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Published: Wednesday, 8/1/2007

Mud Hens depth paying off

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Here s a sure sign of the confidence Mud Hens manager Mike Rojas has in his offense: One day after Dane Sardinha hit three home runs in one game, he sat.

Why didn t Sardinha play in Toledo s 8-4 victory over Richmond at Fifth Third Field yesterday, especially when Rojas said after Monday s game that the Hens catcher would be in the lineup?

I wondered if someone was going to ask me that question, Rojas said, smiling broadly. I was feeling greedy [Monday] night. I realized this morning that we had to give Dane a day off and get [Joel] Roa into the lineup.

Turns out Sardinha wasn t needed as the Hens bashed five extra-base hits and used nine walks from Braves pitchers to score eight runs and sweep the four-game series. Six different Hens scored at least one run as everyone but Sardinha s replacement in the lineup, Roa, reached base at least once.

It takes all 24 guys on your roster [to win a title], Rojas said. It s good to see the complete lineup come through to give the offense some help.

It was especially good to see the offense score a large number of runs for the second straight game. The first six games of the just-completed homestand saw Toledo produce 25 runs, but 12 of those tallies came in one contest. The Hens never scored more than four runs in any of the other five games.

One pleasant surprise has been the play of shortstop Erick Almonte, who was promoted from Double-A Erie after the Hens lost middle infielders Ramon Santiago and Kevin Hooper to injury. In his first 16 games in Toledo, Almonte, who has played in the major leagues with the New York Yankees, has hit .314 with 11 RBIs and five runs scored.

Those two guys were doing really well, Almonte said of Santiago and Hooper. I know I can play at this level, and I ve been here before. I m just feeling comfortable in what I m doing. Whatever the team needs me to do to help them win, I m going to do it.

While the offense was a hit-or-miss proposition during the homestand, the pitching and defense were constants as Toledo held Pawtucket and Richmond to a total of 20 runs in eight games.

And one reason the Mud Hens were so successful in shutting down opposing offenses was the team s ability to avoid giving up a crucial hit. In the four-game Richmond series, for example, the Braves had 31 at-bats with a runner in scoring position but managed just four hits.

Yesterday s starter for the Hens, Dennis Tankersley, said the key to success in those situations is to have confidence in your ability.

If a guy gets on and you re not confident in your stuff, you start nibbling, Tankersley said. The next thing you know, it s a big inning.

Very rarely do you go seven innings and give up just two hits you re going to have runners on base. If you only give up one or two runs, that means you made quality pitches when you needed to.

RODNEY WATCH: Tigers RHP Fernando Rodney continued his rehab assignment with the Mud Hens, facing four batters and retiring two on 15 pitches, nine of which were strikes.

Rodney struck out the first batter he faced, Doug Clark, and got a second out on a grounder before giving up back-to-back singles to Wes Timmons and Iker Franco.

When Rodney reached his 15-pitch limit, he was relieved by Jeremy Johnson, who retired Jonathan Schuerholz on a flyout, then pitched the ninth to claim a save.

Rodney is scheduled to pitch one inning for Toledo in Charlotte tonight, and his status will be re-evaluated following his second outing in as many days.

THREE-DOT DATA: Henry Mateo drew three walks yesterday but was hitless in two other at-bats to bring an 11-game hitting streak to an end. Yesterday s crowd of 9,514 was the Mud Hens 27th sellout this season and the 167th in the six-year history of Fifth Third Field.



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