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Published: Friday, 6/30/2006

Hens' series with Indians pivotal

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Toledo's Kevin Hooper stands on the second base bag, but it's not his to keep after he was called out attempting to steal. Toledo's Kevin Hooper stands on the second base bag, but it's not his to keep after he was called out attempting to steal.
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Tonight the Mud Hens begin a four-game series with Indianapolis, creating a matchup between two of the three leaders in the International League's West Division.

And while it's still too early in the season for the games to be critical to either side, the contests may start to loosen the three-team knot at the top.

That didn't seem possible at the start of the month, when Indianapolis had a seven-game lead over second-place Toledo, and both the Mud Hens and third-place Louisville were under .500.

But what a difference a month has made: while the Indians have drifted back to the pack with a 13-14 record in June, the Hens have closed the gap to a single game with an 18-11 mark this month.

Both teams are trailing the Bats, who have won their last seven in a row and are 22-6 in June. Louisville leads the second-place Tribe by a half-game, with Toledo a game and a half back.

"I don't think this series is any more significant [a series] because we're playing Indy," Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish said. "It's important because we're playing at home. In our last road trip we played better on the road.

"It's big to get wins, but it's not too early to come back - for us or for them."

This series begins a string of 10 straight games the Mud Hens will play against the two teams. After this four-game set Toledo will play three games in Louisville and three at Indianapolis before the All-Star break.

"It's a division foe, and we battled with them a lot last year, too," Kevin Hooper said of the Indianapolis series. "We know we're going to face them a lot down the road."

YOUNG IN TOLEDO? Yesterday outfielder Dmitri Young began to work out in Lakeland, Fla., in an effort to return to the parent Tigers.

The plan is for Young to get into "game-playing" shape over the next 7-to-10 days, then report to the Mud Hens. Young then is expected to stay with Toledo until he is ready for major-league action.

But that timetable doesn't assure that Young will play many, if any, games at Fifth Third Field.

Young probably won't report to the Mud Hens until the middle of next week, when the team will be in the midst of its road trip to Louisville and Indianapolis. After the three-day All-Star Break, the Hens will play eight more road games, including four in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and four in Pawtucket.

The Mud Hens won't return to Fifth Third Field until Friday, July 21, when they host Durham - and Dmitri's younger brother, Delmon - in the first game of a four-game series.

But that date is roughly two full weeks after Dmitri Young is expected to join the team, meaning he may have had enough time to earn a promotion to Detroit.

ALL-STAR TICKETS: The Mud Hens will sell a limited number of tickets packages for the Triple-A All-Star Game starting today at noon.

The tickets, which will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis, are from the allotment previously reserved for Minor League Baseball, the International League and the Pacific Coast League.

Each package includes one ticket to the Fan Fest, which will be held at the SeaGate Centre July 8-12; one ticket to the Home Run Derby on July 10; and one ticket to the All-Star Game on July 12.

The packages cost $95 apiece.

The Mud Hens also have a limited number of tickets available for the Home Run Derby at a cost of $35 per ticket.

Tickets can be purchased at the Mud Hens box office or by calling (419) 725-HENS (4367).

THREE-DOT DATA: For the third straight night Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski watched the Mud Hens play. With their first-inning singles last night, both Kevin Hooper and Ryan Raburn extended their current hit streak to eight games. That ties Hooper's longest consecutive hit streak this season, while Raburn already has a streak of 13 games. David Espinosa also singled in the first to extend his hit streak to seven games, his longest this year.



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