Unlike most of his current teammates, Jared Solomon counted on returning to the Dayton Dragons this season. Called up from rookie ball with the Billings Mustangs, the right-handed pitcher from Millville, Pa., spent the final month of the 2018 season impressing Dragons manager Luis Bolivar.
»» PHOTOS: Dragons vs. Hot Rods
“Last season Boli took me aside and said, hey, I need you to be my horse this year,” recalled Solomon, Thursday’s opening-day starter against visiting Bowling Green. “I’m excited to do that. If I can chew up innings and get wins, that’s all we’re here to do.”
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The only downer on a day full of pageantry, fly-overs and celebratory nods to the 20th anniversary of downtown Dayton’s minor-league baseball hit and Cincinnati Reds Class A affiliation was the final score: Hot Rods 3, Dragons 2.
Solomon, who excels in making pitches bend and break, topped out at 95 mph. He went into the fifth inning, allowing six hits, three earned runs and four walks. He was tagged with the loss and twice worked out of jams.
“Good things happened,” Bolivar said. “After a rough start for Jared he settled down and gave us a chance.”
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Bowling Green (Rays) is the defending Midwest League champion, but like the Dragons, features a mostly new lineup. Reinaldo Ruiz, in his fourth season as Bowling Green’s manager, needs just one more win for 300 career victories.
“It’s really nice to win the first game, especially on the road,” Ruiz said. “That’s big for us.”
Both teams committed an abundance of overthrows and other unforced errors. Hot Rods catcher Chris Betts was tagged out by Dragons third baseman Juan Martinez (Venezuela) after Betts mistakenly thought there were already three outs in the third inning.
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Its offense stuck in neutral through seven innings, Dayton bunched both of its runs in the eighth inning but had the tying run thrown out at home.
Dragons outfielder Mariel Bautista’s (Dominican Republic) second hit cut the deficit to 3-1. Catcher Pabel Manzanero laced another single up the middle to score Dayton’s second run.
Bolivar, anchored as usual as the third-base coach, also waved Bautista around from second base on Manzanero’s hit, but Bautista was cut down at home on center fielder’s Michael Smith’s throw to end the rally.
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Dragons reliever Ryan Campbell went three scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out three. Julio Pinto also blanked the Hot Rods for an inning.
Dragons shortstop Miguel Hernandez also had two hits including a double, Dayton’s only extra-base hit.
Bowling Green winner Shane McClanahan went five innings, allowing just three hits and striking out nine. Taken by the Rays in the first round of last year’s MLB draft, he topped out at 98 mph.
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Hot Rods shortstop Wander Franco delivered as advertised, scoring twice, drawing two walks and slicing a run-scoring double to the left-field corner. The Dominican Republic native, signed as an international free agent in 2017, was the Appalachian League player of the year last season with the Princeton Rays and is Tampa’s top prospect.
Solomon worked into the fifth inning, but couldn’t record an out and was charged with two runs.
“I worked hard for this and I was lucky to have that opportunity,” he said. “The coaching staff had trust and faith in me and I was fired up about that. I had a great defense behind me. It’s just trusting them and trusting my pitches.”
Dragons’ tales: Following Friday’s second game against Bowling Green, the Dragons leave for their first road trip. Right-hander Jhon De Jesus gets the start in Saturday’s opener at Bowling Green. Right-hander James Marinan will start for Dayton on Sunday.
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Dayton is at Fort Wayne for a four-game series that begins on Monday and ends on Thursday, April 11. After that, the Dragons return home for a pair of three-game series against Lake County and Fort Wayne.
• The streak is intact, pushing the Dragons’ all-time record of most consecutive sellouts to 1,317. There were empty seats throughout Fifth Third Field, but that doesn’t count against a prepaid attendance figure.
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