There were some stark contrasts presented in the Mud Hens' 6-0 loss to Columbus at Fifth Third Field Thursday night.
On one hand there was Toledo, which suffered its fourth straight defeat to the Clippers and seventh in a row overall.
That setback dropped the Hens' season record to 30-45, a mark that is better than only one International League team: Norfolk, which lost Thursday night to fall to 29-44, percentage points worse than the Hens.
On the other is Columbus, which won its fifth straight game and 14th of its last 15 to improve to 51-23 on the season.
No team in professional baseball has more victories than the Clippers.
Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said part of the reason for the Clippers success has been their ability to keep key players together for the whole season so far.
"When you can keep a team together, that's huge in the minor leagues," Nevin said. "They've got a lot of good players in their farm system, getting good young players in trades, and they have some good draft picks reach this level in guys like [Lonnie] Chisenhall and [Jason] Kipnis.
"The big-league team in Cleveland has been playing well, and [Columbus] hasn't had to send a lot of key players up. That's a recipe for success at this level."
Columbus manager Mike Sarbaugh said the Clippers have benefitted from the success their parent club in Cleveland has enjoyed this year.
"That has helped with our continuity, and in the clubhouse," Sarbaugh said. "But we had success last year despite having a lot of movement.
"I think any time your big-league club has success, it helps to keep the Triple-A team intact, and that has helped with our success."
It doesn't hurt that the Clippers have two of the IL's top pitchers in Zach McAllister, and Thursday night's starter, Jeanmar Gomez, as well as highly regarding hitting prospects such as Chisenhall, who had eight RBI in the past two games, and Kipnis, whose triple in the first inning Thursday night was the key ingredient in a two-run rally.
"We do have a lot of talent at this level, so that helps," Sarbaugh said. "But we also have depth, and that's a key in Triple-A. When you have a lot of movement, the player who comes in has to fill in well for the player who leaves, and we've been fortunate to have that.
"But our recent success has been because our starting pitching has really been solid."
Gomez was impressive Thursday night, shutting out the Mud Hens on five hits and four walks in eight innings. He didn't allow a Toledo baserunner to reach second until there were two outs in the fourth, and no Hen advanced to third until reliever Nick Hagadone loaded the bases in the ninth.
"That's 15 innings he has shut us out this season when you include the opening day doubleheader," Nevin said of Gomez. "He throws a lot of strikes and gets a lot of ground balls when he needs them. We didn't take many good swings off him, I know that."
Meanwhile the Clippers scored twice in the first off Toledo starter Enrique Gonzalez, who walked five in 4⅔ innings. Gonzalez walked leadoff man Ezequiel Carrera, who raced around the bases to score on the one-out triple by Kipnis. Kipnis came home on a sacrifice fly by Chisenhall.
Gonzalez and reliever L.J. Gagnier followed a Carrera's leadoff single in the fifth by walking the next four hitters to give Columbus two more runs.
The Clippers strung together three hits to score a run off Gagnier in the sixth, and reliever Jose Ortega walked the first batter he faced in the eighth before giving up three hits -- two of the infield variety -- to plate the game's final run.
The trio of Toledo pitchers combined for eight walks.
"They got some runs from the walks, and that's been the case the last few nights," Nevin said. "I expect that we will learn from that and come out and throw strikes.
"We ran into a good arm, and when we feel behind early that usually doesn't work out very well."
NOTES: LHP Adam Wilk rejoined the Mud Hens Thursday and should be activated Friday night when Toledo opens a four-game series with Louisville at Fifth Third Field. Wilk is expected to replace Gonzalez in the Toledo rotation and start Tuesday in Columbus. ... Major League Baseball conducted random drug testing on those Mud Hens on Detroit's 40-man roster before Thursdsay's game. ... Brandon Inge returned to Detroit Thursday and the Tigers sent infielder Danny Worth back to the Hens. Worth is expected to join Toledo Friday night as it begins a four-game series with Louisville at Fifth Third Field.
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6481.