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Published: Sunday, 5/29/2005

Grading the Hens: After first third of season, faults hard to find

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

As the 2005 Mud Hens reach the one-third mark of the 2005 season with today's game against Columbus, it's hard to find much fault with the team's play to this point.

Toledo currently hovers around the .600 mark, giving it one of the best records in the International League. The Hens have had success on the road, and they've proven to be capable of coming from behind to win games, too.

The Mud Hens' 28-18 record heading into last night's home game with Columbus is ahead of the 2002 team's 26-20 mark at the same juncture of the season, and that team won the IL West Division.

But the Hens haven't been perfect; in fact, manager Larry Parrish feels certain parts of his team can be better.

In that spirit, Parrish and The Blade analyze and grade the team's performance through the first third of the season:

OFFENSE

Parrish: "We've had some guys who got off to slow starts, and we've had some injuries - [Dewayne] Wise missed a month, and [Curtis] Granderson had a hand that bothered him for a long time.

"We've won games throughout the order this year. When we run off three or four in a row, it will be two different guys each night who get the big hit. There's a capability to score throughout the order.

"We can be a better offensive club, I think. I could see our

offense improving."

Blade: Yes, the Hens' offense could be better. It seems to be a streaky bunch who can click for big run totals one night, then produce only big strikeout numbers the next.

It's hard to imagine this team hitting better, though, unless everybody starts having a career year. Right now nearly all of the Hens are on pace to reach their "typical" seasons, which will give Toledo a good, but not great,

offense.

The Hens get bonus points for their ability to rally the offense late in games, turning several losses into victories.

Grade: B-

STARTING PITCHING

Parrish: "We've been pretty consistent, and that's what I think is amazing. Usually you have a couple guys going crazy, and a couple of guys in the back end who get blown up a lot. We've been pretty consistent, one through five, all year.

"They give us a lot of innings. Every once in a while a starter can have a so-so game, but overall I've been happy with the way they've pitched.

"It would be hard for the pitchers to improve - we hope they just stay where they've been."

Blade: Correct on all counts, especially the consistency throughout the rotation. The quintet of Kenny Baugh, Sean Douglass, Andrew Good, Nelson Cruz and Jason Grilli has combined for 23 quality starts - starts allowing three earned runs or fewer while pitching six innings or more.

And that number would be higher if several of those starters had thrown more innings in spring training: Since May 1 the Hens have 15 quality starts and only 10 nonquality starts.

Douglass and Baugh have been exceptional, while Grilli and Cruz have had exceptional moments.

Grade: B+

BULLPEN

Parrish: "Overall, we've pitched really well. Even losing a couple of guys out of the bullpen, we've pitched well. [Vic] Darensbourg has been lights-out against lefties, and [Jason] Karnuth's done a good job.

"They've done a good job when the starters didn't go deep [in games]. The bullpen has held us in ballgames."

Blade: This has been the Hens' area of strength all season long. Notice that the Tigers have called up four players since the start of the season, and two of the four are relievers - Chris Spurling and Doug Creek.

Darensbourg has yet to allow an earned run, while Karnuth has yet to blow a save. Both have been worthy of a promotion to the big leagues, too.

Grade: A-

DEFENSE

Parrish: "Our defense has been sort of like our hitting - it's been a roller-coaster. We've played good at times, and it's been ugly at times.

"When you put [the players we have] in the outfield, it helps your pitching staff because you can make plays a lot of other teams can't make."

Blade: In the outfield the Hens can use three potential center-field prospects in Granderson, Alexis Gomez and Wise. Toledo has had more than its share of outfield assists this season.

In the infield, the left side of the infield has been steady and sometimes spectacular. The right side of the infield has been more inconsistent, but has had its brilliant moments, too.

Grade: B-

TEAM CHEMISTRY

Parrish (when asked if it's easier to have good vibrations when you're winning): "Sometimes that's why you win - because of your team's make-up. We don't have a lot of negatives to deal with in the clubhouse, and that makes it nice. We have guys rooting for each other, and rooting for the team to win.

"The team last year had good make-up, too. But it was a team that relied on the middle of the lineup to beat you. When we had [Marcus] Thames going, when we had [Joe] Vitiello going and we had [Andy] Barkett going, that was pretty good. I thought we were, by far, the best team in the league 3-4-5.

"Unfortunately, when August rolled around two of those three guys were gone, and the third guy couldn't tote that load alone."

Blade: From the outside, this club seems to have great chemistry. The pre-game dugout dance is a good example of the way this team has blended, and the blending has taken place in a short period of time.

This team gives itself a chance to win every night, and not every IL club can say the same thing. If this team stays together, for the most part, through the season, the chances are good the Mud Hens will have a chance to claim the Governors' Cup in September.

Grade: A-

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



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