Toledo MLN: Slugging the Competition

If there was any question whether or not the Toledo Mud Hens could hit, the month of July should demonstrate what this club can do at the plate. As recent as July 11, the Hens ranked 11th out of 14 teams in the IL in hitting. Since then, the offense has exploded and finished the month on a scorching hot streak. The team now ranks fifth in batting with a .266 team average at the dish.

But the latter half of July has been all about the long ball too. Toledo is tied for second place now in the IL with 103 home runs, after smacking 31 round-trippers total over their last 18 games. Outfielder Jeff Frazier has led the club with six dingers over that stretch, as he continues his hot streak. Brent Clevlen has five homers to his name since the hot streak began.

"Well this kind of offensive output is something I thought we have been capable of all year. It's more of us not living up to that potential," Hens manager Larry Parrish said. "In July now, all of the sudden, we are swinging the bat like we can and we are seeing that pay off for us."

Saturday's game was the perfect example of how this offensive explosion has paid off for the Hens. Toledo put up two five spots in the fourth and eighth innings, allowing them to come from back from a five run deficit and a three run deficit as well. The team collected seventeen hits highlighted by Scott Sizemore's walk off solo shot in the ninth to give Toledo the 11-10 victory. Sizemore continues to be an offensive catalyst as well, as he was 3-5 in the game with two home runs and three RBI.

"Scotty is playing well. He has gotten really hot for us in the last week or so. He is really making a push to be the Tigers' second baseman of the future," Parrish said.

Throwing Smoke

With the fluctuation in the Mud Hens pitching staff, Chris Lambert continues to be a solid mainstay anchoring the starting rotation. Lambert has strung together six quality starts, a streak that has spans back to July 5th. Lambert had an ERA of 2.56 in six starts in June, and he lowered that number in July 1.45 over his five starts in July. It was this streak that likely resulted in the Tigers' decision to call Lambert up to Detroit to take the vacated spot in the bullpen.

"Chris keeps giving us great starts. He has been on this streak for a couple of months now. Every time he has gone out there he has given us a chance to win," Parrish said.

Lambert's last start was a gem. Lambert came up one out short of the complete game, pitching 8.2 innings and one run on seven hits. The outing was his longest of the season, which netted him his sixth win of the season. Lambert threw 112 pitches his starts, 81 of which were strikes or 72% of his pitches were strikes.

"I just kept trying to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters. I got some offense to back me up and that always helps. I focused on keeping the ball down, and it feels pretty good to go out and help the team win," Lambert said.

Making a Push

Toledo's six game win streak has allowed the team to slowly creep back into the playoff picture, while still being somewhat of a long shot. The team sits 9.5 games behind first place Louisville Bats and 9 games out of the Wild Card race behind Gwinnett Braves and the Durham Bulls. The Hens have four games remaining at home against the Braves to finish this week and seven games against the Bats, four of which will be at Fifth Third Field.

But Toledo may have blown a chance to gain more ground on Louisville, after splitting a road series at 2-2.

"Well in my book we should have won three of those games down in Louisville. We just could not hold the lead in that second game," Parrish said.

The game in question was an extra inning affair where Toledo reliever Josh Rainwater gave up four runs in the 11th inning, blowing a three run lead, and allowing Louisville to steal one away from the Hens.

"We have that .500 mark as a goal right now. But we have to get something going down the stretch. But we can't give things away, and we have to play great baseball down the stretch," Parrish said.

Hens News and Notes

-The season has not gone exactly the way 3B Mike Hessman would have liked it to. But things are starting to look up. Hessman has managed to pull his batting average back above the Mendoza line, now hitting .209 for the year. Plus, the 31 year old slugger reached a great achievement while on the road in Louisville last week. Hessman hit the 300th home run of his minor league career, taking a 1-0 pitch over the wall for his milestone achievement. Hessman also continues his quest for his 200th career, which he is eight home runs shy of.

- The Hens continue to lead the IL in stolen bases. Wilkin Ramirez, who was called up by Detroit on Tuesday but sent back down Wednesday, leads the team with 30 stolen bases. He ranks third overall in the league behind league leader Drew Stubbs of Louisville and Columbus's Michael Brantley.

- The Mud Hens 11-10 walk off victory was their fifth of the season. The come from behind win after being down five runs was the largest deficit over come by the team this season.

- Toledo OF Don Kelly has played flawless defense this season. Kelly has not committed an error since last year while playing for Triple-A Tucson of the Pacific Coast league. Kelly, who played mostly in the infield prior to this season, has made a seamless transition to playing the outfield. His errorless streak is now at 88 games.

- Jeff Frazier continues to be on a roll at the plate. The outfielder, who was last week's IL Batter of the Week, has hit an unbelievable .509 over the past two weeks. Frazier has raised his average from .262 to .299.

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