Columbus shortstop Luis Valbuena turns a double play as Toledo's Ben Guez slides into second base in the third inning of Thursday night's game at Fifth Third Field, where the teams will meet again Friday night.
L.J. Gagnier suffered the loss in the Mud Hens' 6-2 defeat at the hands of Columbus at Fifth Third Field Thursday night.But Gagnier deserved a much better fate, based on his performance and the circumstances he faced.
The Tigers promoted Thursday's expected starter, Brayan Villarreal, before the game. And with a Toledo bullpen that had been forced to pitch nine innings the previous two days, there weren't many pitching options available.
But Gagnier did more than pitch six innings for the Hens: He allowed just two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out seven.
"He was great -- he was exactly what we needed," Hens manager Phil Nevin said. "We were thin [in the bullpen], and he was great.
"He even asked to go back out for another inning, but he kept us in the game and just did a great job."
Gagnier, who had been pitching out of the Hens' bullpen since the middle of June, didn't have much time to prepare for the spot start.
"I found out Wednesday night around 11:30 that I was starting," he said. "I had a little advance notice to get physically and mentally ready for it.
"I tried to go about this start the same way I did the 30 starts I've had here before. I was pretty successful here last year, and even though I struggled in my first three starts here [this year], I just tried to get back on track and do what I know I'm capable of doing."
The right-hander didn't allow a Columbus runner past second base until the fourth, when Jerad Head hit his 11th home run of the season. The Clippers' other run came in the sixth when Gagnier walked Tim Fedroff, gave up a hit-and-run single by Paul Phillips that pushed Fedroff to third, and surrendered a bunt single by Ezequiel Carrera that scored the run.
"I threw more off-speed pitches than fastballs, and I was able to throw my off-speed pitches for strikes," Gagnier said. "Whenever you're able to do that, it keeps the hitters off-balance and makes your fastball better.
"I thought my fastball was more deceptive, and I was successful by throwing off-speed for strikes."
The Clippers broke the game open with a four-run seventh off Hens reliever Matt Hoffman. Columbus loaded the bases on Hoffman with no one out, and back-to-back groundouts scored two runs. Jason Kipnis hit a two-out double to plate the other two runs.
"The hits were soft, but the walk hurt," Nevin said of Hoffman's inning.
"It's just a hiccup for Matt. He'll come back and pitch well for us again, I'm sure."
Those six runs were too much for the Mud Hens' offense to overcome against Clippers starter Scott Barnes. The lefty allowed just a single by Ben Guez in the third and a walk to Ryan Strieby in the fifth before Toledo managed two runs against him in the eighth. An error opened the door for the rally, which was capped by a two-run double by Clete Thomas.
Barnes improved to 7-2 this season and now has a 3.40 ERA after giving up just three hits and one earned run in his 7⅓ innings.
"His numbers are where they are at for a reason," Nevin said of Barnes. "He's made a lot of improvements since I saw him last year.
"I had a couple of guys tell me it was hard to pick up the ball, and I'm sure it is with his delivery. He threw a great game."
NOTES: The Tigers called up RHP Lester Oliveros from the Mud Hens before the game. Toledo will receive LHP Chance Ruffin from Double-A Erie to take Oliveros' spot. Ruffin was one of the Tigers' top draft choices last season. ... The Clippers had a bathrobe with "Lewis" and the number 50 on it in the dugout in honor of Jensen Lewis. The former Indians reliever was released June 23 by the Clippers. Columbus has a 3-0 record when the bathrobe is in the dugout.
Contact John Wagner at: email@example.com or 419-724-6481.