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Published: Sunday, 7/15/2007

Mud Hens can't handle 2006 version of Phillips

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Mud Hens manager Mike Rojas lets umpire R.J. Thompson know that he doesn't agree with a strike call last night against David Espinosa in the ninth inning. Mud Hens manager Mike Rojas lets umpire R.J. Thompson know that he doesn't agree with a strike call last night against David Espinosa in the ninth inning.
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For much of this season Charlotte's Heath Phillips didn't pitch as well as he did last season, when he was voted the top pitcher in the International League.

Much to the chagrin of the Mud Hens, Phillips chose last night to pitch as well as he did last season, when he was 13-5 and had a 2.96 ERA. The left-hander, who entered last night's game with a 6-7 record and 5.37 ERA, allowed just two hits in seven innings in the Knights to a 3-2 victory at Fifth Third Field.

"He did a nice job of mixing his pitches and keeping us off balance," Mud Hens manager Mike Rojas said. "We only got two hits, and you're not going to win very often when you get just two hits.

"You just tip your cap, come back and try to get on a roll the next day."

The Mud Hens jumped in front with a pair of first-inning runs as David Espinosa worked the lefty for an eight-pitch walk and Timo Perez slammed a one-strike pitch well over the fence in right-center for his 10th home run of the season.

But Toledo did little else against Phillips. Chris Shelton singled with two outs in the first, and the Hens never got another hit against the left-hander, managing just three other baserunners thanks to walks.

"I didn't change much [after the first] because I felt I was kind of pushing the ball in the first and not attacking the strike zone," Phillips said. "I felt confident warming up in the bullpen, so I just tried to relax and do what I knew I could do."

Toledo threatened in the fourth when Shelton worked a walk on seven pitches and Mike Hessman took four straight outside the strike zone to put runners on first and second.

The next batter, Brent Clevlen, hit the ball hard, but directly to shortstop Tomas Perez, who turned it into a rally-killing double play.

In two victories against Toledo this season Phillips has allowed just 10 hits and three runs in 14 innings, walking six and striking out eight. It's a far cry from early in the season, when he gave up five earned runs in his first start and has had an ERA above six before recent improvement.

Mud Hens catcher Andrew Graham chases Jason Bourgeois of Charlotte toward third base in the ninth inning of last night s game at Fifth Third Field.
Graham
tagged out
Bourgeois. Mud Hens catcher Andrew Graham chases Jason Bourgeois of Charlotte toward third base in the ninth inning of last night s game at Fifth Third Field. Graham tagged out Bourgeois.
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"I got roughed up early in the year," Phillips said. "For the past month or so I worked on my mechanics, and recently I've found where I was last year."

Toledo's Jordan Tata matched Phillips for much of the game, allowing just two hits before Charlotte tied the score with a pair of unearned runs in the sixth.

With one out Tomas Perez hit a grounder that bounced off Shelton's glove at first and into right field, allowing Perez to move to second. Danny Richar's grounder moved Perez to third, and Earl Snyder walked to put runners on first and third with two outs.

Tata got two quick strikes on Ryan Sweeney before Sweeney lined a double into the left-center gap that scored both.

"I thought he mixed his pitches well, too," Rojas said of Tata. "He got a couple of pitches up, but most of the night he got the outs he needed to get."

The Knights got the go-ahead run in the seventh thanks to a two-out rally that began with Kenny Kelly's double down the left-field line. Jason Bourgeois then lined a single to left and Kelly steamed to the plate.

The throw by Timo Perez in left beat Kelly to the plate, but catcher Andrew Graham caught the ball behind the base, allowing Kelly to touch home before Graham's diving tag attempt.

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



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