five solid innings and recording his first win Saturday in Dayton’s 4-2 defeat of Fort Wayne at Fifth Third Field.

“I love it,” Blandino said of the congratulatory text messages. “I don’t do this for me. I do it for my family and friends and guys I played with who have always supported me.”

Blandino, called up from the Reds’ rookie team in Arizona to sub for the injured Tony Santillan, allowed five hits and struck out six without allowing a walk.

“I was pumped and just needed to get the first pitch out of the way,” said Blandino, a 19th-round draft pick in 2016 out of Central Connecticut State. “I felt real good even when I warmed up. I’m more of an in and out, change speed pitcher and if the strikeout comes, that’s better.”

Dayton gave Blandino a lead in the first inning when T.J. Friedl singled and scored from second on a line drive by James Vasquez that popped out of the second baseman’s glove and landed in shallow right.

Fort Wayne answered with a run in the second and took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on a four-base error by Michael Beltre. But the the TinCaps’ lead didn’t last long.

Luis Gonzalez gave the Dragons the lead for good in the fourth, blasting a 2-1 pitch 392 feet for a two-run homer and a 3-2 lead. Hector Vargas added an RBI double in the seventh and the bullpen shut Fort Wayne down the final four innings, retiring 12 in a row.

“This was a lot better (than Friday’s loss to the last-place TinCaps),” Dragons manager Luis Bolivar said. “They showed more concentration on the game and when they got in pressure situations, they responded. It was huge for Matt to have the game for us he did and for the bullpen to come in and be able to hold the lead.”

Home sweet home?: The Dragons, who are 21-9 at home, are 4-5 on their current 10-game home stand.

They split with West Michigan before dropping two of three against South Bend. It was the first series lost at home since they opened the season with a pair of losses to Lake County.

Dayton can finish the homestand at .500 with a win Sunday.

Playoff push: The Dragons, South Bend and West Michigan enter the final stretch of the first half in a battle for the two Midwest League Eastern Division playoff spots.

West Michigan (37-17) was in good position to keep a three-game lead on Dayton, leading Lansing 7-3 in the eighth inning at press time Saturday.

Lake County’s Li-jen Chu hit a grand slam in the bottom of the eighth in a 5-3 win over South Bend (34-21). The South Bend loss moved the Dragons back into second place by one game and dropped their magic number to 13.

All three teams have 15 games remaining in the 70-game first half.

Whitecap woes: The Dragons begin a 10-game road trip after Sunday that includes a trip to West Michigan June 9-12.

West Michigan relief pitcher Eduardo Jimenez will not be in action after being suspended 30 games for his part in the recent benches-clearing brawl at Fifth Third Field.

Dayton’s Jose Siri and Wennington Romero will have served their suspensions by the end of the home stand.

West Michigan’s Daniel Pinero will also return from a five-game suspension prior to the Dragons series. Pinero began the incident when he appeared to have intentionally stepped on Siri’s ankle following a stolen base.

West Michigan will be at full strength with Pinero back from suspension and outfielder Jacob Robson not starting his four-game suspension for bumping an umpire on May 27 at Fifth Third until June 13 after Dayton leaves West Michigan.

Major and minor league rules limit the number of players serving a suspension at one time to two because teams can’t replace them on the roster.

“I also give clubs some leeway for player development purposes in scheduling suspensions, especially for pitchers,” Midwest League president Dick Nussbaum said. “I hold fast to having suspensions served in the half season they occur unless circumstances exist which prevent it, like it is the last day of half or season.”

However, Nussbaum would not clarify how Robson’s suspension was pushed back until after the Dragons series despite the Whitecaps having just one player suspended at the time (Jimenez).

“I answered your question,” Nussbaum said.

On deck: Dayton concludes its 10-game home stand Sunday at 2 p.m. against Fort Wayne.

MWL wins and strikeouts leader Scott Moss will take a 7-1 mark to the mound for the Dragons as he squares off with Fort Wayne lefty Logan Allen (3-2).