Dragons starting pitcher Jacob Heatherly. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

Improved approach pays dividends for Dragons left-hander

Jacob Heatherly walked to the Fifth Third Field mound Monday night determined to control his emotions as much his pitches. Walks, errors, umpire calls he doesn’t agree with — he wanted none of those moments to distract him.

Last week he made his second start for the Dayton Dragons at Fort Wayne and didn’t make it out of the first inning, allowing a trio of hits, walks and earned runs. On Monday he took his 12.27 ERA to the mound against Fort Wayne again. And this time the results were much more of what is expected of the Reds’ 2017 third-round draft choice and their 16th-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline. “I was just trying to have a short memory of what has been going on the last two outings,” he said.

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Heatherly allowed two hits and struck out five in five scoreless innings for his first win to lead the Dragons to a 4-0 victory.

“It was me mentally not staying even keel,” Heatherly said of his first two starts. “I was too up and too low. I just wanted to stay in the middle and make my pitches. It wasn’t anything to do with what I was doing physically. It was just mental approach, and I worked on that and prepared for this outing.”

The Dragons’ coaching staff saw the same improvement in Heatherly. Pitching coach Seth Eherton had seen difficult moments get in Heatherly’s head in his first two starts.

“You could see that the emotion kind of got to him sometimes or he lost his rhythm, and tonight it didn’t,” Etherton said. “Whatever happened it didn’t matter. He was back to the next pitch.”

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Getting onto the next pitch meant no walks. Heatherly walked five in the 3 2/3 innings he pitched over his first two starts.

“Today he left that behind and he came to work,” manager Luis Bolivar said. “He did what he’s supposed to do — attack the hitters and mix his pitches well. A very impressive outing for him and nice mound presence.”

The Dragons (4-7) gave Heatherly and the three relievers who followed him all the runs they needed in the first inning. Mariel Bautista reached on an error and scored on a triple off the scorching bat of Shard Munroe. Then Munroe scored on a wild pitch for a 2-0 lead. Munroe was 2-for-4 to raise his average to .370.

Ernesto Liberatore, who was activated from the injured list Saturday, got his first hit with a leadoff double in the eighth. Later with two outs Jay Schuyler hit a two-run double into the left-field corner on a 3-2 pitch.

Ryan Campbell pitched two innings in relief, Connor Bennett got the first two outs in the eighth and Jesse Stallings finished the game with four straight outs for his first save.

Stallings was activated from the injured list Thursday and finished Friday’s 10-3 win over Lake County. Bolivar said Stallings will get a lot of opportunities to close games this year

“He’s a competitor,” Heatherly said of his first-time teammate. “He was attacking the zone just like I was, getting ahead with the fastball and putting them away when he needed to. He’s a bulldog.”

Following a five-game losing streak the Dragons have won two of three.

“I feel very good about this team,” Bolivar said. “They’re young, they work hard, they want to learn. I think this team is going to surprise a lot of people by the end of the year. I really like this team.”

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