TigsTown MLN: 'Hens on Their Way to China

Following the lead of the big league club, the Mud Hens were off for the Triple-A All Star break, which always coincides with the big league Midsummer Classic. How did the 'Hens All Stars fare? Plus, why do a couple of them still have reason to be smiling? And is Toledo about to lose yet another contributor?

The Triple-A All Star game featured a trio of Toledo Mud Hens, unfortunately, it wasn't the best of days for the three. Mike Hessman struck out in four of his five at-bats, Brent Clevlen had just one hit, and Blaine Neal had possibly the worst night of all, yielding all six of the Pacific Coast League's runs in the ninth inning while recording just one out.

Despite those struggles, it wasn't all bad news for Hessman and Neal. On Wednesday afternoon, it was announced that both players would represent the United States in the 2008 Olympics next month in Beijing. The players have the added honor of representing their country in what could be the final time baseball is played in the Olympics, as it is slated to be dropped from the Olympic schedule for future games.

Hessman has been among the leaders in all of minor league baseball in home runs – he currently sits at 30. Neal meanwhile has been leading the International League in saves while turning in an outstanding season thus far for Toledo.

No word yet on who the Tigers will pull up to replace the duo has the 'Hens go down the stretch. But, with Toledo likely to be in a playoff chase, and the Erie SeaWolves currently on the outside near the cellar of the division, it's likely that the organization will look to push a few current 'Wolves to give the 'Hens the boost they need.

One other battle the 'Hens have been having is over the loss of their top performers to Detroit. They'll get one back on Thursday, when Clete Thomas returns to Toledo. Once a fifth starter is needed, they'll likely get Jeff Larish back as well.

Who that fifth starter will be is still up in the air, though all signs initially pointed to Eddie Bonine returning for another shot. Bonine though had a scare when down with Erie making his start in between, taking a line drive. However, all indications are that Bonine should be ready to go.

If Bonine isn't, or if he struggles again like he did in his last two starts, the Tigers could steal yet another member of the Toledo staff, calling up either Chris Lambert or Virgil Vasquez. Zach Miner also could be an option, having moved into Toledo's rotation over the past couple weeks.

Vasquez has been especially strong as of late. Over his last eight starts, Vasquez has sported a 2.77 ERA with a 4.2 K:BB ratio. Vasquez struggled in '07 in his handful of big league opportunities (especially in his big league debut), but being a pitcher who relies on control, his nerves likely got to him.

Chris Lambert continues to battle inconsistency, however, when he's pitched well, he's pitched very well. Over his last seven starts, four of them he hasn't allowed an earned run, and in one additional start, he gave up just one. Lambert, 25, came to the Tigers in the trade for Mike Maroth and was a former first round draft pick of the Cardinals in 2004. If the Tigers aren't confident Vasquez can be the guy, they could turn to Lambert, but either way, they'll deprive Toledo of a key rotation member.

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