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Published: Sunday, 6/20/2004

IL notebook: Erie starters could help the Mud Hens

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The Mud Hens pitching staff currently ranks in the middle of the pack, tied tor eighth in the 14-team International League with a composite 4.34 ERA.

Help for the starting rotation may be on the way, though, based on the numbers being posted by the starting rotation in Double-A Erie.

The SeaWolves rank third in the Eastern League with a 3.62 ERA, but that's not the fault of the team's starters. That group has an ERA of 3.15 and had a 0.33 ERA in the four games before last night.

Among the leaders of the Erie rotation are:

  • Lefty Wil Ledezma, who has seven wins and a 2.32 ERA, both tops in the Eastern League, after spending last season in Detroit as a Rule 5 pick;

  • Right-hander Matt Roney, who is 6-3 with a 3.61 ERA and also has big-league experience as a Rule 5 choice of the Tigers last season;

  • Right-hander Preston Larrison, who rebounded from a 4-12 campaign with the SeaWolves last season to post a 4-2 record and 2.80 ERA this year;

  • Right-hander Kenny Baugh, who is battling back from shoulder surgery and has a 5-6 record and 3.63 ERA.

    Today, the SeaWolves will add right-hander Kyle Sleeth, Detroit's top draft pick last season, to their rotation as they continue to battle for the top spot in the Eastern League's South Division.

    It is anything but a slam-dunk that one of the SeaWolves' starters will be promoted to Toledo, though. One problem is that the Mud Hens already have a glut of starters. Within the past few weeks they added Jimmy Haynes and James Baldwin to the rotation without losing a starter.

    What's more, Detroit's director of minor league operations, Ricky Bennett, said the promotion of Sleeth isn't an indication the Tigers are about to make a number of minor league pitching promotions.

    "I'd still like to see [the Erie staff] pitch at that level," Bennett said. "They certainly are making strides and developing, though."

    Bennett said that the promotion of Sleeth was a case of a pitcher overmatching the competition in Single-A Lakeland, where he posted a 5-4 record and a 3.31 ERA.

    "[Sleeth] proved to us that he's ready to pitch at a higher level," Bennett said. "He's polished, and has a good command of his fastball and curve. He was ready to compete at a higher level."

    Bennett would not commit to a potential timetable that would see the young Erie pitchers earn a promotion to Toledo. The good news is that he thought the pitchers wouldn't skip the Mud Hens on their way to Detroit.

    "There were times [in the past] where we may have rushed pitchers when promoting them from Double-A to the majors, but now we have more stability at the big-league level," Bennett said. "It wouldn't hurt [those pitchers] to spend the entire season at Double-A. At the same time, it would be disappointing to see them spend the whole season in Double-A."

    In other words, stay tuned - because if the Erie starters continue to pitch well, they probably will see action in Toledo before this season is over.

    HITS GALORE: The International League has several hitters working on long hitting streaks.

    The longest belongs to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Jim Rushford, who had an 18-game batting streak through Thursday. He hit .416 during the streak to raise his batting average to .328, earning a spot among the IL leaders.

    Hot on Rushford's heels was Rochester's Luis Rodriguez, who was working on a 16-game hit streak through Thursday. In that span Rodriguez batted .458 with 10 extra-base hits, including seven doubles. Toledo's Rich Gomez has a 15-game hit streak entering play last night, the team's longest streak this season.

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



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