When the Dayton Dragons lose, they lose big.
In the club’s 26 losses this season, the team has a 7.47 ERA.
The first-place Lansing Lugnuts (37-19) collected 19 hits (12 in the final three innings) to cruise to a 12-1 victory at Fifth Third Field on Friday night.
Despite the lopsided score, the first half of the game was close, with Lansing leading 1-0 until twisting the screws on Dayton (27-26) in the seventh inning.
Dragons’ reliever Dauri Moreta started the frame after replacing starter Packy Naughton in the sixth.
He gave up two quick singles, and then loaded the bases after Brandon Grudzielanek reached following a bunt single that should’ve been an easy out except no one in a Dayton uniform was covering first base.
Moreta rebounded, striking out Brandon Lundquist, but manager Luis Bolivar decided to pull him in favor of Sarkis Ohanian.
Lugnuts’ shortstop Yeltsin Gudino hit a hard liner to left that outfielder Michael Beltre misplayed, allowing the ball to get behind him. Gudino was credited with a double, reaching third on the error. He later scored on sacrifice fly from Ryan Noda, bumping Lansing’s lead to 5-0.
Moreta was charged with three earned runs while Ohanian gave up five (four unearned).
Even reliever Ryan Nutoff, who entered the game with a 1.88 ERA, struggled. He allowed three runs on five hits and walked one in 1 2/3 innings.
Dayton relievers have no choice other than to start thinking their next outing.
“This is a long season. What happened today is over, and that’s the beauty of this, tomorrow is another day,” Dragons’ manager Luis Bolivar said.
Naughton (3-5) bobbed and weaved out of a trouble early on. He allowed five base runners in the first two innings, yet the left-hander held the Lugnuts to just one run.
He worked a lot smoother until he exited in the sixth. In 5 1/3 innings Naughton scattered seven hits, walked three and struck out four.
Dragons tales: The loss marked the sixth time in seven games the Dragons have scored three or fewer runs. The exception came during Thursday’s shortened second game of a doubleheader when Dayton scored 10 runs against the West Michigan Whitecaps.
In the bottom of the ninth, when empty seats far outnumbered fans still in attendance, Hendrik Clementina’s grounder to short, which went off Gudino’s glove (ruled a hit), scored Jade Williams to finally put Dayton the scoreboard.
Bolivar believes the recent lull at the plate has to do with not being aggressive enough.
“The guys haven’t been ready to hit. When they’re ready to hit, they put good swings and at-bats out there,” he said.
Despite its unimpressive showings of late, the Dragons offense is hardly anemic, ranking seventh (out of 16 clubs) in the Midwest League in runs (240) scored through May 31.
Dayton had its opportunities, but just couldn’t get clutch hits.
Jeter Downs led off the bottom of the first with a single to first. He then stole second, where he was stranded after Andy Sugilio flew out, and Beltre and Stuart Fairchild grounded out.
The other early scoring chance game in the fourth. Stuart Fairchild legged out an infield hit, then stole second. Dayton couldn’t bring him home as Montrell Marshall and John Sansone struck out to end the inning.
Next game: Dragons’ starter Tyler Mondile (1-4, 7.42 ERA) faces Lansing’s Matthew Gunter (0-1, 3.06 ERA) at Fifth Third Field Saturday. First pitch is scheduled for 7:07 p.m.