Dragons top Lansing, snap two-game skid

Dayton starter Graham Ashcraft struck out three in the first inning of Thursday night's game against Lansing at Day Air Ballpark. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
Dayton starter Graham Ashcraft struck out three in the first inning of Thursday night's game against Lansing at Day Air Ballpark. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

After two days and two losses to Lansing, something had to change on the mound and on the basepaths Thursday for the Dayton Dragons.

A change in pitching strategy was first on the agenda. During early afternoon workouts manager Jose Moreno and pitching coach Brian Garman talked about the need to attack hitters. The night before their pitchers walked nine Lansing batters.

“At some point when you have a team that doesn’t chase too many bad pitches out of the strike zone, and if you want to pitch at the major-league level, you need to control and command your pitches,” Moreno said. “No matter what type of pitch you’re going to throw, you have to be able to throw a strike in any count. That’s how you’re going to move up the ladder.”

Graham Ashcraft, Jacques Pucheu and Francis Peguero combined on a seven-hitter and walked only two on Thursday night to help the first-place Dragons snap a two-game losing streak with a 4-2 victory over Lansing at Day Air Ballpark.

“We were ahead in the count and they were pitching with conviction,” Moreno said. “Fastball, slider, breaking ball, everything was close to the strike zone.”

Ashcraft (1-0) struck out a career-high nine, which is also a season-high for the Dragons (6-3), in 5 1/3 innings, the longest outing by a Dragons starter this season. He allowed five hits, one walk and one earned run before leaving with a 3-1 lead. Baseball America ranks Ashcraft as the Reds’ No. 28 prospect. His fastball was consistently in the mid-90s and topped out at 98.

Pucheu entered in the sixth with the bases loaded. He walked in a Lansing (5-4) run but struck out three and got four ground-ball outs in 2 2/3 innings. Peguero pitched around two hits in the ninth to earn his first save.

The other constant message from Moreno to his team is learning when to steal. He loves the running game, especially with a lineup not full of power hitters. But on Wednesday the Dragons were caught stealing twice and picked off first base once. He said based on how fast the pitchers were to the plate and the strength of the catcher’s arm, his players didn’t pick good times to steal.

“We have to think about it before we make a decision to go,” Moreno said. “So if you want to go you need to gather all the information to be sure it’s 80 percent, 90 percent that you’re going to be safe. Today we had some opportunities on breaking ball counts, and they go.”

Jonathan Willems and Victor Ruiz were caught stealing on close plays, but Moreno didn’t complain about those decisions to run. When Quin Cotton walked to lead off the sixth with the Dragons up 3-2, he didn’t hesitate.

Cotton stole second and scored on a throwing error by the catcher while stealing third.

“We want to play like that until September 19th,” Moreno said. “We want to put the pressure on.”

Quincy McAfee’s RBI double and Cotton’s sacrifice fly staked the Dragons to a 2-0 lead in the first inning to set a much-needed tone for Ashcraft. Jose Tello hit his first homer in the third for a 3-0 lead and had two hits to raise his average to .242.

“It’s only going to be a matter of time before he starts to put good at-bats together,” Moreno said. “Maybe Tello is one of the guys, that at some point, when we have to wait for a ball to go out of the ballpark that’s going to be him.”

Notes

Rey rewarded: Brian Rey’s hot bat in the opening series at Great Lakes earned him the High-A Central League batter of the week award. The Dragons’ second baseman batted .333 and led the league with four home runs, 12 RBIs, a 1.000 slugging percentage, six extra-base hits and 21 total bases. Rey, who was selected by the Reds in the 13th round of the 2018 draft, is now batting .345 with five homers and 13 RBIs. He has a seven-game hitting streak.

Next game: The Dragons send right-hander Spencer Stockton (1-0, 0.00 ERA) to the mound Friday night against Lansing. Stockton will be making his first start after pitching 4 1/3 innings in one relief appearance. The Reds signed Stockton, 25, as a minor-league free agent in 2019 after he made seven starts in an independent league in the Detroit area. In two rookie league stops, he had a 2.06 ERA in 56 2/3 innings over 10 appearances and seven starts.

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