Andy Van Hekken exorcised a few demons last night.
The 24-year-old lefty pitched the Mud Hens to a 4-1 victory over Norfolk at Fifth Third Field, allowing just four hits in seven strong innings as the Hens snapped a two-game losing streak.
The win was Van Hekken s first at Fifth Third Field in more than a year and he entered last night s contest with a 1-7 record and 7.85 ERA at home over the past two seasons.
But Van Hekken s biggest tormentor was the idea of trying to recover the pitching prowess that allowed him to throw a complete-game shutout in his first major league start less than two seasons ago.
“This has got to be a real shot in the arm for Andy tonight,” said Hens manager Larry Parrish. “This kid was on top of the world, and all of a sudden he ran the gantlet. He struggled for the last year, and tonight should boost his confidence and ego.”
While one good start doesn t mean Van Hekken is back to that form of 2002, when he was 5-0 with a 1.82 ERA for the Hens, it does prove that a return to that form isn t out of the question after he went 4-6 with a 5.88 ERA here last season.
“It has been frustrating at times,” he admitted. “Obviously last year was a bad year, and this spring we tried to figure out how we could change things to get a little more [velocity]. We started tinkering with my delivery. There have been a few hard habits to break, but if I can do this consistently I can get back up [to the major leagues].”
Since spring training Van Hekken and Hens pitching coach Jeff Jones have changed the lefty s delivery to include making a more aggressive leg kick, being more bent over and being more compact.
“We ve been kind of putting stuff together, and through this first month or so I ve shown a couple of innings of [improvement] here and there, but something always goes wrong,” Van Hekken said. “Tonight it all came together.”
The lone run Van Hekken allowed came when the Tides bunched three singles in the second inning. But after Wilson Delgado s hit to left brought home Tom Wilson, the southpaw began to stanch the Tides.
He got Esix Snead to fly out to strand runners on first and second, then retired the following 15 batters in a row.
Van Hekken entered last night s game with a 1-2 record and 7.23 ERA, but there were enough good moments in each of his five previous starts that he remained confident good things were possible.
“It was good that I did have good innings. We could see that if I [made these changes] that good things would happen,” he said. “We would go back and watch videotape and see that when I did give up a few runs it was because my mechanics broke down.”
Yesterday there were no bad innings for Van Hekken, and the Toledo offense got enough runs to make his fine pitching stand up.
In the second Jason Smith s two-out triple scored Andy Barkett.
In the fourth Marcus Thames and Barkett singled in front of an RBI double by Mike DiFelice.
In the sixth Barkett capped the scoring with a two-run homer off Norfolk starter Aaron Heilman.
There could have been more offense except for a couple of baserunning gaffes. With two on and one out in the third Nook Logan got picked off second, and Eric Owens was nipped trying to return to first for a 1-5-4-3 double play. In the fourth DiFelice strayed too far off second on a Danny Klassen grounder and was retired on a 6-3-5 twin-killing.
But last night the Hens could laugh at their mistakes because of Van Hekken s fine pitching.
The Hens begin a four-game series with Cleveland s top farm club, the Buffalo Bisons, tonight at 7 p.m. The Hens Eric Eckenstahler (0-1) will get his first start in four seasons when he opposes Buffalo s Robert Ellis (2-2).
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6481.