Mud Hens First Half Bests

Ninety four days and ninety two games since opening day, the International League has reached the All-Star Break and half way point of the 2007 minor league season. Despite a slow start by the Mud Hens, there were still many memorable moments during the first three and a half months of play. Here's a look at the best stories that developed along the way.

Six Straight for Vasquez
Vasquez took his lumps in his first to games as Mud Hen, dropping both contests, but he responded in his next six outings with six wins and emerged as the Mud Hens ace. At the top of his game Vasquez was promoted to Detroit for a spot start against Minnesota, but not before earning Player of the Week honors for the week of April 16-22. Vasquez also became the first player in 2007 to win the honor twice when he was honored for the week of May 28 to June 3. Vasquez (7-3) is fifth in the IL with 92 strikeouts in 17 AAA appearances this season.

Touching Base
Flashy is not Jack Hannahan's style. Hannahan has reached base successfully in 58 of 60 contests he's started since April 14. Hannahan leads the league in on base percentage with .431 and owned the month of June with seven home runs and 25 RBI.

Five strikeouts in one game is nicknamed the Golden Sombrero, but five walks? Maybe the baseball linguists should let Ryan Rayburn name that stat after the wiry outfielder walked five times in a nine inning contest on May 30 against Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Raburn has 51 walks this season, 34 against right handed pitchers- the most of any Mud Hen.

Lucky No. 7
Following a bleak 1-4 start to the '07 campaign Ron Chiavacci rattled off six wins to bring his record to 7-4. Through his previous five wins, and one loss (one July 2) Chiavacci has averaged about three strikeouts and only one earned run every four innings.

Calling All Pitchers
It took nearly a month, but once the phone rang for starting Mud Hen pitcher Virgil Vasquez in late April, it never stopped. Shortly after Vasquez's call-up versus the Twins at the Metrodome, Tim Byrdak and Aquilino Lopez also got their first opportunity to pitch for the Tigers. Fellow pitchers Yorman Bazardo and Eulugio De La Cruz were also called up to the Tigers for the first time in their careers. Each of the above pitchers are currently on the Tigers 40-man roster, with the exception of Miner, who for now, is stationed in Detroit. In July, Ryan Raburn became the first position player call-up from Toledo to reach Detroit this season. He recorded a hit in his first game as a Tiger since 2004.

Major League Hitter
He might be in the bush leagues but no Mud Hens slugger is more consistent or "major league" than outfielder Timo Perez who began the first half with a 20 game hit streak and finished it with his first All-Star selection. Perez is fifth in extra-base hits (38), first in the IL in hits (101), second in the IL in runs scored (57) and is tied for first in the IL with 29 doubles.

Two Grand
Not only did Mike Hessman belt two grand slams in the first two months of games, the fence-busting third baseman also managed to secure the all-time Mud Hens home run record with his 68th shot on June 1. At the break Hessman is the AAA leader with 25 home runs, five behind minor league leader Craig Brazell of the Omaha Royals. Hessman's batting prowess earned him a spot in the Triple-A Home Run Derby and his first ever All-Star game.

Toledo Cycling Club
With a 4-for-5 night on May 27 featuring a single, double, triple and finally a home run in his last at bat, Ryan Raburn recorded his first career cycle which doubled as the first cycle in Fifth Third Field history. Mike Hessman finished a single shy of a cycle that same day. Rayburn earned his second All-Star selection this season; he also represented the Mud Hens in 2006.

Interim Business
With skipper Larry Parish sidelined after ankle surgery one day before the season opener, and a 2-5 start the outlook was dim for the Mud Hens. Interim Manager Mike Rojas insisted it "wasn't his first rodeo," but it certainly didn't show until late May. With time Rojas proved however, that he had a firm hold of the reigns leading the ‘Hens to an impressive turnaround featuring great starting pitching, defense and batting. The turnaround has put the Mud Hens in a position to contend for their third straight IL West and Governor's Cup Title and helped forget about Parish.

Winning Streak
Eight out of ten games, 13 out of 16 games, 31 out of 41 games-wherever you start or one thing is for sure, the blistering pace the ‘Hens set beginning in mid-May is the most impressive and intriguing story line of the season. The Mud Hens owned the best record in Triple-A ball in June after posting a 20-9 mark and coupled with the May record it's making the April 11-14 mishap look like a fluke. The streak lifted the ‘Hens from last place in the IL West Division to their typical spot in first place in a little over a month. It's becoming more apparent with every win that April may have been an unfamiliar losing streak, while May-July is just another blueprint of Mud Hens baseball.

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