Things are starting to come together for the Mud Hens pitching staff.
But don't blame Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin if he wants to cross his fingers or knock on wood when he thinks about it.
"It's nice, but remember where we're at -- it could change any day," he said. "There may be a rainout, there's a doubleheader [in Gwinnett] next Friday, something might happen with the big club, or one of our guys [gets hurt], and this all changes."
The Mud Hens rank tenth in the 14-team International League in team ERA with a 3.82 mark despite having used 20 pitchers in 27 games this season.
By comparison, last year Toledo used 30 pitchers in 144 games.
The Hens also have already used 10 starters, which caused some early season stress on the bullpen. Nevin explained that minor-league starters, especially at the Triple-A level, often are behind on building up innings in the first month of the season.
"Some of the guys aren't stretched out, and some guys are throwing in the bullpen in big-league camp," he said. "So you build up pitch counts from 75 pitches to 90.
"Most of our starters are close to full-go now."
That has helped Nevin start to place his bullpen pitchers into roles. The most obvious role is that of Chris Bootcheck, who had three saves in the four-game Pawtucket series and is tied for the IL lead with six saves this season.
"It's safe to say [Chris] Bootcheck is going to close out games," Nevin said.
Nevin said he has been impressed with the work lefty Darin Downs has done in the Hens' pen.
"I like the way he goes about his business," Nevin said of Downs, who has allowed just seven hits in 8⅔ scoreless innings, striking out 13, and not allowing a walk.
Another pitcher who is throwing well for Toledo is right-hander Jose Ortega, who has given up just two hits and a walk in his last five innings, striking out six in that span.
"His last couple of games, he has been really good," Nevin said of Ortega. "It's not just velocity; he's throwing in the strike zone, the slider has been good, and he's working on a split-finger pitch.
"Jose has done a lot of work to get better. And I've started to see that he likes to pitch while in the fire. He responds well in tough spots."
ROUGH ROAD: Life on the road for any International League team can be tough, but things will be especially rough for Pawtucket the next few days.
The Red Sox bussed from Toledo to Batavia, N.Y., on Saturday, a distance of roughly 340 miles. Pawtucket played a game against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in Batavia on Saturday, then will play the Yankees in Rochester today -- the game was moved because Andy Pettitte is starting for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre -- before bussing roughly 385 miles to begin a homestand Monday.
HEAD'S HAND: Jerad Head broke a bone in his hand swinging at a pitch Tuesday and was placed on the disabled list.
Head will have surgery on the hand Tuesday and is expected to miss 6-to-8 weeks.
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