Dragons catcher Pabel Manzanero.Bowling Green defeated host Dayton 3-2 in a minor-league baseball season opener at Fifth Third Field on Thursday, April 4, 2019. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

Dragons relish chance for new start in second half

A week ago the Dayton Dragons were in next-to-last place and 16.5 games out of first place in the Midwest League’s Eastern Division. Today they are in essence tied for first.

Welcome to the second half where everyone gets a fresh start. The Dragons lost 9-6 to Lansing on Sunday, but they will leave town for a seven-game road trip knowing they aren’t out of it. When the Dragons went on a 10-game winning streak in early June it was too late to make a difference in the standings. Their overall record of 30-44 doesn’t matter.

The Dragons, Lansing, Bowling Green and South Bend are 2-2. The teams at the top — Lake County (4-0) and Great Lakes (3-1) — don’t matter in the race for second-half playoff spots. They already qualified by finishing 1-2 in the first half.

“The first half’s over, and this is the second half and you’ve got a new chance,” said Dragons’ all-star Pabel Manzanero. “Just keep getting better every day. We’re playing good.”

Manager Luis Bolivar often says he’s doing all he can to stay positive and keep his players positive. That was especially true when the Dragons were sinking to last place the first two months of the season.

“It’s keep the energy,” Manzanero said. “This is really hard. One day you can hit 4-for-4 and the next day you have four nothing. We try to keep positive all the time.”

The Dragons are 13-6 in June on the strength of improved starting pitching and some hot hitters. Entering Sunday’s game the rotation’s ERA dropped from 5.07 to 4.40 in 24 games since May 25. The relievers have also improved their ERA from 5.70 to 4.40 since May 1.

Sunday didn’t go so well for the Dragons’ pitchers as they fell behind 8-0. The Lugnuts (2-2, 34-39) sent 12 batters to the plate in the fourth inning and scored seven runs. Starter Connor Curlis had the shortest of his five starts. He was pulled in the fourth with no outs, two on and trailing 2-0. Moises Nova relieved and finished the inning with the Dragons trailing 8-0. Connor allowed four runs with three of them earned, and Nova’s four runs were unearned. Second baseman Carlos Rivero committed two errors in the inning.

The Dragons showed the resiliency they’ve displayed since the start of June. Manzanero and Morgan Lofstrom hit RBI doubles to key a four-run fourth and cut their deficit to 8-4. The Dragons made it 8-5 in the fifth on a double by Manzanero.

Dayton looked like it might have a big eighth inning after a leadoff triple by Lofstrom and a hard single by Hernandez. But the next three batters were retired to end the inning.

Saturday’s game: Ricky Salinas and three relievers held Lansing to four hits and combined for a 11 strikeouts in a 4-1 victory. Salinas allowed all four hits and a run in the first and pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the second. Eddy Demurias (2-1), Carlos Machorro and Connor Bennett finished the game. Bennett earned his ninth save.

The Dragons scored four runs in the fourth. A Miles Gordon single produced two runs, on an RBI and the other when the throw home got away from the catcher. The next two runs scored on a Brian Rey single and a wild pitch.

Road trip: The Dragons begin a four-game series Tuesday at West Michigan then head to South Bend for three games.

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