Toledo MLN: Pitching Staff Shake Up

With the infusion of the rehabbing Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson into the Hens pitching staff, there were some significant changes made as Toledo heads towards the finish line in the 2009 season.

"Well we have some good depth with our pitching right now," Hens manager Larry Parrish said. "You would think since they have been able to be effective in the big leagues, that they will do the same down here."

But that has not been the case for either of the recovering pitchers. Robertson, who took Brooks Brown's spot in the Toledo starting rotation, has struggled in his first two rehab starts, the most recent this past Saturday. Robertson only lasted 1.2 innings allowing five runs, two earned runs on four hits. The hope was the southpaw would be able to stretch the start over three or four innings, but those hopes were dashed after Robertson threw 37 pitches in the first inning alone.

Bonderman has not been all that effective either. The Kennewick, WA native, who is trying to recover from a blood clot that has sidelined him since last season, is still trying to find his groove on the mound.

"I'm just trying to be as patient as I can. I am trying, and I am throwing everything I got at them," Bonderman said, after his last rehab appearance this past Sunday.

Bonderman entered the game in the eighth, with the Hens leading 8-2 over the Gwinnett Braves. After an eleven pitch inning, Bonderman went back out to the bump to close out the ninth, and that is when his outing started to fall apart. He allowed a lead off double to begin the inning, but then he collected the first two outs. But after three straight base hits off of the right hander, Bonderman was pulled, and replaced by Casey Fien.

"He threw them strikes," Parrish said. "They just kept catching too much of the plate."

The silver lining for both recovering pitchers was the ball to strike ratio. 32 of Roberston's 51 pitches were strikes, while 25 of Bonderman's 31 pitches were strikes.

"I was hoping I would come out today and throw the ball well. The first inning went well. But then they got some hard hits off me. I was just trying to establish my fastball and slider, but they were just catching too much of the middle," Bonderman said. "But the arms feels great, it really does. It's just baby steps out there and building up some strength."

It is still not known what role the Tigers have in mind for either of the two pitchers for the rest of 2009 or what kind of timetable they are on. The only thing known for sure is that both will be in Toledo for the remainder of August.

Staying Alive

The streaking Toledo Mud Hens, winners of 9 of their last 10 games, continue to inch their way back into playoff contention. The team, still considered long shots for a playoff berth, was left for dead in the postseason hunts just a few weeks ago

"Well the obvious goal is just to get back to .500," Parrish said. "It's not something we are pushing with the guys right now."

While Parrish has a very modest view of his team's chances, this week's stretch of games will go a long way in proving just whether or not the Hens will be in the playoffs. After taking three out of four from wild card leader, Gwinnett Braves, at home this past weekend, Toledo's seven game road trip will include stops in Syracuse and Louisville. Both teams currently sit in front of the Hens in the standings. The Syracuse Chiefs are currently 3.5 games in front of Toledo, and four games behind wild card leaders, the Durham Bulls and the aforementioned Gwinnett Braves.

"We do not have any room for error though if we are going to make a run at this. We have to play flawless baseball and even then we are probably going to need some help from other teams," Parrish said.

Comparing all the teams in the International League Playoff chase, Toledo's best shot at a postseason appearance will probably be in the wild card spot. IL West Division leader, Louisville, currently leads the Hens by nine games, and the Bats do not play a team over .500 the rest of the way out.

The wild card is a different story. Toledo has 40 % of its games left against teams over the .500 mark. Gwinnett and Durham, tied for the top spot in the IL South, face each other eight more times before the end of the season. Each team also has at least 50% of their games against teams over the even mark, with Durham having 77% of its games left against teams above .500. Norfolk, currently third in the wild card, has 62% of its games left against winning teams. Syracuse has the easiest road of the contenders with only 27% against teams above .500. Indianapolis, who is tied with Toledo in the standings, has 27% of its games left against winning teams.

Chasing Casey Stengel

Besides the playoff chase, Larry Parrish finds himself in a different kind of chase. Parrish sits at 483 career wins as Mud Hens manager and he is now only seven wins from tying former Hens skipper and Baseball Hall of Fame member, Casey Stengel, for third place on the Mud Hens career wins list for a manager. Stengel sits at 490 victories from his days as the Toledo manager from 1926-1931.

"Well this has been a fun job for me. Anytime you mention names like Casey Stengel in regards to baseball, it is good company to be in," Parrish said.

Assuming Parrish catches Stengel, he will only need seven victories to catch second place manager, Charles Strobel, who managed Toledo from 1896-1902. The career wins leader of all time is Carl Ermer, who the Hen's manager from 1978-1985. Ermer collected 540 victories during his tenure with Toledo.

Hens News and Notes

- One thorn in the Mud Hens side continues to be their defense. Toledo now ranks second in the IL with 102 errors. To add insult to injury, IF/OF Don Kelly's 90 game errorless streak ended last Friday against Gwinnett. In fact, Kelly committed two errors in the game on Friday at third base and one on Saturday while playing in centerfield.

- Mike Hessman reached another career milestone on Friday. Hessman's RBI in the sixth on a home run moved him into third place all time on the Mud Hens career RBI list. His runs batted in total stands at 352 in his career with Toledo.

- Since the Mud Hens began sporting their mohawks, the team is playing considerably better. The team record is now at 13-6 since the team has had the haircut.

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