Toledo MLN: Oliver Leading the Way

After a strong 11-6 victory over Louisville on opening day, the Toledo Mud Hens fell on tough times, losing the final three games of their series against the Bats, while also dropping the first game of a two game set against Indianapolis on Monday. However, the Mud Hens were able to rebound Tuesday afternoon with a 4-2 win, paced by staff ace Andrew Oliver.

Oliver, rated as the No. 3 prospect in the Tigers' system, tossed six strong innings, allowing three hits and a walk, while striking out eight. The 6-foot-3 lefty out of Oklahoma State has struck out 14 batters in 12 innings this season, while only having allowed three runs.

While Oliver struggled in his brief stint with the Tigers last season, he established himself both in Erie in Toledo, combining to post a 9-8 record with a 3.45 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in 130.1 minor league innings in 2010.

A Futures' Game selection last season, Oliver is a likely candidate for a mid-season call-up, if and when the Tigers need some help in the starting pitching department.

Hot and cold

After starting the season off with five hits in eight at-bats, Scott Sizemore has gone 0-5 his last two games.

He has not yet registered a hit against a left-handed pitcher this season in five at-bats. Despite the current skid, he has shown good plate discipline on the young season, posting a 3:3 strikeout: walk ratio.

Serving as the leadoff hitter in each of the four games that he has played, Sizemore, like Oliver, is someone who established himself well in the minor leagues last season. In 299 at-bats with the Mud Hens in 2010, Sizemore hit .298 with nine home runs, 37 RBIs and he posted a .378 on-base percent.

However, also like Oliver, he struggled in his stint with the Tigers last season. In 143 at-bats, he hit only .224 with three home runs, 14 RBIs and a .296 on-base percent.

After making the Tigers' Opening Day roster last season, he was sent down to Toledo on May 16. After just over two months in Toledo, he was recalled on July 21, before being sent down eight days later. He made his final return to Detroit when rosters expanded in September.

Left to battle with Danny Worth and Will Rhymes for an infielder job with the Tigers during spring training, he lost out despite performing well and was optioned to minor league camp on March 22.

Another strong candidate for a mid-season call-up, he is expected to help solidify the top of the Mud Hens' lineup this season.

Starting right

Aside from Oliver at the top of the rotation, the Mud Hens have received merely average contributions from the four other members of the starting rotation so far in 2011.

None of the four—Thad Weber, Charlie Furbush, Duane Below and Adam Wilk—tossed a quality start their first turn through the rotation. However, only Below allowed more than two runs in his start (four earned runs in four innings April 10 against Louisville).

Wilk had the best season of those four last year, spending most of his season in High-A Lakeland, while also making three starts with AA Erie. In 27 starts between his two stops, he posted a combined 2.74 ERA in 167.1 innings, while holding a 4.75:1 strikeout: walk ratio.

Weber, the only right-handed member of the current starting rotation, spent much of 2010 with Erie, but got his feet wet with Toledo for three starts last season. He won two of those three starts, giving up four runs in 22 innings, while striking out 17 and walking only three.

Furbush pitched at three levels last season (Lakeland, Erie and Toledo), making nine starts with the Mud Hens. He struggled in his stint with Toledo, posting a 6.29 ERA in 48.2 innings.

Below spent all of last season pitching for Erie, making 28 starts in the process. He notched a 4.93 ERA in 126 innings.

Home Opener

The Mud Hens will play their first games at Fifth Third Field on Thursday against the Columbus Clippers with a double header. In fact, the Mud Hens' next six games will be against Columbus, as the teams will play three games at Huntington Park after the series in Toledo finishes on Friday.

Last season, the Mud Hens won the season series against Columbus, 14-8. However, the Clippers are off to a 4-2 start this season. The Clippers swept Indianapolis in a four-game set to start the season before losing their last two games to West Division-leading Louisville.

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