Another big comeback lifts Dragons past Loons

Quin Cotton is greeted at home plate by Francisco Urbaez after hitting his sixth home run to get the Dragons on the scoreboard Wednesday night against Great Lakes. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
Quin Cotton is greeted at home plate by Francisco Urbaez after hitting his sixth home run to get the Dragons on the scoreboard Wednesday night against Great Lakes. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

Now that more fans can come to Day Air Ballpark, the first-place Dayton Dragons are sending them a message: Don’t leave early.

For the second straight night, the Dragons made a huge comeback against Great Lakes. On Tuesday it was top-of-the-order hitters Quincy McAfee and Quin Cotton with the big hits in an 8-7 victory. On Wednesday it was time for an unlikely hero named Reniel Ozuna to rescue the Dragons in the ninth inning of a 6-5 victory.

Ozuna came to the U.S. about two weeks ago from his home in the Dominican Republic. Minor-league players have been training at the Reds’ complex in Arizona in waves because of limits on the number of players who could be there at once based on COVID-19 rules.

Ozuna, who played in 40 games in Dayton in 2019 and hit .157 with two home runs, struck out three times before coming to bat in the ninth inning with one on and one out. He was hitless in four at-bats since joining the Dragons on Sunday.

Manager Jose Moreno said he considered pinch-hitting for Ozuna, who was playing right field. But he didn’t want to use the two outfielders on his bench. High prospect Mike Siani is coming off an injury and Moreno wanted to give him one more day of batting practice. Mariel Bautista returned to the Dragons Wednesday from AA Chattanooga after taking an early-morning flight.

So Moreno stuck with Ozuna.

“I was thinking if we had two runners on with no outs, I would sacrifice with him,” Moreno said. “Then the first out and we had somebody get on base and he has some power. Even if he had three punchouts, he was aggressive and he had a real good BP today.”

On a 3-2 pitch, after fouling a few off, Ozuna launched a game-tying, two-run homer to deep left field.

“When you have an at-bat like that it’s like growing by 200 at-bats,” Moreno said. “These at-bats are going to give confidence.”

The Dragons still needed a run, and, fortunately for them, the top of the order was next. Jacob Hurtubise entered the game leading the High-A Central League in on-base percentage at .448 and raised it. He walked three times before his single started the final rally.

Then the Loons helped when right fielder Andy Pages dropped McAfee’s fly ball to put runners at first and second. After Cotton was intentionally walked, Urbaez lined a single to right and Hurtubise scored the winning run for the second straight night.

Moreno said he recently heard a college coach talking on TV about his team following a philosophy of just getting to first base.

“We are starting to put that quote into the top of the lineup every day: ‘Get to first, get to first,’” he said. “And that’s what happened the last two evenings.”

The Dragons (18-14) are 7-1 against the Loons (16-16) and hold a one-game lead over Lake County in the East Division because of their ability to come from behind and get great relief pitching.

Tuesday night the Dragons came back from seven runs down for their largest comeback in 15 seasons. They have won five times after trailing by at least four runs since May 18.

For the second straight night, the starting pitching was less than what it has been. Eduardo Salazar gave up five runs in five innings. But relievers Matt Gill and Pedro Garcia (2-1) each pitched two scoreless innings and allowed three hits combined. That’s 11 scoreless innings of relief in two games.

“The bullpen last two, three games has been unbelievable just trying to minimize the damage for us to come back,” Moreno said.

Cotton hit a solo homer, his sixth this season, in the fourth to start the comeback. The Dragons scored a run apiece in the sixth and seventh but left runners at first and second in both innings. Miguel Hernandez singled home a run in the sixth, and McAfee hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh.

Spiers outing: Carson Spiers’ six shutout innings Tuesday night is the longest relief outing by a Dragon since Tyler Mahle went six innings in 2015. Mahle relieved Josh Smith, who was assigned from Louisville to pitch an inning to prepare for a start with the Reds.