Dragons shortstop Miguel Hernandez chases Beloit’s Nick Ward back toward first base during the second inning Sunday. Ward was out at first to complete a double play. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

Manzanero fuels Dragons‘ biggest comeback of season

Pabel Manzanero tossed his cap into his locker and cranked up the music because the Dayton Dragons were celebrating a come-from-behind victory. Then it was time for the newest clubhouse victory tradition started by outfielder Miles Gordon.

A teammate walked up to Manzanero holding a championship-style boxing belt above his head because he was the player of the game. Manzanero took the belt, danced a few steps and smiled his typical big smile.

When Manzanero came to bat in the sixth inning with two outs and the bases loaded, manager Luis Bolivar couldn’t have made a better choice. After an all-star first half in the Midwest League, Manzanero is swinging one of the team’s hottest bats.

The bat sizzled again and he lined his first triple of the season into the right-field corner to turn a one-run deficit into a two-run lead. Those three runs were the last Dragons needed in a come-from-behind 8-6 victory over the Beloit Snappers. It was the Dragons’ biggest comeback since July 27 last year. The Dragons also trailed 5-0 in that game and came back to beat Fort Wayne 8-6.

“I’m just very happy for the team, for us, for the manager, for everybody, for the fans,” Manzanero said. “We’ve to to keep working, we’ve got to keep playing, we’ve got to keep winning.”

Manzanero has been a heavyweight hitter for the Dragons this season, especially in the second half in which the Dragons are now 10-13 and in the playoff chase. He’s batting .341 (.422 the past 11 games), slugging .580 and leading the league in the second half with 14 extra-base hits, 10 doubles and 15 RBIs.

“He comes through in big situations and is one of the leaders on the team,” Bolivar said. “I’m very happy for him and his progress.”

The bases-loaded situation has not been kind to the Dragons this season. They entered the game batting .188 with the bases loaded with only three extra-base hits.

But on Sunday the Dragons made the most of that situation. Trailing 6-2 in the fifth, Bren Spillane walked with the bases loaded, Manzanero singled in a run with the bases loaded and Claudio Finol scored on a wild pitch with the bases loaded. And then Manzanero hit the bases-loaded triple in the sixth.

The road to Dayton has been long for Manzanero, who signed with the Reds as a 16-year-old in 2012 out of Venezuela. He played three season for the Reds affiliate in the Dominican Summer League, one season in the rookie Arizona League and the past two seasons with the rookie league team in Billings, Montana.

“I want to progress,” he said. “But I’m here, and I gotta do my job here.”

Saturday’s game: Alexis Diaz, Carlos Machorro and Matt Pidich combined on a six-hitter to lead the Dragons to a 3-0 victory over Beloit. The Dragons needed only three hits in their fourth shutout victory. The Dragons scored two unearned runs in the first off a grounder by Brian Rey. The third run came in the fourth on a double play. Diaz (7-4) allowed two hits in five innings. Pidich pitched the ninth for his third save.

Coming up: Dayton concludes its three-game series with Beloit at 7 p.m. Monday. Eduardo Salazar (4-1, 4.58 ERA) will start for the Dragons. The Dragons start a six-game road trip Wednesday and return home July 24.

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