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Published: Saturday, 4/19/2008

Bonine in groove for Hens

BY TOM ROBINSON
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Eddie Bonine does not know what it is like to lose a game at the Class AAA level.

If he continues to pitch the way he did last night - and the Toledo Mud Hens continue the type of hitting they showed again - it may be a while before Bonine finds out.

Bonine (3-0) took a shutout into the eighth inning while winning for the fifth time in five career Class AAA appearances as the Mud Hens handled the Lehigh Valley IronPigs 8-3 in an International League game.

"It just works out this way," said Bonine, who won for Portland in one relief appearance in 2006 and won his Hens debut with eight strong innings last Aug. 31. "These guys are swinging the bats and have done that all year. The pressure's off when you have five or six runs."

Bonine had a lead before taking the mound. In three starts, the league's top offense has backed him with 11, 6, and 8 runs. The 26-year-old right-hander put the strong support to good use yesterday, also taking advantage of the defensive play of his infielders.

Bonine struck out four without walking a batter and got 17 of the other 20 outs on groundballs.

"That's the plan," said Bonine, who threw 60 of 92 pitches for strikes. "I try to go after guys and get them to hit it on the ground."

Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish said Bonine has been even more impressive than his perfect record and 2.79 ERA would indicate.

The bullpen allowed two of Bonine's runners to score in his first start and both runs came in last night on eighth-inning groundouts after the Mud Hens had built an 8-0 lead.

Bonine has been making the most of his first extended time above Class AA where he was second in the Eastern League with 14 wins for Erie last season.

"Obviously this was the goal going into spring training, but you never know with veteran guys coming down," Bonine said. "It's a challenge. It's only three starts into a long season.

"I have to continue to try to get better."

The offense can't get much better. It is averaging 5.4 runs per game with 23 home runs in the 10-5 start.

After doubles in three straight games, cleanup hitter Jeff Larish went 2-for-5 with an RBI to improve his average to .293. Matt Joyce matched Larish for the team lead when he hit his fifth homer in the seventh inning as part of a 2-for-4 night with two runs and two RBIs.

"It's funny with youngsters like Larish and Joyce," Parrish said. "It's their first year [in AAA]. We thought they had talent, but didn't know if they might struggle a little bit until they got their feet on the ground."

Eight of the nine Mud Hens batters had hits yesterday and each of the eight also had either a run or an RBI as the team wrapped up the four-game series by winning the final three.

The Mud Hens will be home tonight and tomorrow to face Louisville in games that will match two of the league's hottest teams. Virgil Vasquez (1-1, 5.63) is scheduled to start tonight against Homer Bailey (2-1, 1.42).

The Mud Hens also will have two more pitchers with them. Francis Beltran returns to the team from Detroit and will take a vacant spot on the active roster. A move will have to be made to clear space for Francis Beltran, who won 10 games for the Mud Hens in 2007.



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