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When Jeff Frazier and his Syracuse teammates came to Fifth Third Field, Frazier knew he would get a chilly reception.
“I knew [being named] the ‘Ice Cream Strikeout Player’ was coming,” Frazier said with a smile. “But I’ve only got 36 strikeouts this year.
“If they do that again, the people of Toledo aren’t going to get much ice cream.”
Frazier played a key role in two rallies Monday that helped the Chiefs claim an 8-3 win over the Mud Hens. And other than getting the ice cream treatment Saturday, the former Hen has been treated warmly.
“From the walk to the ballpark from the hotel, there were people welcoming me back,” he said. “That’s why I miss this town.
“I thought I heard a few claps from the crowd when I got my first hit, and that put a smile on my face.”
Last season Frazier was named to the International League’s postseason all-star team after tying for third in the league with 25 homers and leading the Hens with 73 RBIs. But instead of re-signing with the Tigers, the 28-year-old from New Jersey signed with Washington.
“The Tigers wanted me back very badly, but there were some other teams in there,” Frazier said. “It came down to opportunity.
“I saw what Detroit had, and I saw what the Nationals had, and Washington was a much better fit for me.”
Frazier hit .389 with a pair of homers and six RBIs in spring training, but he was a late cut by the Nationals and sent to Syracuse. That’s one of the reasons he started slowly, with his average reaching .140 at one point early in the season.
“The numbers are rough,” he said. “I had a terrible, terrible start, there’s no way around that.
“I had a good spring with the major-league team and was hoping to make that team. But when I got sent down it was a little bit of a shock, and I think I carried that into the season.”
The poor start explains Frazier’s current average of .202 in 89 games.
“I think a lot of [Frazier’s slow start] was wanting to go out and impress a new team,” Syracuse manager Randy Knorr said. “He’s putting up better at-bats now, and he has a lot of extra-base hits.
“He’s a fighter — he hasn’t given up on himself. And he’s a fun guy to have around.”
Monday night the Chiefs took the lead on home runs by Roger Bernadina in the first and Matt Antonelli in the third. Things fell apart for Hens starter Andy Oliver in the fifth.
He gave up a double to Frazier and walked two batters to load the bases before giving up run-scoring hits to Chris Marrero and Jesus Valdez.
“But we never got the big hit, and they made some great plays on defense.”
Frazier drew a walk in the sixth off Hens reliever Luis Marte and scored, finishing 1-for-4 with a walk and two runs scored.
“Coming back was a lot more mental,” Frazier said. “I’m used to playing in front of a lot of people [in Toledo], so that was a fun part to playing here.
“And the field in Syracuse is pretty big, so that can get you mentally.
“I got back to being me. I’m just seeing the ball and hitting the ball now instead of thinking. I got to thinking too much, and that’s not good for me. I want to see it and hit it.”
Meanwhile the Hens offense struggled. After scoring a first-inning run in five of the previous six home games, Toledo got a leadoff double from Will Rhymes and a walk to Brandon Inge Monday night. But back-to-back strikeouts by Timo Perez and Ryan Strieby, followed by a groundout by Jeff Salazar, kept the Hens off the scoreboard.
“I think [not scoring] gave them a boost,” Nevin said. “Perez and Strieby have been hitting well for us lately. They didn’t get it done in those at-bats, but they’re human, and they’ll bounce back.”
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6481.