Dlugach Shining Early for the Mud Hens

Brent Dlugach knows there are going to be nights like this. Nights when a guy like Dlugach, the Mud Hens' shortstop who was hitting .359, goes 0-for-3 with a walk and strikes out with the bases loaded in a 7-4 loss to the Louisville Bats.

In a 10-2 loss to Indianapolis the previous night, Dlugach provided the Hens' only runs with a pair of solo homers, his second and third of the young season.

This is life in the minors. Lots of ups and downs. There will be days when a teammate, center fielder Ryan Raburn, gets called up to the parent Detroit Tigers and you have to focus on beating some Louisville righty named Ramon Ramirez on a Thursday night in Toledo.

Dlugach (pronounced Duh-LOO-gich) seems to take it all in stride. Never mind that he had only one fielding opportunity in nine innings. Try to forget about that strikeout with one out and the bases juiced that sabotaged a Mud Hens rally. Tomorrow is another day, and that missed opportunity to be a hero will have to be pushed aside for now.

"I didn't have a great at-bat," Dlugach, 26, admitted. "I think in those situations the thing I need to do is slow myself down and take a deep breath. I don't think I think too much. If anything, I get maybe a little too excited and you get out of your game plan a little bit. I knew (Ramirez) had a good change-up and he liked to throw it in fastball counts, which is where I got in trouble."

Dlugach is still a work in progress - aren't most Triple-A ball players? - but Hens fans and manager Larry Parrish like what they see in this 6-4, 215-pound Arkansas native.

"He doesn't get rattled," Parrish said. "He's got that (golfer) Ernie Els-type demeanor. He's like 'big smooth,' nice and easy. He was like that when he first showed up. You could hit him ground balls, and balls take bad hops, or you could hit bullets at him and he was like, there's nothing to it. He's a good kid."

If you see Dlugach walking around with a smile on his face, it could be because he finally has a throwing shoulder he can rely on.

In 2007, playing with Erie in the Double-A Eastern League, a right shoulder injury limited Dlugach to 22 games; it cut short his 2008 season for all but seven games.

"I dove for a ball in the hole and I tore my labrum," he said. "I didn't have surgery until about four months later, because I was trying to rehab through it without having surgery. But it wasn't working out, so I had surgery.

"I would say that was the longest year of my life, because I was down in Florida and I didn't have baseball and I didn't have any of my teammates because they were off playing. I didn't have family, and those are three things I'm used to having. Take all those away and it was definitely a long year. It's definitely made me stronger."

Dlugach, a second-team All-Conference USA selection at the University of Memphis, was selected by the Tigers in the sixth round of the 2004 draft.

Fast forward two years and Dlugach played in two games with Triple-A Toledo in September. He remained on the roster and helped the Mud Hens win the International League's Governors' Cup.

"It was a fun experience because I was a young guy coming up and I didn't know any of these guys," Dlugach said. "It was more of a veteran team and I was kind of new to the organization. I was just trying to make the plays and help the rest of those guys win it."

Dlugach, who also played basketball and golf in high school, has been a shortstop since he was 9 years old.

"I grew up a huge Cleveland Indians fan and I was a small guy until my junior year in high school," he said. "I grew about six inches - from 5-9 to 6-3 - and I grew another inch my senior year. Omar Vizquel was the guy I watched. I always admired how he made all the plays look easy."

Dlugach has a baseball pedigree. His father, Mike, made it to the Triple-A level in the Chicago White Sox organization.

"My mom, Mary Ellen, gave me the height," Dlugach said, "so I thank her for that. She's only 5-9, but all of her brothers are 6-4. My dad is about 5-11."

Despite Dlugach's solid start at the plate this season, he is still working with Parrish and Mud Hens hitting coach Leon "Bull" Durham on improving his mechanics.

"You can always improve hitting," Dlugach said. "The main thing I'm trying to do is work on staying consistent and being consistently aggressive. In the past when I go bad, I don't trust myself and I get unaggressive. Now I'm just trying to be confident and stay aggressive and trust what me and Bull and LP (Parrish) have been working on."

Said Parrish, "He sort of has a tendency to come around the ball top-hand heavy. We've worked with him to hit through the ball better - it's the old palm up, palm down thing. He's been working on it every day. It's a habit he's trying to break. It doesn't always work, but he's been doing much better with it. I think that's why you're seeing home runs. He's been capable of that.

"He's a big kid, a strong kid. He hasn't really shown me what he's capable of yet offensively. He's capable of hitting double digits in home runs. He can play in the big leagues defensively."

When told what Parrish, a 15-year major league veteran and a two-time All-Star, said about his ability at shortstop, Dlugach raised his eyebrows and smiled.

"That's a nice compliment coming from him, because he's seen a lot of games," Dlugach said. "I have confidence in what I'm doing out there. I still have some things I need to improve on. I work hard and try to improve on those things." Dlugach said his No. 1 goal this season is to stay injury-free.

"I feel if I do that, then my other goals - to play hard and have fun - out of those three things, the rest will take care of itself," he said. "I learned a long time ago, you have to take care of what you can take care of and not look ahead or behind you."

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