Rochester Red Wings pitcher Edgar Ibarra jokes with teammate and Oregon Clay graduate A.J. Achter before playing the Toledo Mud Hens. Blade/Andy Morrison
Rochester pitcher A.J. Achter faced a difficult challenge at Fifth Third Field on Friday night.
“I’m definitely going to be pushing the limits of the pass list,” the Clay High School graduate said. “It will be good to see a lot of people who haven’t seen me play since high school.”
Achter did not see action in the Mud Hens’ 7-2 win over his Red Wings, but it still was a warm homecoming for the 25-year-old right-hander.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view photos from the game
“My baseball career really took off coming to games here,” Achter said. “I came to 40 games a summer growing up.
“To be back in Toledo, playing against the team I grew up rooting for, is pretty special.”
The former All-Ohio standout at Clay pitched for three seasons at Michigan State before the Twins selected him in the 2010 first-year player draft.
After making 16 appearances for Rochester at the end of last season, he expected to begin this year with the Red Wings.
Instead he began the season at Double-A New Britain, a situation Achter called “frustrating.”
“You always want to be at the highest level where you belong, but the numbers game pushed me down,” he said. “I knew that, if I performed as I should, I would get a shot back up here.”
It took only three scoreless Double-A appearances to earn a promotion to Rochester, where he has a 2.77 ERA in eight games.
“He’s a consistent strike-thrower who mixes his pitches well,” Red Wings manager Gene Glynn said of Achter. “He’s a confident guy who is upbeat when he takes the ball.”
Achter said his time with the Wings last season helped him prepare for his return to Triple-A.
“I’m comfortable with the manager and the pitching coach,” Achter said. “And I know this is where I should be.
“It was good to get back up here and perform well to prove that I deserve to be here.”
Achter did not pitch in Friday’s game despite a 1:17 rain delay that prompted both teams to dip into their bullpens.
The Mud Hens also kept Achter, who has two of Rochester’s six saves this season, on the bench by taking an early lead with three runs in the second and another in the third.
With two outs in the second Toledo’s James McCann was hit by a pitch from Red Wings starter Yohan Pino, who entered the game 5-0 with a 0.84 ERA. Luis Exposito beat out an infield single, and Ben Guez walked to load the bases.
Jordan Lennerton followed with a two-run single to right, and Daniel Fields doubled into the right-field corner for a third run.
“That was a couple of big hits for us, because they gave us the lead,” Toledo manager Larry Parrish said. “Then we added on.
“We put up some good at-bats against a guy who was dominating in this league. For us to battle like that [was good].”
The biggest problem Parrish faced was trying to keep his bullpen in order when the rain delay forced starter Blaine Hardy out of the game.
Jose Ortega struggled with his command and walked the bases loaded in the fifth, but Rochester managed only one run when Melvin Mercedes came on and got the final out on a fly to deep right by Oswaldo Arcia.
“[The weather] was trying to put us behind the eight-ball, but we found a way out,” Parrish said.
Luke Putkonen threw two innings on a rehab assignment from Detroit, giving up a run on a double by Eric Farris and a single off the left-field wall by James Beresford.
Tyler Collins threw Beresford out at second trying to stretch the hit into a double.
Chad Smith threw two scoreless innings, pitching around a one-out triple in the ninth.
Meanwhile the Mud Hens took advantage of a Rochester error to score two runs in the fifth, and Mike Hessman’s ninth home of the season off former Toledo pitcher Matt Hoffman in the seventh closed the scoring.
NOTES: OF Ezequiel Carrera is dealing with an oblique injury and has not played since May 3. Parrish said he will not return to the lineup soon. … SS Hernan Perez returned to the lineup after suffering a knee injury in Pawtucket that forced him to miss two games. … RHP Drew VerHagen, who did not make his scheduled start in Pawtucket Thursday, will start for the Hens today. … Hoffman did not give up a run in 19 appearances at Fifth Third Field last season, but that streak was of scoreless games ended with Hessman’s home run on the first pitch of the seventh.