The Lansing Lugnuts needed a win and some help to clinch a Midwest League playoff spot on the final day of the season's first half.
Staff ace Drew Hutchison provided the win, striking out 10 over six scoreless frames -- and extending his scoreless streak to 27 innings -- as the Class A Lugnuts cruised past host Dayton, 8-2.
And Fort Wayne provided the help, knocking off Great Lakes, 5-0, and sending Lansing to the playoffs as the Wild Card for the first time since 2008.
"Of course you want the ball and want to be able to help the team in a situation like that," Hutchison said. "We were in first place for a good portion of the first half, so it's great to be able to clinch a [playoff] spot."
The Blue Jays' 15th-round pick in the 2009 Draft improved to 6-2 with his fifth win in as many starts. He last gave up a run in the second inning of his May 30 start at Bowling Green. Since then, he has allowed 14 hits and three walks while striking out 38 batters over 27 innings.
"My fastball command has been good lately, and I've had a lot of help from my catcher, Jack Murphy, and our defense," Hutchison said. "I'm a groundball pitcher, and having confidence in your defense makes it easier to go after hitters and throw strikes early in the count."
The 20-year-old right-hander's 10 strikeouts were one shy of his season high, set at South Bend in his first start of the campaign April 12. His 84 strikeouts rank third in the Midwest League and are tied for second in the Blue Jays organization. Hutchison's 2.63 ERA leads all qualifying Blue Jays farmhands.
Hutchison got off to a strong start against the Dragons on Sunday, retiring the first eight batters he faced before walking Dayton center fielder Jefry Sierra with two outs in the third. Sierra was promptly thrown out trying to steal second base.
Ronald Torreyes picked up the Dragons' first hit, a one-out single in the fourth, and Tucker Banhart led off the sixth with a double. Those were the only baserunners Dayton managed against Hutchison, who did not allow a Dragon to reach third base.
Lugnuts reliever Sean Nolin yielded a solo home run to Yorman Rodriguez in the seventh, and after a perfect eighth, Brandon Berl allowed a run on three hits in the ninth -- the first earned run he'd given up in five appearances this season.
Lansing jumped out to an early lead when Jake Marisnick led off the game with his sixth home run, then cracked the game wide open with six runs in the fourth.
Marcus Knecht opened the frame with his eighth longball. After a walk to K.C. Hobson, Michael Crouse delivered a two-run blast to center field. A single, a hit batsman, a triple and a sacrifice fly gave the Lugnuts three more runs and a 7-0 lead. Matt Nuzzo's RBI double in the eighth capped Lansing's scoring.
Marisnick and Knecht collected a homer and a double apiece while third baseman Oliver Dominguez tripled, singled and drove in a pair of runs.
Dayton starter Kyle Lotzkar (0-1), a former first-round Draft pick, was roughed up in his second outing of the season. The right-hander was charged with seven runs on six hits -- three of them homers -- and two walks over four frames. He did not strike out a batter.
Rodriguez led the Dragons offense with a longball and a single and drove in both Dayton runs.
Despite his red-hot streak, Hutchison will have a few days off to relax while four of his teammates head to Quad Cities for the Midwest League All-Star Game on Tuesday. Knecht, Marisnick and Crouse will be starting for the Eastern Division while right-hander Steve Turnbull is in the bullpen.