At this time a year ago, Chris Shelton was the toast of baseball.
Shelton opened the season in Detroit by setting an American League record with seven home runs in his first nine games. He connected for two home runs twice in his first three games and finished the month of April with a .326 batting average, 10 homers and 20 RBIs.
So what is Chris Shelton doing in Toledo today?
The same thing the rest of the Mud Hens are doing - preparing for Toledo's home opener against Durham at Fifth Third Field that begins at 5:30 p.m., and working to earn a promotion to the parent Tigers.
"I just want to play well," Shelton said. "You just want to go out there and produce. It doesn't matter where you're at, you just want to produce and help the team win.
"Since I'm here [in Toledo] I want to help this team win. But the ultimate goal is to get to Detroit."
Shelton's scintillating start last season was the high point of a roller-coaster ride that saw him hit just .205 in 24 June games and slam just six home runs after his 10-homer April. By August the Tigers had traded for Sean Casey and sent the 26-year-old Shelton to Toledo, where his struggles continued.
Shelton batted just .266 in 28 games with the Hens, and he struck out 17 times in his final 34 at-bats. He was recalled to Detroit in September but did not play for the Tigers in their playoff and World Series run.
The return of Casey and the trade for Gary Sheffield gave Shelton little chance to make the Tigers' opening day roster this spring. But the right-handed Shelton tried to make the decision difficult, hitting .388 with a pair of homers and five RBIs in 16 games.
"I knew going in the only thing I could do was make it tough [to send me down]," Shelton said. "I knew there was a pretty good chance I would be down here in Toledo to start the season, but I knew if I played well I might make the decision tough.
"I thought I did everything they asked me to do. It just didn't work out."
Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said Shelton was one of several players whose spring play warranted a spot in Detroit.
"Because we have a better club, some of the players who were sent out would have been with our club in years past," Dombrowski said. "But we're just in a spot where the big-league club is better, and so it's harder to make."
So Shelton has come to Toledo with a positive attitude and produced at the plate, collecting hits in six of his first seven games while batting .375 with a home run and five RBIs.
"I just want to stay consistent," Shelton said. "I thought I had a great spring, and I just want to keep that going and build off of that.
"If you just go in and play hard and do what you're supposed to, if the situation comes up [the Tigers] won't hesitate to pull the trigger [and call you up]."
Mud Hens' hitting coach Leon "Bull" Durham noted that moving Shelton into the second slot in the batting order might help Shelton become a consistent hitter again.
"We're working on staying positive and staying within his abilities," Durham said. "We're working on trying to cover the strike zone better.
"He has a tendency to try and do a little too much. If he stays within his limits, he can still be the slugger we saw last April. He can do a lot of things."
The Tigers insist that Shelton is in the team's long-term plans. And while Shelton may never recreate the success he had last April, he might become a hitter similar to Casey, who doesn't hit for power but compensates with high batting and on-base percentages.
"He's going to hit," Durham said of Shelton. "We just need to keep his mind as clear as possible. He can't be guessing or looking for breaking balls.
"He just has to look for the ball and hit it."
NEW YORK - Philadelphia infielder Hector Made was suspended for 50 games yesterday for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance under baseball's minor league program.
Made became the third minor leaguer suspended under the drug program this year.
Oakland pitcher Leonard Landeros was suspended for 50 games April 6 for testing positive for a drug of abuse and Maikol Mesa, who had been with the Cincinnati Reds organization, was suspended for 50 games on Jan. 3.
There were 37 suspensions under the program last year - 32 for performance-enhancing drugs and five for drugs of abuse.
Under the major league program, there were just three suspensions last year: New York Mets pitcher Yusaku Iriki, former Arizona pitcher Jason Grimsley and Mets reliever Guillermo Mota, who is serving his 50-game penalty at the start of this season.40.71455 -74.00713