Jonathan Willems’ first home run of the season came at the perfect time for the Dayton Dragons.
The 20-year-old second baseman smashed a 395-foot home run over the left field wall in the seventh inning to give his team a two-run cushion and Dayton held on to beat Fort Wayne 4-3 in front of 7,629 fans on Wednesday night at Fifth Third Field.
It was the first series win of the season for the Dragons.
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“We had some timely hitting,” said Dayton manager Luis Bolivar. “We got what we needed to tie the game and a take the lead. It was a nice win.”
The home run capped a big series for Willems, the Reds 26th-rated prospect according to MLB.com. The Curacao native went 5-for-8 in the series and extended his hitting streak to four games. He hit .461 in the Dragons’ five-game homestand.
“It was very, very good,” Willems said. “I was just trying to put the ball in play and get on base to the help the team win.”
Willems was hitting .069 when the team returned to Dayton last weekend, but got hot on the homestand, raising his average to .200.
“He kind of got off to a slow start, but we’ve got a lot of confidence in him,” Bolivar said. “It seems like he’s gaining confidence. I see good things coming up for him.”
Dragons catcher Pabel Manzanero went 2-for-4 with a home run and a double, while Bren Spillane and Juan Martinez each went 2-for-4. Dayton reliever Eduardo Salazar picked up win, allowing one earned run and three hits in 2⅓ innings pitched. Jesse Stallings picked up his second save for the Dragons (5-8)..
With two outs in the bottom of the second inning, Juan Martinez doubled into the left field corner, scoring Miguel Hernandez from first base to give the Dragons a 1-0 lead.
The TinCaps tied the score on an RBI double by Juan Fernandez in the fourth inning and took a 2-1 lead on an RBI single by Lee Solomon in the sixth inning.
Manzanero tied the game in the Dragons’ next at-bat with a 395-foot home run with an exit velocity of 104 miles per hour. Spillane then singled and advanced to third on a wild pitch by TinCaps reliever Adrian Martinez. With two outs, Martinez hit a ball off the wall, scoring Spillane to give the Dragons a 3-2 lead.
The TinCaps threatened in the seventh with runners on first and second with one out, but Salazar was able to get Luis Almanzar to hit into a double play.
“He battled out there, kept his composure and made a good pitch to get out of the inning,” Bolivar said. “It was huge for us.”
Two pitches later, Willems homered to give the Dragons a two-run lead.
The TinCaps’ Solomon tripled into the eighth inning, scoring Juan Fernandez from first base to bring Fort Wayne back to within one run at 4-3, but they wouldn’t get any closer.
The Dragons begin a six-game, seven-day road trip to Lansing and Lake County on Thursday. Dayton returns home for a four-game homestand against Great Lakes beginning April 25.
“The guys have been playing well,” Bolivar said. “It’s all about building confidence. Every time you get a W, you get confidence. I think the guys are settling down a little bit more and good things are coming.”
Homecoming: It was a homecoming of sorts for TinCaps utilityman Solomon, a Columbus native. Solomon spent the summer of 2017 playing for the Xenia Scouts, a Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League club. The franchise is owned and operated by Athletes in Action.
“It was a familiar drive coming in, seeing the Xenia exit signs,” Solomon said. “Playing for the Scouts was one of the most enriching experiences of my life for all the spiritual reason. I really grew as a man while I was here. It’s always fun to come back to Dayton and Ohio in general.”
Solomon graduated from Lipscomb University last spring and was drafted in the 25th round by the Padres. He hit .298 with seven HRs and 30 RBI for San Diego’s Arizona Fall League team. Solomon went 2-for-3 with a double, triple and two RBIs on Wednesday night. He played both first base and second base in the series.
“It’s been a blast,” he said. “I’m surrounded by great guys. I’m really enjoying my time (in Fort Wayne).”
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