JETTA FRASER / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo
By the time you read this, Mud Hens Mike Hessman and Blaine Neal will have left Toledo to begin their odyssey with the U.S. Olympic baseball team.
You ll excuse Toledo manager Larry Parrish if he s not excited about it.
Oh, he s pleased that Hessman and Neal will get a chance to enjoy that once-in-a-lifetime experience. But Parrish and the Hens lost two players shortstop Danny Klassen and pitcher Adrian Burnside to the Olympics in 2004, and that didn t work out very well.
That year we didn t get hit: We were blindsided, Parrish said. In a span of three or four days we lost [Nook] Logan and [Marcus] Thames, who were hitting first and third. [Joe] Vitiello, our fourth hitter, left the team and [Andy] Barkett, who was hitting fifth, got a rib injury.
Then Klassen, who was hitting sixth, left for the Olympics. And we were dead in the water.
Indeed. The Hens, who began the month of August in first place in the IL s West Division, won just six of their last 34 games and finished with the worst record in the International League at 65-78.
God I hope [we don t repeat that], because that was the longest month I ever spent in the game, Parrish said.
How will the parent Tigers replace Hessman and Neal? With a couple of players from Double-A Erie, as pitcher Casey Fien and shortstop Danny Worth will join the Hens today for their noon contest against Pawtucket.
Fien is 3-3 with 12 saves and a 2.96 ERA as the SeaWolves closer, but he s not expected to take over for Neal, the IL leader with 25 saves, as the Mud Hens closer.
Right now we ll probably give a couple guys a chance [to close], Parrish said. [Francis] Beltran will get a chance, and [Francisco] Cruceta will get a chance. It will be a matter of who takes [the job].
Worth, 22, began last season in Single-A Lakeland before playing for Erie in the playoffs.
This season Worth hit .254 with five homers and 33 RBIs in 79 games for the SeaWolves. Much of that action came before a shoulder injury that occurred near the end of June; Worth has played in five games since the injury, and Parrish said he will start at shortstop for Toledo today and tomorrow.
We ll give him a couple of days, then see where he s at physically, Parrish said. Hopefully he ll be ready to take a majority of the games at shortstop.
What we ll do at third base is more of a question. We ll need somebody to step up.
The possibilities include Kody Kirkland, who played in 73 games at third for Erie and hit .244 with seven homers and 40 RBIs before a promotion to Toledo July 18, and infielders Erick Almonte and Derek Wathan.
Almonte has played in nine games at third for the Hens this season, while Jeff Larish has played there four times.
Wathan has not played third for the Hens this season, but he did make 28 starts at third for Triple-A Omaha last season.
There s no way we can replace his bat [in the lineup], Parrish said of Hessman. There s no one out there who s going to replace 30 homers. And it s going to be tough to replace his defense.
We just want the guy who replaces him to be solid. Hopefully we ll be able to get contributions from the guys who replace him.