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Phil Nevin didn’t hesitate when asked about his highlight from the Mud Hens’ 2013 season.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Jordan Lennerton received much of the attention early in the season, and Nick Castellanos was the darling of scouts and Tigers fans. But Danny Dorn was the Mud Hens’ top player offensively, posting 82 RBIs to fall one short of leading the International League while tying for fourth in home runs with 25. He also proved to be versatile, spending time at first base and in the outfield.
MOST VALUABLE PITCHER: Left-hander Jose Alvarez began as the Mud Hens’ fifth starter, but it didn’t take him long to move to the top of the rotation. He led the team with eight wins and ranked fourth in the IL in ERA (2.80).
Opponents hit just .235 against the 23-year-old, and he also ranked among the league leaders in strikeouts per nine innings (8.09) and walks per nine (1.79) to earn a spot in Detroit future pitching plans.
BY THE NUMBERS: The Mud Hens played before a total of 560,080 fans, the fifth-best total in the International League and the fourth-best single-season total in Fifth Third Field’s 12-year history. The team’s average of 7,779 fans per game ranked seventh in the 14-team IL and was the franchise’s smallest single-season average since 2004.
HOME SWEET HOME? For the second year in a row the Mud Hens struggled at home, posting a 32-40 record at Fifth Third Field. That mark was not the worst in the International League — Syracuse was 31-41 — and wasn’t as bad as 2012, when Toledo was 28-41.
ONE IS THE LONELIEST: The Mud Hens struggled in one-run games, posting a 17-36 record. The 17 one-run wins was the fewest in the IL: No other league team had more one-run losses.
GO AWAY, RAIN: The Mud Hens ground crew had 32 “tarp pulls,” one of the smaller totals since that statistic was first tracked in 2006. But the Hens battled a wet July that included 14 “pulls” — each time the tarp is put on the field, then taken off, is one “pull” — as well as 10 pulls in an eight-game homestand.
Kudos to head groundskeeper Jake Tyler and his staff: Toledo was the only IL team that didn’t have a rainout.
“There was great camaraderie on this team, especially from the end of May on,” Nevin said. “I thought this was a special group that played hard and really came together those last three months.”
The Mud Hens were roughly a .500 team after June 1 this season. Of course, when you are 20 games under the break-even mark before the month starts, well, .500 just isn’t good enough.
“That was a hole that was just too big to make up,” admitted Nevin, whose contract as Toledo manager will not be renewed after three seasons. “Even when we would play well for two or three weeks, it felt like we couldn’t make a dent in it.”
The Hens stumbled out of the gate, posting a 7-20 record in April as the hitters combined for a .213 batting average, easily the worst in the International League. In May the Hens fared no better than 11-18, and even a seven-game winning streak in mid-June allowed Toledo to come no closer than 10 games under .500 the rest of the season.
The Mud Hens finished with a 61-83 record, one game better than Gwinnett, which had the worst record in the International League. The Hens’ record also is one game better than last year’s team, which posted the franchise’s lowest win total since moving to Fifth Third Field in 2002.
While the won-loss record was poor, Nevin pointed to the number of Mud Hens promoted to Detroit to help the Tigers lead the American League Central. Of the 25 players on Toledo’s Opening Day roster, eight have been promoted while two others also spent time in the majors.
“We have sent a number of players up to the major leagues that have helped in Detroit,” Nevin said. “I’m proud of all the guys who have gone up there and contributed to what I hope is a championship season in Detroit.”
Several hitters had big seasons for the Mud Hens. Highly regarded prospect Nick Castellanos hit .276 with 18 home runs and tied for fourth in the IL with 76 RBIs while leading the league in doubles (37) and runs scored (81). First baseman Jordan Lennerton batted .278 with 17 homers and 57 RBIs and ranked fourth in on-base percentage (.382).
And infielder-outfielder Danny Dorn hit .258 with 25 home runs and 82 RBIs. Dorn tied for fourth in the IL in home runs and fell one short in the RBI crown chase.
“After watching Danny hit this year, I believe he could go to the big leagues and fill a role for some team as a left-handed bat off the bench,” Nevin said. “He can turn around anybody’s fastball.”
The pitching staff was led by Jose Alvarez, who went 8-6 and ranked among the league leaders in ERA (2.80) among other categories. The Hens also sent up a number of young relievers to Detroit, including Jose Ortega (four saves, 1.86 ERA), Luke Putkonen (save, 1.91 ERA), Evan Reed (save, 2.54 ERA) and Bruce Rondon (14 saves, 1.52 ERA).
“Early in the season I watched [pitching coach] A.J. Sager during one of Jose’s bullpen [sessions],” Nevin said. “A.J. pointed out a couple of things he saw, and soon after that Jose took off.”
But the poor start meant there was little to play for, and the near-.500 finish wasn’t enough to save Nevin’s job. That doesn’t mean Nevin doesn’t have some fond memories of his three years in Toledo.
“That send off [after the last home game] was special,” he said. “I didn’t ask the players to win the game for me, and I didn’t expect anything after the game. But the reaction of the players after the game really was special.
“This was a special group of guys, regardless what happened on the field.”