The Mud Hens season continued its downward spiral as Toledo suffered a 3-1 loss to Louisville at Fifth Third Field Sunday.
The Hens wasted a strong pitching performance by starter Casey Crosby by collecting just three hits, barely avoiding a shutout by scratching out a run in the ninth without benefit of a hit.
As a result, Toledo suffered its fifth straight loss, as well as its ninth in the last 10 games. Worse, the Mud Hens fell to 42-68 this season, giving them sole possession of the worst record in the International League.
"This team needs a win -- we need to string a few wins together," Crosby said. "This is a great group of guys, and they never give up.
"We just ran into a [pitcher] who was on his game. Everybody is trying their best, and that's all you can ask."
Crosby did his part, giving up just three hits and two walks in eight impressive innings. Crosby struck out five and allowed only one runner past second base.
"I used more off-speed pitches than usual because both were working," he said. "There was a vast improvement in my change-up from my last start, and I trusted it more.
"It was down in the zone, and I was able to get a lot of ground balls with it."
Crosby's only "mistake" came in the fourth, when Louisville's Didi Gregorius led off the inning with a long home run to right, his fifth with the Bats.
"We started him off trying to get a fastball over the plate, and he fouled it off," Crosby said. "Then I tried to go inside on him, and he had a good swing.
"Maybe I could have gone inside a little more, but that's hindsight, and hindsight is 20/20. I'm glad I was able to shut them out after that."
Crosby's strong start was the second in as many days for the Hens. Combined with Adam Wilk's impressive effort Saturday, a haggard Toledo bullpen was given two days of rest after covering extensive innings at Columbus the previous three days.
"That's two nights in a row [we got great starts]," Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said. "Just because we got a great start from Adam Saturday doesn't mean the bullpen was out of the woods.
"This game clears us, and we'll be healthy down there for the most part."
Crosby said giving the bullpen a break was part of his motivation Sunday.
"I wanted to pick my teammates up," he said. "My last start in Columbus we were pretty thin out there and I only went four innings, so I wanted to make sure I threw strikes. I'm happy I was able to go eight and save the bullpen a little bit."
The problem for Crosby was that Louisville starter Chad Reineke was a shade better. The Ayersville High School grad allowed just two hits and one walk while fanning nine in 7⅓ innings.
"I made some good pitches when I had to, and I made them put the ball in play early," Reineke said. "I didn't feel that strong physically, but I was able to change speeds well.
"And the defense was great behind me. I didn't feel my stuff was that great, but it was a night where they just weren't on my pitches."
Reineke retired the first nine batters he faced before Justin Henry's bunt single to lead off the fourth. Danny Worth tripled in the fifth but was stranded there, and Toledo didn't have any other good opportunity to score until the eighth.
In that inning, Danny Dorn walked, was sacrificed to second by Worth, then took third on a single by Matt Young -- with Young taking second on an errant throw to third.
With the infield back, essentially conceding the run, Bryan Holaday hit a high hopper to shortstop that Gregorius grabbed on the run and threw to home, where Bats catcher Dioner Navarro blocked Dorn off the plate and tagged him out.
"The infield was back, and the ball wasn't hit very hard," Nevin said of that play. "I'm not sure what happened there."
Louisville added a pair of runs in the ninth off Collin Balester when Navarro doubled and Cody Puckett hammered a two-run homer, his second home run in as many days.
Those insurance runs proved valuable in the bottom of the ninth when Henry walked, took second on defensive indifference, moved to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Argenis Diaz.
NOTES: The Tigers optioned LHP Drew Smyly to Toledo after their game in Toronto Sunday. Smyly will enter the Hens' rotation and start Tuesday in place of RHP Thad Weber, whose start will be pushed back to Thursday. LHP Ramon Garcia was sent to Double-A Erie to make room for Smyly on the Toledo roster. … OF Andy Dirks was 0-for-4 Sunday and is batting .174 in seven games of a rehab assignment with the Hens. … Among those at the game were two former Tiger pitchers, Denny McLain and Frank Tanana. McLain was signing autographed copies of his book, I Never Said I Was Perfect, while Tanana was the featured speaker for the pregame "Home Plate" event. … Sunday's crowd of 9,019 was the Mud Hens' 19th sellout this season and sixth in a row at home. It also was the 316th sellout in Fifth Third Field history.
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.