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SPT hens20p Brad Eldred, crossing home plate after a walk-off home run in May, led the Hens in homers despite going to Japan in June.
Brad Eldred, crossing home plate after a walk-off home run in May, led the Hens in homers despite going to Japan in June.
TOLEDO BLADE Enlarge
Published: Wednesday, 9/5/2012

Hens struggle to finish

Player turnover, losses mount in dismal season

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The 2012 Mud Hens season ended up being three seasons in one.

Unfortunately, the "middle" season ruined the two seasons that sandwiched it.

Toledo's strong 19-11 start this year was obliterated by the team's 25-52 record in the two-plus months that followed, rendering the "third" season virtually meaningless.

Five things to remember

After a win May 7, the Mud Hens were 19-11. They were alone in first place in the IL West and were tied for the best record in the International League.

Brad Eldred had an amazing April, hitting .388 with 13 homers and 35 RBIs in 20 games. In 63 games he had 24 homers (he tied for third in the IL despite not playing the final two months) and 65 RBIs.

The Mud Hens lost 9-8 on May 18, but Toledo fans got their money's worth. The game included an inside-the-park home run by Eric Patterson and the Hens turning their first triple play since 2007.

The Mud Hens turned into spoilers in August, ruining the chances of Columbus for a three-peat by sweeping a three-game series on the road Aug. 22-24 by a combined score of 32-11.

The Mud Hens played in front of 550,900 fans in 70 home dates, including 33 sellouts. The team's average of 7,870 fans per game ranked fifth in the 14-team league.

Five things to forget

After winning five of seven to start May, the Mud Hens went 6-13 the rest of the month to start a free-fall that knocked them out of the pennant race by August.

The Hens' 6-13 May sounds good compared to the team's 8-21 effort in June. Toledo had a pair of six-game losing streaks in large part because of an offense that hit just .244.

It's not a good sign when the team "improves" to 11-18, the Hens' July record.

On Aug. 5, the Mud Hens and Rochester played the longest game in Fifth Third Field history — a 19-inning game that lasted 6:32 before the Red Wings claimed a 10-9 victory.

On July 17, the Hens trailed Buffalo 10-1 in the bottom of the eighth. Bryan Pounds came on to help the beleaguered bullpen … and gave up six hits, including three home runs, and six runs without getting an out. That's an infinite ERA, folks.

Most valuable player

It would be easy to pick Brad Eldred after his explosive two months in Toledo, but he only played in 63 games. "Justin Henry, for me, has earned that because of the things he has done consistently all year long," manager Phil Nevin said. "The first month of the season he was a role player, but he never complained and kept working hard — and once he got in the lineup every day, it was hard to take him out." Henry finished seventh in the International League with a .300 average and had one home run, 38 RBIs, was sixth in the IL with 72 runs scored, and stole 22 bases.

Most valuable pitcher

Ignore the won-loss record; Adam Wilk ranked among the International League's best starters. "Adam has been our best, most consistent pitcher," Nevin said. "It was a shame we couldn't get him more victories, but he could have won a lot more. He is a routine-oriented guy who never complained, took the ball every five days and performed." Wilk had a 7-11 record but was fourth in the IL with a 2.77 ERA. He struck out 128 and walked 28; his 9.08 baserunners per nine innings led the league; and he ranked fourth among IL starters with a .221 opponents batting average.

—John Wagner

The result was a 60-84 mark that was the second-worst in the International League. The Hens' third consecutive losing season also was the worst team mark since the Mud Hens moved to Fifth Third Field in 2002.

"It's easy to look at wins and losses, but there were a lot of positives this year," Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said. "We had guys go up to the Tigers and contribute.

"The bottom line is that we have a contending team up there [in Detroit] that a lot of our guys have had an impact on."

The Mud Hens did have a number of players begin the season in Toledo, then earn a promotion to Detroit and contribute to the Tigers' success. Among those were outfielder Quintin Berry and pitchers such as Brayan Villarreal and Darin Downs.

The downside was that the constant roster turmoil took its toll on the Hens.

"Early on the team gelled well," pitcher Adam Wilk said. "We weren't pitching well, but our hitters bailed us out of a lot of games.

"In May we started to have some turnover and we had some injuries, and that combination of different lineups and different guys in the bullpen and rotation all made it more difficult to play at the pace we played at early."

By the end of May the Mud Hens already had suffered through 55 transactions, and by season's end the team would make 149 moves involving 60 different players, including 33 position players.

"It was like a light-switching turning from 'on' to 'off,' " Wilk said of the team's struggles that began in May. "I think guys were trying to do too much, either at the plate or on the mound.

"At this level the teams and players are good, teams full of players with experience in the big leagues, and that makes it tough to turn a season around."

It didn't help that the losses included important players such as Brad Eldred, who was the IL's top hitter until he left for Japan in mid-June. "I'm in a big believer in leadership being a big part in how a team responds, especially on the field," Nevin said. "We had that early in the season with Eldred, we had that late in the season with guys like Donny Kelly and John Lindsey."

The Hens limped through an 8-21 June and were 11-18 in July to ruin any chance of making the team's first Governors' Cup playoff appearance since 2007.

"June and July were two of the tougher months I've had in professional baseball in terms of the team's performance," infielder-outfielder Justin Henry admitted. "It seemed like whatever we did, it was the wrong thing.

"We couldn't make the right play. If we were winning late, we couldn't hang on. If we pitched well, we didn't hit, and vice versa."

And the Hens struggled in all three phases of the game. By season's end Toledo ranked next-to-last in the International League in team batting average (.249) and were just eighth in runs scored (606).

On the mound, only three league teams had an ERA worse than the Hens' 4.23 mark. And the team's .977 fielding percentage ranked 12th in the 14-team league and led to 81 unearned runs, the IL's third-highest total.

The "third" season did provide one bright spot: The Mud Hens didn't seem to quit despite having little to play for.

"I didn't know if we would be able to do it because it was late in the year and we weren't playing for much," Henry said of the team's 16-16 finish. "But we had a good group here that kept fighting, kept playing hard, and we were able to turn it around.

"And that made the last month a lot more enjoyable."

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.



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