Newest player in Reds’ organization to start Dragons’ opener

Dayton is a new home for most of the Dayton Dragons. But everything is new for Friday night’s starting pitcher Connor Phillips.

He was the player to be named later in the recent trade that sent Reds’ stars Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez to the Seattle Mariners. Phillips found out last Wednesday that he was leaving the team that drafted him in with the 64th overall pick in 2020.

“Bunch of new faces, bunch of new coaches, I got to learn their names or try and learn their names, be a good teammate, be a good friend to all these new guys,” Phillips said. “ ... I’m just happy to be playing baseball. It’s literally a blast playing a game for a living.”

The Dragons open their 22nd Midwest League season – its second as a High-A league team – at 7:05 p.m. Friday against Fort Wayne. Phillips was 7-3 with 4.75 ERA in Low-A with Modesto (Calif.) last season. He made one late-season start in High-A Everett (Wash.).

Phillips, rated as the Reds’ No. 14 prospect by MLB.com, was the first junior college pitcher drafted in 2020 out of McLeannan Community College in McLennan, Texas. Big crowds aren’t his experience. He said the most fans he’s ever pitched in front of is maybe 1,000.

“It’s just going to be a blast,” he said. “I haven’t done it before, and playing in front of 6,000 fans or something like that is going to be really fun.”

Phillips’ primary pitches are a 95-98 mph fastball and slider. He struck out 111 in 76 innings last year.

“We’ll see what it’s like playing in front of 6,000 people,” he said. “Maybe a little bit more intensity in there. And maybe we’ll see a little bit higher numbers.”

New manager: Bryan LaHair isn’t new to the Reds or many of his players. He is in his fifth year with Reds and managed rookie league teams in Arizona last year and Billings, Montana, in 2019. He was the hitting coach in Billings in 2018.

LaHair played pro ball for 14 seasons until retiring in 2017. He played parts of three seasons with the Mariners and Chicago Cubs, appeared in the 2012 All-Star Game and played for the U.S. national team three times.

LaHair has a talented team that features six of the Reds’ top 17 prospects, including No. 3 Elly De La Cruz, a five-tool shortstop.

“It’s a blessing, to have the opportunity to manage these guys,” LaHair said. “It’s a great combination of some power, speed and defense. This team is really set up to do great things.”

Playoff setup: The Midwest League returns to half-season format this season. The first-half division winners and second-half division winners will qualify for the playoffs. Last year the Dragons shared a full-season division crown but did not make the playoffs. Two teams from the West Division had better records and met in a one-round playoff.

Rules experiments: Major League Baseball is experimenting with some rules in the minor leagues meant to speed up the game. A pitch clock, which will be visible behind home plate and in center field, will start once the pitcher receives the ball. Pitchers will have 14 seconds to throw when the bases are empty and 18 seconds when the bases are full.

If a pitcher makes a third pick-off attempt and the runner is safe, the runner will be awarded the next base. The bases have also increased in size from 15 to 18 inches.

Finally, you won’t see a major shift by infielders. Two infielders must start on each side of second base.

FRIDAY’S GAME

Fort Wayne at Dayton, 7:05 p.m., Dayton CW, 980

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