It was another day, another hero for the Mud Hens in a 5-0 victory over Syracuse at Fifth Third Field last night.
Nelson Cruz threw seven scoreless innings and struck out a season-high nine as the Hens claimed their sixth win in their last eight games.
I ve been feeling great, building up my arm strength and getting close to where I want to be, Cruz said of his longest start this season. Early in the game I was trying to establish what was going to be working, and as soon as I found out I [focused] on changing speeds and establishing the fastball on both sides of the plate.
After the third inning my slider was really working, and I had my fastball and change-up. And my sinker worked well on the inside of the plate to right-handers.
Cruz didn t allow Syracuse to move a runner past first until the sixth, when he gave up back-to-back, one-out singles to Danny Solano and Anton French. Cruz got Bryant Nelson to fly out and struck out John-Ford Griffin to end the threat.
The whiff of Griffin was the ninth strikeout for Cruz, the most he had fanned since striking out nine in five innings against Cincinnati on May 1, 2003, while pitching for Colorado.
They had some funky swings at that change-up, Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish said of the SkyChiefs. I remember swinging off [Andy] Messersmith and Mario Soto like that when they had their good change-up working.
What made the effort by Cruz even more important was that it gave the Toledo bullpen, which had used five pitchers to cover three innings Thursday, a little bit of a rest.
I knew we used a lot of pitching [Thursday], so I was thinking about keeping the ball down and getting early outs, Cruz said. That would give me the extra innings I needed to get deep into the game.
Meanwhile, the Hens offense staked Cruz to an early lead when Alexis Gomez led off the bottom of the first by drawing a nine-pitch walk from Chris Baker, stole second and came home on a two-out single to right by Jack Hannahan.
Toledo used that same formula to scratch out another run in the third as Kevin Hooper drew a walk, stole second, then scored on Curtis Granderson s single.
But the offensive star in Toledo s third straight win over the SkyChiefs was Ryan Raburn, who slammed a three-run homer in the sixth. Raburn s homer off the brick base of the scoreboard in left, his sixth home run of the year, gave Cruz and the bullpen plenty of breathing room.
With a runner on third and less than two outs, I wanted to get something up that I could drive, Raburn said. Three runs are better than two. But it went out of the ballpark.
Parrish said part of his team s success on offense can be attributed to the production it gets from Raburn and other hitters at the bottom of the order.
We ve got some guys there who can leave the yard, Parrish said. Raburn s got six home runs, [Gookie] Dawkins has got five.
Most clubs don t have guys hitting down there who ve got pop.
Parrish was quick to point out some other fine performances in yesterday s win, including Matt Roney striking out three Syracuse batters in the eighth, Mark Woodyard s 1-2-3 ninth, and the Hens ability to score runs despite getting just five hits thanks to three stolen bases that all led to runs as well as five walks, three of which scored.
We had some little good things [happen] inside the big picture, Parrish said.
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