Mike Hessman is making progress. His team is not.
The Mud Hens gave another game away yesterday, as Louisville took advantage of a ninth-inning defensive miscue to tie the game before winning it in the 11th on a two-run homer by Edwin Encarnacion, until very recently the Cincinnati Reds' third baseman.
The 5-4 setback marked the 13th time this season that the Hens lost a game after leading. This all has resulted from a stretch of bad relief pitching, bad defense and spotty hitting. The 10,300 kiddies on hand yesterday at Fifth Third Field got a taste of all of the above.
They also got the full view of Mike Hessman, past and present.
A leadoff home run in the bottom of the 11th well over the wall in left field was vintage Hessman, who has hit 61 homers, the vast majority of them pulled to left, since joining the Hens in 2005.
The new Hessman was the guy at the plate in the bottom of the fourth inning of a game that was suspended Tuesday night because of stormy weather.
The bases were loaded, the count was 2-2, and Louisville pitcher Tom Shearn painted the black on the outside corner with a fastball. Good pitch. A year ago Hessman probably would have lunged at it for strike three. This time, he stepped toward the opposite field and stroked a shot to right-center field for a bases-clearing double that gave the Hens a 3-2 lead.
"I'm extremely happy with where I'm at and with the progress I've made," Hessman said. "I feel now like I have it dialed in at times. Mentally, and with the approach I have to hitting now, it's all coming together."
Hessman has nine homers this season, which is his typical pace. He's hitting .233 which, believe it or not, is far ahead of his typical pace in a Toledo uniform.
We're talking about a guy who has hit .214 and .165 in previous seasons with the Hens and who is a career .225 hitter in 1,200 minor league games. Last season, he had just 57 total hits, 24 of which were home runs. Since we don't want to overwhelm you with statistics, let's just say that Hessman strikes out a lot. Oh, my, does he strike out a lot.
But his power and his glovework at third base have kept the paychecks coming through the years and now, at age 29, which is the age of suspects, not prospects, Hessman is showing progress.
Through a lot of extra work with Hens hitting coach Leon Durham and manager Larry Parrish, Hessman had a red-hot run during last season's playoffs. He hit .306 with five homers, four doubles and nine RBIs.
"Hitting under .200 during the season was really disappointing," he said. "It's hard to do and I wasn't proud of it. But late in the year we got my approach to hitting straightened out. It was like a light came on during the playoffs."
Yesterday's big opposite-field hit, not to mention the tape-measure home run, may have been another flick of the switch.
"For Mike to be able to hit gap to gap shows an awful lot of progress," said interim manager Mike Rojas.
But the Hens are not progressing.
"We're not playing very sound baseball right now," Hessman said. "We have a good core of guys, though, who have been here a while and I'm confident no one will be giving up. We'll clean up the fundamentals and get it rolling."
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