Dayton Dragons starting pitcher Robert Stephenson couldn’t wait to get on the mound.
The month off with a strained hamstring had been driving the intense and competitive Stephenson crazy. Outside of sitting a few games in extended spring training last year becacuse of a forearm bruise, the Cincinnati Reds’ top pitching prospect and 2011 first-round draft choice had never been injured.
So when he got the start Monday, his first since going on the disabled list June 8, he was more than ready.
His teammates had no problem waiting. The Dragons were held to one hit through the first seven innings, but woke up late when Seth Mejias-Brean drove in a walk-off run in the 10th inning to give Dayton a 4-3 win over South Bend.
Stephenson pitched 3 2/3 innings, allowing no earned runs, two hits and two walks while striking out three. South Bend scored all of its runs in the second, all because of Dayton errors. Stephenson hit 97 miles per hour on the scoreboard radar gun, and showed why the Reds are excited about his future, dizzying hitters with his fastball and getting strikeouts with his breaking ball and change-up.
Limited to 65 pitches, Stephenson was replaced in the fourth by Jackson Stephens. Stephens pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing two hits and two walks and no runs while striking out seven.
Before getting injured, Stephenson was 4-0 in his last six starts with a 0.93 ERA. He struck out 50 and walked five in his last 38 2/3 innings, thanks to a fastball that has hit 100 mph at times this season.
“I felt a little shaky and a little rusty, but I was happy with it,” Stephenson said. “Everything felt great and physically I felt awesome. It felt so good to come back out. A month off nearly killed me.”
Dragons third baseman Tanner Rahier drove in Dayton’s first run in the eighth with a double, then tied the game with a two-run double in the bottom of the ninth. Dayton loaded the bases in the 10th with singles by Beau Amaral and Sammy Diaz.
Jesse Winker was hit by a pitch, then Mejias-Brean drove a liner to third. Silver Hawks third baseman Brandon Drury fielded it deep along the foul line, and fired to first. Mejias-Brean — who saw Drury dive for the ball and field it as he left the batter’s box — turned on the jets and out-ran the throw.
“I almost started celebrating too early,” Mejias-Brean said. “I thought it went through, but he managed to get it. Thankfully I still ran it out. I knew I had to get down there and beat it.
“We may have been down three, but in the late innings, it isn’t over until the last out. If we keep building off this we will be all right.”
Dayton at Cedar Rapids, 7:35 p.m.