The Mud Hens have enjoyed all the stability of a three-legged lawn chair this season, and Thursday night was no different.
They plodded on 21 players strong, without a replacement for their best hitter, best prospect, and best reliever. Toledo remained without a fill-in for Avisail Garcia, who was traded Tuesday to the White Sox, while outfielder Nick Castellanos and power-armed right-hander Jose Ortega were on paternity leave.
Castellanos and his wife welcomed a baby boy while Ortega was with his wife in Toledo to greet a girl.
“Everybody’s good and healthy,” manager Phil Nevin said.
PHOTO GALLERY: Mud Hens drop match to Bulls
Back at Fifth Third Field, a Hens team in flux fittingly turned to their one true constant this season.
Starter Jose Alvarez continued on as usual in Toledo’s 2-1 loss to the league-leading Durham Bulls — a performance perhaps as predictable as the final score.
Even as the losses mount for the last-place Hens, the 24-year-old left-hander has endured as a silver lining. Alvarez carried a one-hitter through five scoreless innings before slipping in the sixth, allowing three walks and a pair of singles as the Bulls went ahead 2-1. In all, he was tagged for two runs on three hits and four walks, raising his ERA to 2.68.
The Hens, meanwhile, had little to show for pushing around 14-game winner J.D. Martin. The Bulls left-hander allowed one run on nine hits over six innings.
“[Alvarez] has been consistent all year, and he really was again tonight,” Nevin said after the Hens’ fourth straight loss. “He just kind of lost command of the zone there for a couple of hitters. But he pitched his butt off.”
For Alvarez, the night marked marked his latest strong outing in a season filled with them. He has now allowed three earned runs or less in 17 of his 18 starts with the Hens.
“Today, I had a couple walks and struggled a little bit there, but that happens some games,” Alvarez said. “I take the loss, but will keep working tomorrow. ... It’s been a good season for me.”
One that’s come out of deep left field, too.
Signed by the Tigers as a minor-league free agent after he was released by the Marlins last offseason, he had not pitched above the Double-A level before this year, and was 14-20 the past two seasons.
Now Alvarez (7-5), whose style tilts more toward finesse than flash, is the Hens’ ace and the most likely pitcher to be summoned — again — if Detroit needs an emergency starter. He made four starts for the Tigers earlier this season.
Through five innings Thursday, he allowed only a single that skipped past third baseman Danny Worth. Alvarez retired the lead-off man in the sixth before becoming untracked by a walk and a bloop single.
Alvarez then allowed a game-tying single to Jason Bourgeois and walked the next two Durham hitters to nudge the go-ahead run home.
Reliever Jeremy Bonderman, who relieved Alvarez with one out and the bases loaded, induced back-to-back shallow flyouts to prevent further damage.
“[Alvarez] deserved a better fate than that,” Nevin said.
“We had our chances to score. We just didn’t get that big hit tonight.”
As for whether reinforcements are on the way, Nevin said he had gotten word. Castellanos and Ortega are expected to return this weekend.
“We have 10 healthy [position players], and knock on wood, we haven’t had an injury to affect anything,” Nevin said. “This is a lineup we played earlier in the year. The only guy that’s missing really is Nick. We’re fielding a healthy team.
“We’re fine. You’re not going to just make moves for [the sake of making moves]. At this level, you don’t really make a ton of moves anyway.”
EXTRA INNINGS: Longtime Hens trainer Matt Rankin celebrated his 42nd birthday Thursday. ... Attendance for the game was 8,562.