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Published: Sunday, 7/15/2001

Mud Hens' highs, lows at the break

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

It's true that the midpoint in the 2001 Mud Hens season already has come and gone - the Hens played their 93rd game in a 142-game schedule last night.

But the All-Star break, which came last Tuesday and Wednesday, is the traditional mid-season point in baseball.

So let's take a moment and judge some of the highlights - and lowlights - for the first half of the 2001 Mud Hens season. First will be a comment from Hens manager Bruce Fields, followed by an assessment by this writer.

Who was the biggest surprise is the first half of the season?

Fields: “Brian Rios was the biggest surprise, definitely, offensively. Pedro Santana and Chris Wakeland not playing as well as they can, especially on offense, also is a surprise.”

Rios took over the starting third-base duties in June and was named the Tigers' Minor League Player of the Month. This season he's batting .316 with eight homers and 32 RBIs. Santana is hitting .212 for the season while Wakeland is batting .238.

Blade: The biggest surprise has been the Hens' starting pitching, which has been better than expected.

Before the season, front-office personnel from the Hens' parent club in Detroit knew this team's pitching would be young and perhaps inconsistent.

The Hens' rotation is young, with no regular older than 26. But the staff has been consistently strong. Toledo starters have a 4.53 ERA and are a big reason the Hens have a team ERA of 3.92 for the season.

What was the biggest disappointment in the first half of the season?

Fields: “Our record has been our biggest disappointment. I've always felt we're a better team than our record indicates, And I still believe that. Our record just hasn't shown it.”

Blade: The Hens' offense has been a disappointment.

Sure, some of the players the Hens expected to see in the heart of the lineup - such as Randall Simon, Tom Evans and Ryan Jackson - haven't spent as much time in Toledo as expected.

But the Hens needed a strong June spurt to move into the middle of the pack in the IL in runs scored and batting average. Of the 12 players on the current roster, only three - Kurt Bierek, Lyle Mouton and Rios - are hitting above their career minor-league batting averages.

Who is the team's MVP for the first half of the season?

Fields: “I think it has to be one of the guys who started the season with us. I'd pick Adam Pettyjohn because of the way he pitched for us and his numbers. I'd also consider someone like Carlos Mendez, especially when you consider where his numbers were at the start of the season.”

Pettyjohn was 5-8 but had a 3.44 ERA before his call-up to Detroit last week. Mendez has lifted his average from .212 on June 1 to its current mark of .256 and has nine homers and 42 RBIs.

Blade: Why can't you choose someone who didn't begin the season with the team?

That means you'd be forced to pass on Mouton, who is hitting .338 with nine homers and 27 RBIs in just 36 games. He joined the team on May 27, and since June 1 the Hens are 22-17.

And technically the Hens' All-Star pitcher, Mark Johnson, didn't begin the season with the team. He was called up before his first start this year and has posted a 7-8 record with a 4.15 ERA. That's a far cry from his 2-11 record and 6.57 ERA in Toledo last season.

What is your enduring memory of the season thus far?

Fields: “That 10-game road winning streak and how well we played in that streak.”

On June 7 the Hens began a string of road games in which they outscored the opposition 61-19 and had only two games that were closer than two runs.

Blade: Without question it's the bonfire.

On June 5 the Hens entered a game with Columbus 20-37; they already were 161/2 games out of first place. But before that night's game several members of the Hens' relief corps started a blaze, and the team won its next seven games, including the 10 straight road wins Fields mentioned.

It was good to see some of the bad karma from a streak in which the team had lost 10 of the previous 11 games go up in smoke.

REED RETIRES: Former Mud Hen catcher Jeff Reed announced his retirement last Thursday.

The Elizabethton, Tenn., native spent 21 years in professional baseball, including 1,234 games in the majors with Minnesota, Montreal, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Colorado and the Chicago Cubs.

The 38-year-old Reed, who played for the Hens from 1983-86, played in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season. There he batted .235 with four homers and eight RBIs in 31 games.

MORE MOVES? With the Tigers scheduled to play a day-night doubleheader with the Yankees this Wednesday, another roster move may be coming.

Word from Detroit is that a member of the Hens' rotation may start one of those games against the defending World Champions.

The leading possibility is Victor Santos, who is 2-1 with a 6.37 ERA in six starts since returning to the Hens June 15.

NEAR-RECORD: Ottawa's Fernando Seguignol had a home run in six straight games July 3-8. The league record is seven, set by Clarence Walker of Baltimore in 1926 and tied by former Indian Brook Jacoby while with Richmond in 1983.



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