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Published: Wednesday, 4/6/2011

Toledo sets starting lineup

Mud Hen's infielder Scott Thorman tosses a practice ball back toward home. Toledo begins the season Thursday at Louisville. Mud Hen's infielder Scott Thorman tosses a practice ball back toward home. Toledo begins the season Thursday at Louisville.
Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin bats during infield practice. Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin bats during infield practice.

A few rogue snow flurries fell at Fifth Third Field Tuesday as the Mud Hens prepared to take their 2011 team photo.

Manager Phil Nevin and his staff hope that is the biggest problem his young team faces as it makes its final adjustments for the new season, which begins Thursday when the Hens play at Louisville starting at 6:35 p.m.

Tuesday , Toledo got in a brief workout at the ballpark after Nevin held a team meeting to go over signs and discuss other team topics.

Nevin announced his rotation as well as his batting order for that first game against the Bats.

Left-hander Andy Oliver, one of Detroit's top pitching prospects, will start in Louisville. He will be followed by right-hander Thad Weber and then three lefties: Charlie Furbush, Duane Below, and Adam Wilk.

Is there an advantage to having four southpaws in the rotation?

"There is an advantage if they're good," Nevin said, then smiled. "And all four of these guys are good.

"I can't tell you how they will balance out for this season, but all four of these guys have a chance to be really good."

The quintet also is young. Weber, at 26, is the oldest, while Below is 25, Furbush is 24, and both Oliver and Wilk are 23.

"I'm not big on worrying about stuff like that," Nevin said when asked if the youth of the rotation might be a problem. "If you can pitch, you can pitch. And they all can pitch."

Nevin said the situation in the bullpen isn't as clear cut.

"I have some ideas, but I don't have a set person to be the closer or the set-up men," he said. "There's nothing mapped out right now, but we'll go through a feeling-out process over the next two or three weeks, and I'm sure this will get sorted out."

Toledo has a young pitching staff, with only two of the 12 pitchers older than 26 years old: right-hander Chris Oxspring is 33 while lefty Fu-Te Ni is 28.

The 12 active position players on the roster are young as well: only one is older than 30, and that is 35-year-old outfielder Timo Perez. All but three players — Perez, first baseman Scott Thorman (29), and catcher Jeff Kunkel (28) — are 27 years old or younger.

Kunkel was added to the Mud Hens roster to replace catcher Max St-Pierre, who left the team to deal with a "family issue." Kunkel, who was promoted from Double-A Erie to take St-Pierre's spot on the roster, hit .239 in 25 games with Toledo last season.

Toledo will begin the season with four players on the disabled list: catcher Omir Santos suffered a toe injury in spring training, while right-handed pitchers Brooks Brown, Luis Marte, and Jose Ortega are in the extended spring training program in Lakeland, Fla.

Nevin said he did not know when these players would be available, but felt Ortega and Santos were closer to returning than the other two pitchers.

Thursday's game in Louisville is the first of four the Hens will play before traveling to Indianapolis for a two-game series April 11-12.

After a day off, the Mud Hens will open the home portion of the schedule with a doubleheader against Columbus at Fifth Third Field on April 14 starting at 4 p.m.

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com or 419-724-6481.

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