Zach Neal owes Grant a meal, as Dayton earns a dinner

On Greensboro Grasshoppers baseball, from Bill Hass at Bill on Baseball, at

Statistically, what Hoppers pitcher Grant Dayton got out of Friday’s 8-4 win over Charleston was a “hold” — a nebulous category that means a relief pitcher came in and didn’t give up the lead in the time he pitched.

Realistically, he saved the game and a win for starter Zach Neal with his work in the sixth inning.

And one tangible benefit.

“I owe you dinner,” Neal shouted to Dayton after the game.

Dayton inherited a messy situation in the sixth. Neal had faced four hitters and retired none, with one run scoring to cut the Hoppers’ lead to 5-3. That’s when pitching coach Willie Glen (manager Andy Haines had been ejected earlier in the inning) summoned Dayton from the bullpen.

Bases loaded, one run in, nobody out. What words of wisdom did Glen impart?

“Willie put me in the game, gave me the ball and said ‘go get ‘em,’” Dayton said.

So he did. The first batter he faced sent a fly ball to short right field and the Riverdogs opted not to challenge the arm of Marcell Ozuna, holding the runner at third base. Ironically, Ozuna had apparently thrown out a runner at third earlier in the inning only to have him called safe. That’s what brought Haines out of the dugout and led to his ejection.

The next batter hit a slow roller to Joe Bonadonna at third base. He fielded it cleanly and tossed to catcher J.T. Realmuto for the force play at home and the second out. Realmuto wisely decided not to risk a bad throw to first base in an effort to complete a double play.

The third batter hit a grounder that second baseman Noah Perio handled and stepped on second for the force out to end the inning. All three runners, who were Neal’s responsibility, were stranded and the Hoppers retained the lead.

“The thing I hate is giving up runs (charged) to other pitchers,” Dayton said. “In that situation, my job is to keep runners from scoring. I got a high five from Neal in the dugout.”

Dayton also pitched the seventh inning, surrendering a hit but no runs, and the Hoppers went on to win, their third in the four-game series.

“That was huge,” Glen said of Dayton’s work. “It was a matter of ‘let’s see what you can do here.’ Now, when he faces that situation again, he will know he can do this.”

Dayton said his focus was simple: “Keep the ball down and trust my stuff. It’s probably the toughest situation I’ve ever been in, so I wanted to free my mind and let my arm do the work. “

He did it by mixing other pitches around his fastball, which has been his staple this year.

“We had seen in this series that they’re a good fastball-hitting team,” Dayton said. “I’m starting to get a feel for my off-speed stuff. I throw two breaking balls, one that I call a curve-slider and the other a slider-cutter.”

Dayton had been blowing hitters away in June — including a 96 mph heater that Hagerstown’s Bryce Harper swung at and missed for strike three. That created quite a buzz in the Hoppers’ locker room later.

“That’s the hardest pitch I’ve ever thrown,” Dayton said. “Hopefully there are more where that one came from.”

But Dayton felt he lost the “life” on his fastball after that and endured a couple of rough outings. Now he has some other pitches to help him stay effective.

And, of course, a dinner to collect on.

FRIDAY NOTES: Ozuna hit his 13th homer of the season, a two-run shot in the first inning … Perio had 3 hits and scored3 runs; in his last 4 games he’s 11-for-18 with 7 runs scored … Reliever Chris Shafer gave up a walk and an RBI double to start the 8th inning, then extracted himself from that potential mess by striking out the next three hitters.