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There wasn’t any worry the Mud Hens would go winless in 2014.
Still, collecting that first win of the season Sunday in a 6-3 triumph over Louisville at Fifth Third Field was a welcome relief.
“It’s nice [to get that first win],” Toledo manager Larry Parrish said. “We swung the bats better, and we hit some balls hard, and that was good to see.
“And [Robbie] Ray gave us a great start. There were a lot of things we needed, and we got them.”
One of the keys to Sunday’s victory was Ray’s five solid innings in his first start in the Tigers organization. The left-hander, who came to Detroit in the trade that sent Doug Fister to Washington, allowed three hits and one walk while striking out three.
“The ball came out of his hand well,” Parrish said of Ray. “He had all of his pitches working.
“The key for him is throwing strikes, and throwing with the command he will need to pitch in the big leagues.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Toledo Mud Hens beat Louisville
Ray knew that the Mud Hens bullpen was depleted after a 13-inning loss Saturday, so he knew his job was to cover as many innings as possible.
“We had a pretty good gameplan on how to attack these guys after the last two nights,” he said. “Then it was just a case of executing pitches.
“I didn’t think about eating up innings. I just went out there and did my thing.”
The only run he allowed was an unearned run in the fourth that came after a two-out error put Louisville’s Thomas Neal on second base, allowing Felix Perez to single him home.
“We’ve been working on correcting pitch-to-pitch instead of [correcting] game-to-game or bullpen-to-bullpen,” said Ray, who reached a three-ball count to just four of the 19 batters he faced and threw 55 of his 87 pitches for strikes. “Making in-game corrections was big for me.”
Meanwhile the Toledo offense, which produced just 15 hits and three runs in its first 22 innings, used some “small ball” to create single runs in the first and fourth innings.
In the opening inning Mud Hens leadoff batter Ezequiel Carrera beat out a bunt single against Bats starter Chien-Ming Wang, then stole second, before taking third on a fly to left and scoring on a groundout.
In the fourth a hit batsman, a single, and a walk loaded the bases with two outs, and Brandon Douglas laid down a beautiful bunt along the third-base line for a run-scoring single.
“They couldn’t have handed him the ball and said, ‘Here, roll it on the field,’ and have him roll it out there any better than he did,” Parrish said of the Douglas bunt. “We’ll take it, no doubt.”
The Hens expanded their lead to 4-1 in the fifth when Carrera’s liner off Wang’s glove went for a single, and Hernan Perez followed with a long home run off the left-field scoreboard.
“That was a big hit for us,” Parrish said of the Perez homer. “And that hit had a lot to do with Carrera getting on base.
“With a guy that can run like [Carrera], he had already manufactured one run. So you have to pay attention to him.”
Louisville scored another unearned run in the sixth thanks to two more Toledo errors — the Hens had three in the game — and the Bats got a home run by Ruben Gotay off Jhan Marinez in the eighth to trim Toledo’s lead to 4-3.
Ben Guez gave the Mud Hens some breathing room in the bottom of the eighth when he followed a triple to straight-away center off the bat of J.D. Martinez by pounding a home run off the scoreboard in left.
“We had a runner on third, and I just wanted to get the ball to the outfield to get him in,” Guez said. “That was a big run at that time in the game.
“Luckily I got a good pitch to hit and drove it out.”
The Bats sent the tying run to the plate in the top of the ninth, but Melvin Mercedes got a flyout and groundout to close out his first save at the Triple-A level.
It also was the Hens’ first win after a pair of season-opening losses, but Guez said he didn’t feel Toledo was pressing after its slow start.
“I didn’t feel any of that [pressure], and I don’t think the rest of the team did,” Guez said. “I think this team is going to score a lot of runs.
“It was just two games, and in this game we were able to open up on them. Now we just want to keep that going.
“We’re not looking to go 1-and-143. We’re looking to win some games, make the playoffs and win something for Toledo.”