Early this season the Mud Hens struggled to beat Indianapolis, and Kevin Russo struggled at the plate.
While Russo seems to be emerging from his early season struggles, Toledo’s problems with the Indians continued Friday in a 4-2 loss.
The Hens now have lost all but one of the 11 games they have played against Indianapolis, the team with the best record in the International League, this season.
“They have a good squad over there,” Russo said of the Indians. “Some times that just happens in baseball. …
“We’re just trying to get wins and not think about who has beaten us and who hasn’t. You can beat any team, and any team can beat you. That’s how baseball goes.”
A big reason for Indy’s success against Toledo this year has been impressive pitching. The Indians have allowed just 29 runs in 11 games against the Hens this season and now have allowed just two runs or less in seven of those contests.
“That’s their M.O. — they pitch,” Toledo manager Phil Nevin said of Indianapolis. “You look at [starter Kris] Johnson’s numbers coming in, and [Duke] Welker and [Vic] Black — and they have other guys out there that are very good.
“If you look at the box score, a lot of their games all season have been like this, 3-2 or 4-2. And in those games they have been very good.”
Johnson, Friday’s starter for the Indians, allowed just seven hits and two runs in seven strong innings. Welker pitched a scoreless eighth and Black set down the Hens in the ninth to claim his 14th save of the year.
Russo scored Toledo’s run in the third when he led off with a double, moved to third on a groundout, and scored on a two-out single by Nick Castellanos.
He now has hits in eight straight games and has gone 5-for-11 to start July to raise his average to .206 for the season.
“I’ve tried to take a lot of pressure off myself and just play,” Russo said. “Obviously my numbers aren’t where I want them to be, but you just have to forget about it and move on.
“I think I was thinking about it before — you try not to, but it’s baseball and it happens. Now I’m just trying to go out there and do whatever I can for the team.”
While that .206 mark may not seem like much, it’s a huge improvement from his .128 mark in April.
“It has been a struggle for him all year, but he has worked his butt off,” Nevin said of Russo. “He’s swinging the bat better, and I like to see that.
“If he keeps swinging the bat like that, we’ll find places for him to play.”
Like Russo, Nevin feels his team can claim some wins against an Indianapolis club that has dominated this season so far.
“A lot of those games were early, and we have a lot of different personnel out there now,” Nevin said. “We’re a better team now, I know that, but they are a very good team.
“I thought we played well [Friday] — we took good at-bats and played good defense. [Toledo starter] Shawn [Hill] just lost the [strike] zone there in the second inning.”
In the second Hill gave up two walks sandwiched around a single that loaded the bases with two outs, and Ivan DeJesus, Jr., lined a two-run single. Then in the fifth Felix Pie hammered Hill’s first pitch of the inning over the fence in right-center for his fifth home run of the season.
Jose Ortega gave up an insurance run in the ninth as the Hens lost for the 10th time in their last 14 games.
NOTES: The Tigers optioned LHP Jose Alvarez to Toledo after their game Friday. Alvarez will start for the Mud Hens Sunday against Indianapolis. … OF Avisail Garcia, who was optioned to the Hens Thursday by Detroit, is expected to join Toledo today. … Friday night’s crowd of 9,897 was the 15th sellout of the season and the 342nd full house in Fifth Third Field history.
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