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Published: Saturday, 5/24/2008

Vasquez back on track: Hens' starter turns in gem to knock off Louisville

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

There were mechanical issues for Mud Hens pitcher Virgil Vasquez to address, but more than anything, last night's outing was about building confidence.

Vasquez was able to get that confidence boost - and start working on some of those other items - in Toledo's 6-0 triumph over Louisville.

The previous two starts were not kind to Vasquez. He was touched for four runs over five innings in Game 1 of a doubleheader against Charlotte on May 10 and was rocked for six runs (five earned) in three innings against Durham on May 16.

With an ERA that had swelled to 7.08, Vasquez - the Hens' opening day starter - needed a quality start. He did better than that last night, scattering eight hits and striking out four in seven innings.

"This was a huge game," Vasquez said. "To have my team behind me, my family in from California and St. Louis, everyone's supporting me with this little rut I'm in. Everyone was pretty stoked for me tonight."

Vasquez, who came off the disabled list May 5 after a bout with shoulder tendinitis, also said he made a conscious effort to pitch lower in the strike zone. Hens manager Larry Parrish noted that Vasquez threw more breaking balls and changeups, which helped him work out of some jams.

The Bats had the first hitter reach base in six of Vasquez's seven innings, but they squandered opportunities by pounding Vasquez's dipping and diving pitches into the ground for outs.

Toledo reliever Francis Beltran, who gave up nine runs on 11 hits in his last five appearances, followed Vasquez and retired all six hitters he faced.

The Hens now lead Louisville by four games in the International League West.

"This was a good night because a couple of guys who were scuffling got going a little bit," Parrish said.

The Hens (32-17) have yet to go two consecutive games without a homer this season. After being held homerless Thursday, they responded with three balls over the fence last night.

Mike Hessman hit his IL-leading 19th homer to lead off the sixth inning against Louisville starter Tom Shearn. Timo Perez homered with two outs in the sixth, and Brent Clevlen smacked a two-run homer in the eighth.

"That's an amazing statistic," Parrish said of his team's ability to hit a homer at least every other game. "I don't care what kind of home run club you are, that's pretty good."

For those keeping track, Toledo now has 88 homers this year and is on pace to hit an IL-record 259.

Hessman, batting .192 (5-for-26) in his previous eight games, had three hits. Clevlen had two hits and has now reached base in 29 straight games, but he was more happy for Vasquez.

"He had a few starts that were normally not like Virgil, but he kept his head up and kept battling," Clevlen said. "He did a heck of a job tonight. The way he pitched against that team, it would build anyone's confidence."

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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