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On the strength of a strong pitching start from left-hander Duane Below, the Mud Hens ended a four-game losing streak Friday night by hanging on for a 2-1 International League baseball victory over the Louisville Bats before an announced crowd of 4,209 at Fifth Third Field.
Below (1-0), who spent the bulk of his time with the parent Detroit Tigers last season, allowed two hits and one earned run over 6 1/3 innings in his second start of the season.
“I wanted to go as far as I could and try to get as many outs as I could,” said Below, a Britton, Mich., native. “The defense picked me up a lot. I was able to mix my pitches and keep them off balance. I give credit to [catcher Bryan] Holaday. We had an opportunity to face them at Louisville, and we wanted to stick to the same game plan and continue to attack, and make them get themselves out. Tonight we were able to do that.”
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Below threw 56 of his 82 pitches for strikes, and walked none before being relieved by Jose Ortega in the seventh.
“That’s when he’s good, when he’s able to keep the ball down, and able to change speeds,” Hens manager Phil Nevin said. “The angle on his fastball, when he keeps it down at the knees, is a really good pitch. He was able to spot that tonight.”
The Hens (2-7) got their only two runs in the third inning. Holaday hit a solo home run over the left field wall, and Quintin Berry plated Argenis Diaz with a two-out single to center off Bats starter Pedro Villarreal.
Louisville (5-4) got its only run in the seventh inning after Below departed.
“He could’ve gone a little more, but I had Jose up [throwing in bullpen] and their No. 4 and 5 hitters are big right-handers, so I just felt that was our best chance right there. Duane didn’t start consistently last year, so I’m probably going to err on the side of caution with him for a little while until his pitch count gets built up. That was just my choice.”
Neftali Soto greeted Ortega with an RBI double up the gap in right-center, but Ortega retired the next five batters he faced. Hens closer Bruce Rondon was greeted in the ninth inning by Billy Hamilton’s bunt single, but retired the final three batters to record his first save.
Below opened the game by retiring the first 14 batters he faced before Louisville’s Felix Perez singled to center.
Despite spending much of the season in Detroit last year, Below did not make the opening-day roster this year for the Tigers. For the time being, although he is putting that setback out of his daily thoughts, his mind remains fixed on earning a recall.
“You grow up wanting to be in the big leagues, and then you get a taste of it, and it just makes you hungrier,” Below said. “I didn’t make it. I didn’t have a great spring, but I’m excited to be in Toledo with these guys.”
NOTES: Eight current Mud Hens, plus six members of the team’s staff, received American League championship rings from the Detroit Tigers organization prior to Friday’s game. Honored with rings for their participation with the 2012 Tigers were pitchers Below, Casey Crosby, Luis Marte, Ortega, and Luke Putkonen, catcher Holaday, infielder Danny Worth, and outfielder Berry. Hens manager Phil Nevin and coaches A.J. Sager and Leon Durham also received rings from Detroit, which lost to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com, 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.