Toledo MLN: Strong Opener Sets Pace

The Toledo Mud Hens entered their 2009 home opener with a 6-1 record and were averaging six runs a game, but Columbus Clippers right-hander Tomo Ohka and two relievers had the answers when it counted on April 16 at Fifth Third Field.

Before a record crowd of 13,100, Ohka pitched six shutout innings and the Mud Hens stranded 10 base runners in a 2-1 loss to the Clippers. The Hens were a woeful 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

"We got a bunch of hits, but nobody could get a big one with guys on base," Hens manager Larry Parrish said.

Losing pitcher Ron Chiavacci said he was surprised that the Hens, who had 10 hits to raise their team batting average from .241 before the game to .247, only scored one run.

"The way our guys swing it and go about their business, today was definitely out of the norm," Chiavacci said. "We know we're going to score runs. We're going to give up runs, but we're not going to give up that many runs. I see this pitching staff holding it to what it is tonight, consistently. It would have been nice to win on opening day (at home), but it just didn't go that way today."

STRONG START: In two starts this season, Chiavacci has allowed two earned runs in 10 2/3 innings but has yet to earn a victory. In a home-opening 2-1 loss to Columbus, Chiavacci (0-1) went 5 2/3 innings and gave up two runs (one earned) on five hits, with three walks and five strikeouts. The right-hander threw 90 pitches, 58 for strikes.

"I'm not disappointed with the outing," he said. "A few things could have went different. I probably could have done a little better job by throwing more strikes and finishing guys off and not getting the three walks that led to me getting yanked early."

Chiavacci spent the 2007 season in Toledo and finished third in the International League with 12 wins. That year, he went 1-4 in his first nine appearances but finished strong by going 11-2 in his final 17 appearances.

"I'm not the power guy I used to be," he said. "I'm still touching 90 (mph) and learning to pitch the past few years without my best stuff. I'm just trying to get ahead of hitters early and throwing my curveball and changeup for strikes and with meaning and with confidence."

Parrish was pleased with Chiavacci's performance against Columbus.

"Ronnie's just a real good competitor," the sixth-year manager said. "He's got a curveball, changeup, fastball, and he just tries to pitch to spots. His strong suit is his competitiveness. You know he's going to leave what he's got out there on the table. I'll take that pitching performance every time out."

RAMIREZ ON A ROLL: Left fielder Wilkin Ramirez hit safely in the Mud Hens' first nine games this season. His streak was broken on April 18 when he went 0-for-5 in a 3-1 win at Columbus. The 6-2, 190-pound Ramirez, a native of the Dominican Republic, is hitting .267 (12-for-45) with six stolen bases and six RBI.

Ramirez said he can't explain why he has hit so well to open the past two seasons. Last year, at Double-A Erie, Ramirez started the season with a nine-game hitting streak and ended up batting .303 there before being called to Toledo on June 6. He appeared in 11 games with the Hens but had just three hits in 36 plate appearances.

"I feel more comfortable this season," Ramirez said. "It feels good."

NEW HOME: Right-hander Fu-Te Ni looks right at home in a Mud Hens uniform.

Ni, a 6-0, 176-pound reliever from Taiwan, was signed by the Detroit Tigers in January. He has proved to be one of several reliable pitchers through Toledo's first 11 games.

Ni, heading into Tuesday's game, (1-0) had a 1.42 ERA in three appearances. He struck out six, walked one and allowed one run (earned) on four hits in 6 1/3 innings.

"He mixes it up - he can get his fastball up there to about 90," Parrish said. "He's got a good curveball and a good changeup. We don't have a whole lot of background on him, but what we've seen, he's been doing a good job. I think he's comfortable here."

HOME COOKIN': The 13,100 fans who showed up at Fifth Third Field for the Mud Hens' game against Columbus set a new record for Toledo home openers.

This year's attendance broke the mark of 12,750 set last year. The first home opener, April 9, 2002, attracted 12,134 fans to the new ballpark. Since that game, Fifth Third Field's single-game attendance record has been broken five times, all in home openers.

Chiavacci said he got a kick out of taking the mound for the Hens' home opener.

"It's an honor here," he said. "I love playing here. The fans are great and the atmosphere is awesome and it gets you revved up. If it doesn't, you shouldn't be playing this game."

DOT, DOT, DOT: Hens center fielder Ryan Rayburn celebrated his 28th birthday on April 18 by collecting three hits, including a home run and a double, in Toledo's 5-3 win over Columbus. The Tampa, Fla,. native, who also had a walk and a stolen base, hit his IL-leading fifth home run of the season in the fourth inning and added an RBI double in the seventh. He is hitting .255 with three doubles, seven walks and nine RBI ...

Tigers pitcher Joel Zumaya joined the Mud Hens on a rehab assignment last Saturday. Zumaya pitched two innings at Columbus and gave up two hits with one strikeout. Zumaya has been on Detroit's disabled list since March 27 because of a sore right shoulder. He has made two rehab appearances for Single-A Lakeland, allowing five runs, walking five and striking out four in 2 2/3 innings.

This year marks the fourth straight season the right-hander has pitched for the Hens ...

Toledo utility man Don Kelly hit the first home run at Columbus' new Huntington Park in the third inning of the Hens' 7-5 loss to the Clippers last Sunday ...

First baseman Ryan Roberson had a 10-game hitting streak through April 20, an off day for the Hens. Robertson is hitting .318 (14-for-44) ...

The Mud Hens (8-3) opened an eight-game homestand on April 21 against IL West Division rival Indianapolis ...

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