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Published: Monday, 5/3/2004

Versatile Ust just indispensable to Hens

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
The Mud Hens' Brant Ust charges a ball from third. Ust has also played shortstop, second base and left and right fields, proving to be a very valuable asset. The Mud Hens' Brant Ust charges a ball from third. Ust has also played shortstop, second base and left and right fields, proving to be a very valuable asset.
ZAPOTOSKY / BLADE Enlarge

Brandon Inge has opened eyes in Detroit this season as a valuable jack-of-all-trades.

Last week circumstances shined a similar spotlight on the versatility of the Mud Hens' Brant Ust. And Ust didn't disappoint.

So far this season the 25-year-old has played second base, shortstop and third base as well as both corner outfield positions.

In fact, when Danny Klassen was knocked out of the lineup last week it was Ust who moved to shortstop rather than Jason Smith, who was voted the top shortstop in the IL last season while with Durham.

“[Third base] is a new position for [Smith],” Parrish said of the move. “We want to keep him comfortable, because when Danny comes back he's going to go back in at shortstop. So rather than making Smitty move to one place and then moving back, [we did this].”

Of course, it hasn't hurt that Ust has played well at short in Klassen's absence. While Ust has spent most of his professional career at third base — he played all but 10 of his first 374 pro games at that position — he isn't a stranger to short. Last season he saw action in 15 games there, including 14 at Double-A Erie.

“In terms of comfort level I always was a shortstop as a kid and in high school and college,” said Ust, who played at Notre Dame. “I don't feel awkward out there.”

Despite all the movement from position to position, Ust has made only one error in 14 games. And all of the shifting hasn't affected Ust at the plate, where he has a .288 average.

“He's been solid,” Parrish said of Ust's play at shortstop. “He hasn't done anything wrong out there.”

There may be at least one other position in Ust's future. When catcher Guillermo Rodriguez was serving a two-game suspension, Parrish hinted that Ust might have received the call if the team's other catcher, Mike DiFelice, had to leave the game.

Ust has caught during a game. In fact, he's played every position but pitcher in at least one contest during his pro career. That versatility is part of the reason he made the Mud Hens squad this year.

“[Versatility was] what we looked for in the spring,” Parrish said. “It came down to [Ust] or Rayner Bautista, and Brant did everything we asked of him. He played in the outfield like he's always been an outfielder.

“And he's a threat any time he goes to the plate. It's good to have a guy at this level who can play that many positions. He can play shortstop, he can play the outfield, he's our third catcher, and he's not an out when he goes up to the plate. Put those all together and that's a pretty good package.”

If he had his choice, where would Ust tell Parrish to play him?

“I'd tell him to put me in a position where I can swing the bat,” Ust said.

PERSPECTIVE: The crowd of 6,089 for Thursday's first School Celebration Day of the year was the smallest in the history of the event. But that didn't keep the Mud Hens from being pleased by the attendance figure.

One reason is that this is the first time four School Celebration Days are being held in one season. With three last year and no more than two in any other previous year, that means the promotion will draw more school children to Fifth Third Field this year than in any previous season.

What's more, Thursday's crowd was the fourth-largest in 11 April home dates this year.

“It's a matter of philosophy,” general manager Joe Napoli said of the morning games. “In Akron they have five of these contests, and even though they don't sell any of them out, they compare the attendance to that of a night game in May. Even their weakest morning game was better than a typical night game.”

Napoli said he would be surprised if any of the other three School Celebration Days did not sell out.

DON'T ADJUST YOUR SET: Here are some crazy numbers from recent play around the league:

  • Ottawa pitchers walked 16 batters in a home loss to Buffalo on April 23. In that contest Lynx starter Joe Gannon, a knuckleballer, walked 12 in three innings and also threw four wild pitches in allowing nine runs.

  • Norfolk is considering not using a DH for its games against American League affiliates. The Tides saw their DHs start the season hitless in 16 at-bats with seven strikeouts. For the season Norfolk DHs are batting .094 through games Thursday, which isn't bad when you consider Tides pinch-hitters are hitless in 15 at-bats.

  • Pawtucket scored 14 runs in the third inning of a 16-1 win at Ottawa on Tuesday. In that inning the Red Sox batted around twice, sending 19 batters to the plate, and pounded out 13 hits, including nine in a row after two were out.

    SAY GOODBYE: It was a curious situation when pitcher Ariel Prieto asked for his release Friday.

    Prieto, who was 1-1 with a 3.68 ERA in four starts with the Hens, had a clause in his contract allowing him to make that request from the parent Tigers. Normally it is exercised only when a major league club wants a player toiling in the minors for another team, but that's not believed to be the case with Prieto.

    Rumors circulating in Detroit have the 34-year-old right-hander returning to Mexico to pitch.

    RECORD-SETTER: With his win in Columbus on Tuesday, Hens starter Shane Loux became the winningest Toledo pitcher since Triple-A baseball returned to the Glass City in 1965.

    The win over the Clippers was his second this season and 34th with the team, surpassing the 33 by Terry Felton from 1978-81 and '83.

    POST-GAME PARTY: The Mud Hens are hosting their third annual Grand Slam Ball Park Bash in The Roost after Friday's game against Norfolk. After the fireworks there will be music, desserts, and drinks. Tickets for the event, where the dress code is “baseball casual,” are $50 per person and include a game ticket, with net proceeds to benefit The Ronald McDonald House Charities of NW Ohio. Call the Mud Hens at (419) 725-HENS for more information.

    Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com or 419-724-6481.



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