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While Mud Hens fans were not happy with their team’s 3-0 loss to Gwinnett at Fifth Third Field Sunday, Tigers fans had to be ecstatic.
The reason Detroit baseball fans were pleased despite the loss was the strong pitching performance by Toledo starter Drew VerHagen.
The 23-year-old right-hander posted easily his best start of the season, allowing just four hits and one run in seven strong innings that included five strikeouts.
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“I was really happy with the way I threw,” VerHagen said. “I thought I located my fastball well, and I had a good change-up that kept their hitters off my fastball.”
Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish also credited VerHagen’s success to an improved change-up.
“His change-up was better because he threw it for strikes and had good arm-speed with it,” Parrish said.
“His curveball wasn’t as good as it had been, which made that important.”
VerHagen said the improve-ment in his change was the result of a different grip he learned from pitching coach Al Nipper.
“I had used a circle change, and it was very inconsistent,” he said. “With this new grip, it allows me to be more consistent with my location.”
In VerHagen’s first four starts with the Mud Hens he did not pitch past the sixth inning. He did so with ease Sunday, allowing just three Gwinnett baserunners in the first six innings.
The Braves finally nicked the 6-6, 230-pound Texan for a run in the seventh.
Joey Terdoslavich singled through the hole between first and second, moved to second on a sacrifice, took third on a single through the hole at short by Mark Hamilton, and scored on a single by Edward Salcedo.
VerHagen, who retired 10 of the first 19 batters he faced on groundouts, got a pair of flyouts to limit the damage.
“Hitters in Triple-A are more developed than hitters at lower levels,” said VerHagen, who is in his first season with Toledo.
“They pick up patterns well, so you have to try hard to not be predictable.
“And when you get behind, they don’t miss mistakes or cripples.”
VerHagen posted just the third quality start for the Mud Hens in 24 games this season by allowing only one earned run while pitching at least six innings. He was forced to absorb a tough-luck loss because the Toledo offense was shut out on five hits.
Gwinnett starter Daniel Rodriguez allowed just four hits and two walks over the first seven innings, and he was aided by a pickoff as well as a double play as the Hens pushed just one runner as far as third base.
“It was a cold day with the wind blowing in, so it wasn’t a typical warm Sunday day game,” Parrish said. “The ball wasn’t going anywhere.
“[Hernan] Perez hit a couple good to left, but they didn’t go anywhere.”
The closest the Mud Hens came to scoring was in the fourth, when a walk to Mike Hessman and a single by Luis Exposito put runners on first and third with two outs before Ben Guez flew out.
The bottom four hitters in Toledo’s lineup combined to go 0-for-13, with the only baserunner coming when Guez walked with two outs in the seventh.
“Guys who had good swings on him had those good swings all day,” Parrish said. “Guys who weren’t having good swings never had [one good swing].
“When we get to the bottom of the order, we’re not even producing baserunners, much less producing runs.”
Gwinnett essentially put the game out of reach by scoring twice in the eighth off Blaine Hardy, who gave up a run-scoring double off the wall in left to Terdoslavich and a two-out RBI infield hit to Edward Salcedo.
NOTES: The Tigers did not send pitcher Jose Ortega back to Toledo Sunday as was expected. The Mud Hens have a roster spot open for a pitcher. … Hens outfielder Daniel Fields, who was hit on the hand by a pitch Friday, hit in the cage before Sunday’s contest. Parrish said Fields should be available for today’s game. … Toledo’s two relievers Sunday, Hardy and Mike Belfiore, both walked the first batter they faced. In the first two games against Gwinnett, four of the five Mud Hens relievers have walked the first batter they faced. … Exposito’s single extended his current hit streak to seven games.