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Published: Thursday, 4/10/2008

Shorter swing pays for Clevlen in Mud Hens victory

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Matt Joyce (20) congratulates Erick Almonte after Almonte hit one of the Mud Hens' fours home runs last night against Charlotte. Matt Joyce (20) congratulates Erick Almonte after Almonte hit one of the Mud Hens' fours home runs last night against Charlotte.
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The Detroit Tigers told Brent Clevlen during spring training to shorten his swing.

To adhere to that directive, the Mud Hens left fielder said he dropped his hands slightly in his stance, which he said allows him to more quickly get his bat to the point of contact.

Clevlen's swing to lead off the fourth inning last night was short and sweet, and the result was a long home run in the Hens' 10-3 victory over the Charlotte Knights.

Clevlen's shot, off Charlotte starter Tomo Ohka, was his first of the season and one of four Toledo homers.

But Clevlen's path from Triple-A to the majors doesn't necessarily have to be marked by moon shots like the one he hit over the left-field wall last night. He can punch his ticket more by staying away from the result of his at-bat in the fifth inning, when he struck out.

"He has to be more consistent," said Tigers minor league hitting coordinator Toby Harrah. "He has to hit the fastball, and he has to be a better two-strike hitter. The big thing for him in those situations is to put the ball in play."

Clevlen has struck out at least 110 times every year since 2003, and last year whiffed 120 times in 332 at-bats between Toledo and Detroit.

He spent most of his time with the Hens last year, batting .220 with seven homers, 36 RBIs and 113 strikeouts in 90 games. A broken finger caused him to miss almost two months.

Clevlen said he had a "rough year" last year, which is why he says he's not upset that the Tigers' final roster spot this spring went to Clete Thomas - who had never played above Double-A before - instead of him.

"If I would've had a good year last year, maybe I would be [upset], but instead I just asked what I have to do to be up there," Clevlen said.

With last night's 1-for-4 performance, Clevlen is now batting .346 with six RBIs and seven strikeouts. He's tied with Mike Hessman and Derek Wathan for the team lead with nine hits.

Clevlen, 24, made his major league debut on July 30, 2006, with the Tigers in Minnesota. He doubled in his first at-bat against one of the game's best pitchers - Johan Santana - but he said there was a moment he relished even more from his debut.

Clevlen was playing center field in the first inning when a fly ball came his way with a runner on third base. He said that runner - Luis Castillo - tried to tag up and score, but Clevlen threw him out from center.

"Everything about that first day was pretty special," Clevlen said.

Clevlen is considered by Baseball America to have the best throwing arm in the Tigers' organization, and he said he was clocked throwing 95 mph as a pitcher in high school.

He batted .282 with three homers in 31 games with the Tigers in 2006, and is trying to show that he has learned from the tough times last year brought.

"I had success right off the bat [with Detroit] and I know I have the ability to play there," Clevlen said. "It's just a matter of being more consistent. I wasn't consistent last year."

Clevlen was joined in hitting a homer last night by Ryan Raburn, Jeff Larish and Erick Almonte.

Raburn, who also homered Tuesday night, ripped a three-run shot in the fourth that put the Hens up 8-3 and knocked Ohka [0-1] from the game. Raburn singled and doubled in his first two at-bats.

Larish's solo blast in the second inning was his International League-leading fourth homer, and Almonte's two-run shot in the fifth was his first this season.

The Hens have 12 homers as a team, which is also tops in the IL.

Toledo starting pitcher Armando Galarraga (2-0) allowed three runs on four hits in seven innings.

He retired the last 11 hitters he faced.

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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