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Published: Sunday, 5/16/2004

Hen pitchers could fill promotion parade

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

There are some similarities between the early part of the 2004 Mud Hens season and what took place at the beginning of 2003.

And that s not good news.

Last season the parent Tigers struggled early in the season on offense. Well, OK, they struggled all season offensively, but the problems were most acute early in the year. As a result the Hens saw a steady stream of everyday players sent to the big leagues.

In fact, by midseason a good chunk of the Hens Opening Day lineup in 2003 was playing at Comerica Park, thanks to call-ups to Craig Monroe, Kevin Witt, Warren Morris and A.J. Hinch, among others.

The big difference between this year and last is that this season the Tigers problems are with pitching, not offense. The Tigers entered play yesterday ranked last in the 14-team American League in earned-run average with a 5.38 mark, thanks in large part to 143 walks given up, the second-worst total in the league.

And remember, those stats came after Gary Knotts and Esteban Yan combined for that improbable two-hitter against the Rangers Friday.

Knotts was given the spot start and made the most of his five innings. He earned another start but probably just delayed the inevitable: the time when Detroit will promote a pitcher from the Mud Hen staff -perhaps even two, three or more.

The most likely Toledo candidates, should the Tigers opt for a starter, are right-handers Pat Ahearne and Shane Loux. Ahearne has a 3-1 record and a 3.10 ERA while Loux is 3-4 with a 3.00 ERA, and Detroit manager Alan Trammell said he is watching both pitchers closely.

“If you look at [Loux] and Ahearne, those are two guys there who would be on the list as candidates [to start for Detroit],” Trammell said the day he announced Knotts would start against Texas. “But Knottsy in my mind deserves a shot. So we ll go from there.”

Reading between the lines: If Loux and Ahearne continue to pitch well, they both have a good chance for promotion.

If the Tigers call for a reliever - and with a bullpen that has a 4.54 ERA, better than only three other AL teams, it s probable such a call will be made - the top candidate is right-hander Franklyn German, who has two wins, nine saves and a 3.07 ERA despite a miserable outing Friday. German allowed just one earned run in his first 13 appearances.

Finding replacement for pitchers of that caliber will be very difficult.

And, the Hens already are a starting pitcher short and have been since Ariel Prieto asked for his release at the end of April. The best candidates for a promotion from Double-A Erie - right-handers Matt Roney and Kenny Baugh as well as lefty Wil Ledezma - already have been passed over for promotion once. None of them will get the call until late in the season.

And who s to say one of those SeaWolves starters wouldn t be promoted directly to Detroit?

“The pitchers in Erie are making strides, and our inclination right now is not to disrupt what s going on,” said Ricky Bennett, Detroit s director of minor league operations. “But that s not to say this couldn t change in a week or two.”

YOUNG HEN? Dmitri Young has a doctor s appointment tomorrow that will determine how his rehab from a broken right leg is progressing.

The hope in Detroit is that the slugging DH is within two weeks of coming off the disabled list, and there s word he might not need a rehab assignment.

“There s a chance [he ll have a rehab assignment], but he could be the exception because he can hit,” Trammell said. “It s probably more than likely, though, that he will go down - but he doesn t have to.”

Clear as mud, right? Look for things to become clearer after the doctor s appointment.

POWER SURGE: Richmond outfielder Jason Tyner homered off Jim Mann of Columbus earlier this week.

Why is that a big deal? It s the first home run of Tyner s professional career, which began in 1998. It took Tyner 2,632 professional at-bats to hit his first home run.

In fact, the last time the former Texas A&M star homered previously was in 1995 - during his senior year in high school.

IT S A DEAL: This week Rochester announced it was extending its working agreement with the parent Minnesota Twins through 2006. Earlier, Syracuse and Toronto also extended their agreement through 2006.

The current agreement between the Mud Hens and the parent Tigers also lasts through 2006.

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



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