Jorge, stout pitching lead Dragons past Fort Wayne

Young players making big plays. That’s an early-season theme for a Dayton Dragons team just learning to fly.

Tuesday night was 20-year-old Carlos Jorge’s turn in center field, a position he is learning to play. He flew around and covered his territory like a comprehensive insurance policy to save at least two runs on a diving catch and an over-the-shoulder catch on the warning track in the Dragons’ 4-1 victory over Fort Wayne.

The second catch near the 402-foot sign toward right field had 22-year-old starting pitcher Bryce Hubbart worried until Jorge ran down the deep fly ball and caught it over his shoulder.

“He started to slow down and I was like, well it went off the wall, and I was thinking I was going to give them more runs,” Hubbart said. “And he caught it, and I couldn’t believe it. He played his butt off today. If he was old enough to drink, I’d have to buy him a beer.”

The catch ended the fifth inning with the Dragons (5-5) up 3-1. Jorge also made a diving catch in left-center to end the fourth inning with a runner at third.

“If I don’t have a base hit, nobody got a base hit,” said Jorge, who was 0-for-2. “That’s my job.”

Playing center is a new job for Jorge. He was signed out of the Dominican Republic as an infielder and has played mostly second base. He played 18 games in center last summer, but has already made six starts in center this season and two at second base.

“He looks really good and natural out there,” Dragons manager Vince Harrison said.

The plan this year was to play Jorge more in center field, but he’s getting even more chances with Jay Allen II on the injured list for at least a few more days.

“It gives me more opportunity if I play multiple positions,” Jorge said. “If they need me in whatever position they want, I’m going to play it.”

Hubbart and Ryan Cardona are trying different things, too. The plan is for one to start and one to relieve, and for the second time this season they did that and were the only pitchers required. This time Hubbart (1-0) started and allowed one run in five innings on three hits and two walks and struck out six.

The Reds drafted Hubbart in the third round out of Florida State in 2022, and he is now starting to pitch well.

“There’s still a lot of work on, still a lot of things that could have gone differently, got bailed out by my defense a few times today,” Hubbart said. “But here’s a million ways to grow. I think it’s going well.”

Hubbart’s career ERA entering Tuesday’s start was 4.29 and his walk rate was too high. This year Hubbart said his success and 2.00 ERA are driven by mindset and confidence in his pitches.

“We’re just not seeing the big uncompetitive misses that we’ve seen from him in the past,” Dragons coach Brian Garman said. “His misses are smaller, more around the zone, challenging hitters to hit his stuff.”

Garman liked what he sees from Hubbart’s changeup, breaking pitches and fastball and how he is learning to pitch and keep hitters off balance. But Hubbart’s fastball stayed below 90 mph. He reached 95 in college. Garman said Hubbart has lost weight, which is a likely factor in the decreased velocity. The goal now is to get stronger and see the fastball return to the low to mid-90s.

“Obviously everyone hopes to throw harder,” Hubbart said. “I think I proved tonight and I proved last week that it’s not a necessity. I see it as something that I need to improve, and I want to improve, but I still have to be able to compete with what I’ve got.”

Cardona, who started last week, allowed one hit, one walk and struck out five in four innings for his first save.

The pitching and Jorge’s defense made a three-run third and Cam Collier’s third homer, a solo shot in the fifth, be more than enough. Collier, who is 19 and the youngest Dragon, extended his hitting streak to 10 games. He’s batting .342 with a team-high 12 RBIs.

The Dragons kept the line moving in the third and scored on singles by Logan Tanner and Ethan O’Donnell and a sacrifice fly by Hector Rodriguez.

After a 2-4 road trip to Cedar Rapids, manager Vince Harrison wasn’t too worried about his team. The Dragons were in every game into the late innings.

“We had chances, and prior to us getting to being in the game in the seventh inning, we squandered some opportunities where we had guys on third, less than two outs, and didn’t put the ball in play,” Harrison said. “Those are things that are going to happen at this level, especially early when guys are pressing to be successful. More than anything, I’m encouraged because there’s a lot of things that we can clean up and get better at.”

Reliever added: Right-hander Easton Sikorski joined the Dragons on Tuesday from the Arizona Complex League Reds. Sikorski, a college teammate of of former Dragon Blake Dunn at Western Michigan, pitched with Low-A Daytona last season, going 4-1 with six saves and a 3.41 ERA. The Reds drafted Sikorski in the 17th round in 2022.

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