Mud Hens third baseman Mike Hessman makes a play during the fourth inning on Thursday night against Indianapolis. BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
One of the Tigers’ top pitching prospects hit a bump in the road Thursday, and the Mud Hens suffered a 7-5 loss to Indianapolis as a result.
Melvin Mercedes gave up four runs in the top of the ninth inning, surrendering four extra-base hits as Toledo lost for the third time in four games.
With the scored tied at 3-3, the hard-throwing Mercedes retired the Indians in order in the eighth, then struck out Chase d’Arnaud to open the ninth. Then the trouble began as Michael Martinez hit a fly to deep left-center that fell for a triple.
PHOTO GALLERY: Mud Hens fall 7-5 to Indianapolis
With the go-ahead run on third, Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish decided to pitch to the Indians’ Gregory Polanco. That decision backfired when Polanco, one of the top prospects in baseball, smacked a double down the right-field line.
“With the runner on third, we were in a trick box,” Parrish said. “If you walk [Polanco], he’s going to steal second. Then you don’t have a double play and two runners in scoring position — and the next batter [Andrew Lambo] isn’t chopped liver.”
After Polanco’s hit, Parrish elected to intentionally walk Lambo to set up a force, but that ploy also failed when Tony Sanchez pounded a three-run homer to left.
“The idea was that, at the worst, we would give up just one run and then score a run in the bottom of the ninth,” Parrish said. “But [Mercedes] couldn’t get a groundball.
“He threw three pitches up in the zone [to Sanchez]: He hit the one foul [down the left-field line], he had a good rip at one, and the third one he hit out.”
Mercedes saw his season’s ERA nearly double after the bad outing, rising from 3.38 to 6.52 despite throwing a fastball that sat consistently at 93-95 miles per hour. International League hitters are batting .293 against him this season.
“He needed another pitch,” Parrish said, noting that Mercedes relied extensively on that fastball. “At this level, he won’t be able to get away with just one pitch.”
The four-run rally proved especially painful when the Hens scored twice in the bottom of the ninth off former Toledo reliever Daniel Schlereth.
But Jared Hughes replaced Schlereth and got the game’s final two outs to record his fourth save of the season.
It was a wild ending to a contest that saw both teams score three runs in the first two innings before the two starters, Derek Hankins for the Hens and Adam Wilk for Indianapolis, settled down.
Indianapolis jumped on top in the first inning when Polanco launched a home run into The Roost, but the Hens got that run back in the bottom of the first when Hernan Perez doubled, then scored on a single by James McCann.
Jaff Decker’s RBI double tied the game for the Indians in the second, but in the bottom of the frame Jordan Lennerton doubled in one run and Trevor Crowe’s sacrifice fly plated another.
“We had a game plan to attack their guys and get them to put the ball in play,” said Wilk, who pitched for the Mud Hens in 2011-12. “Early on I didn’t do very well with it, but as the game went on I did better.”
After the second Wilk pitched four scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and one walk. He finished with six hits and two walks allowed in six innings while fanning eight.
“I just started out poorly, making too many pitches up in the zone,” he said. “I just didn’t make quality pitches when I had the count my way.
“But later on the game I started making pitches downhill and lower to the ground, and when I’m ahead in the count they had to swing at those.”
Parrish thought the Mud Hens hitters changed their approach after experiencing early success, and the result was seven strikeouts by Wilk after the second.
“We stopped being aggressive,” he said. “It looked like we started to try and guess what he was throwing instead of finding a pitch to hit and whacking it.”
Wilk, who pitched in Korea last season, said he enjoyed his return to Toledo and Fifth Third Field.
“It is fun to pitch here because it is a good ballpark with good fans,” he said. “But you have to put that aside to pitch.”
Hankins gave up four hits that produced a run in the third, but escaped a bases-loaded jam and followed that up with two scoreless innings.
“I didn’t know if he would get past the third, and he ended up giving us five innings,” Parrish said of Hankins.
Mike Belfiore followed with two scoreless innings after escaping a bases-loaded jam in the seventh.