Just when it seemed like Mud Hens pitcher Derek Hankins had suddenly found all of the answers, the journeyman clunked back to solid ground.
Just as the Hens emerged as the hottest team in the International League, they cooled on a blustery Friday night.
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With temperatures diving into the 40s, Hankins followed the best start of his career with one of the briefest in Toledo’s 9-3 loss to the Syracuse Chiefs.
The 30-year-old right-hander allowed five runs over 3 1/3 innings, and the night only crawled from there, with the Hens allowing 15 hits and five walks to go along with a couple wild pitches and an error. A crowd of 6,569 was sentenced to a 3-hour, 18-minute wait for the postgame fireworks to begin.
"You hate to end it like this, but it was a great homestand," Hens manager Larry Parrish said.
The Hens finished the stretch at 6-2 and fell for just the third time in their last 11 games. Friday was the rare night to forget, beginning from the time Hankins jogged onto the field for a start he had looked forward to the past four days.
Hankins began the night with a 5.22 ERA in seven starts this season — his 11th in a career spanning three major-league organizations and a stretch last year with the Doosan Bears in Seoul, South Korea. For one afternoon last Sunday, the inconsistency that has kept him from crashing the majors vanished. Hankins threw the first shutout of his career in the Hens’ 7-0 win over Rochester.
On Friday, he returned to the mean. After retiring the first two hitters, he allowed four straight hits — including a two-run homer to Jhonatan Solano that lasered off the scoreboard in left field. In all, he gave up five runs on eight hits.
"The last time out was the start I needed the whole year," Hankins said. "I don't think I regressed any. I think I can get back to where I was the previous start. I threw strikes, they hit the ball, and they placed the ball pretty well."
The Hens’ relievers did not fare much better, including Jose Ortega, who finished with more walks (two) than outs (one). Ortega threw only 11 pitches in the seventh inning before leaving because of a blister on his finger. Parrish said the trainers shaved the blister off and Ortega "should be all right in a couple of days."
Tyler Collins, James McCann, and Brandon Douglas each had a pair of hits to lead the Hens.
PUTKONEN SHUT DOWN: Tigers reliever Luke Putkonen’s rehab stint in Toledo came to an abrupt end.
In a bleak announcement, the Tigers said Putkonen will be examined next week by Dr. James Andrews — the noted specialist in performing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery.
For now, Putkonen will return to Detroit and go on the 15-day disabled list. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told reporters the team is "concerned."
Putkonen has hardly been himself this year. The 28-year-old gave up two homers and seven runs over two innings against the Angels on April 18 in his final big-league outing before heading to the DL and struggled in a pair of rehab appearances in Toledo.
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