Dayton Dragons: Super effort by De La Cruz not enough

Elly De La Cruz watches his second home run leave the park Saturday night in the second game of a doubleheader against West Michigan. De La Cruz has 20 homers and leads the Midwest League. CONTRIBUTED/Jeff Gilbert

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Elly De La Cruz watches his second home run leave the park Saturday night in the second game of a doubleheader against West Michigan. De La Cruz has 20 homers and leads the Midwest League. CONTRIBUTED/Jeff Gilbert

Shortstop homers from both sides of the plate for second time in four games

The guy in the Captain America costume for Marvel Defenders of The Diamond Night at Day Air Ballpark on Saturday was an actor.

Elly De La Cruz was the real superhero. The climax wasn’t what the fans were standing on their feet for, but they still went home talking about the 20-year-old phenom with the super-powered bat.

De La Cruz, who will play in the Futures Game over All-Star weekend, hit two solo homers to pull the Dragons even with West Michigan in the second game of a doubleheader and force extra innings in the seven-inning game. The Whitecaps scored three times in the top of the eighth, but the fans didn’t leave. De La Cruz was due up fourth in the bottom of the inning.

With Justice Thompson on second to start the inning, Ashton Creal singled. Jose Torres followed with a sacrifice fly for a run. With two out De La Cruz walked to the plate as the potential tying run, and the crowd was loud and on its feet.

Creal stole second on the first pitch to De La Cruz. So the Whitecaps intentionally walked him to bring the winning run to the plate and were booed for it. The fans wouldn’t see a third homer.

Instead, Tyler Callihan popped up to end the game and West Michigan had a doubleheader sweep with a 5-3 victory. The Whitecaps won the opener 3-0 on a one-hitter, a single by Callihan.

The Dragons, who wore specially themed red, white and blue uniforms, fell to 5-9 in the Midwest League’s second half and have lost seven of their last eight games. But the fans are still enjoying the De La Cruz show.

“He’s the best player I’ve ever seen in my life,” Dragons pitcher Evan Kravetz said. “It’s truly just remarkable what he does every game.”

De La Cruz was the designated hitter in the second game and homered from both sides of the plate for the second time in four games. When he did it Thursday it was the first time a Dragons player had done it since Henry Rodriguez in 2010.

“He’s going to do that for a long time – it’s who he is, it’s what he does,” Dragons manager Bryan LaHair said.

De La Cruz has 20 homers and now leads the Midwest League. He also leads in slugging percentage (.597) and OPS (.954), is second in batting average (.303), hits (83) and extra-base hits (39) and third in RBIs (52).

De La Cruz is a switch hitter and has been much better from the left side until lately. He’s seeing more left-handers, which is giving him more right-handed at-bats, and he’s starting to hit them better. He had one right-handed homer before Thursday and now has four.

“He’s getting more comfortable from the right side, which means he’s starting to get better,” LaHair said. “He’s always adjusted, he’s always one step ahead, he learns from the coaching staff and works hard. His ability to adjust in game and each game has always been impressive.”

De La Cruz is putting himself in the Dragons record book. He’s now the third Dragon to reach 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a season, joining Wily Mo Pena in 2001 and Jose Siri in 2017.

Starting pitching: Kravetz pitched into the sixth inning of a scoreless game in the opener to run the Dragons’ scoreless innings streak to 12 1/3 innings following Thursday night’s seven-inning shutout.

Kravetz, a fifth-round pick out of Rice in 2019, left after a one-out double. Carson Rudd allowed that runner to score and then allowed two runs of his own to fall behind 3-0.

For Kravetz, it was third straight outing, covering 13 1/3 innings, in which he has allowed just one run. He’s now made five starts after starting the season as mostly a reliever.

“I feel good,” he said. “It’s where I feel most comfortable, and it’s good to have a routine. I battled with guys on base, and I don’t think I gave them anything.”

Thomas Farr allowed only two runs on four hits in the second game, giving the Dragons three straight starts that kept them in the game. The Dragons are using a five-man rotation after starting the season with six starters. Injuries have depleted the pitching staffs in the Reds’ organization and the Dragons are carrying only 28 players, which is two below the league limit of 30.

“We have a lot of trust and guys are in great shape,” Kravetz said. “The guys know they can go an extra inning.”

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