The Mud Hens suffered a 4-3 loss Monday to Durham, the team with the most wins in the International League this season.
The difference in the one-run loss was that the Bulls got a few balls to drop in key situations, while Toledo never collected a key hit — thanks in part to a stellar defensive performance by the Bulls.
“We had a ton of chances,” Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish said. “We just couldn’t get anybody to get a hit. A couple of times we hit the ball hard to center field and their center fielder made a great play on it.”
The Hens had at least one baserunner in six different innings but struggled when hitting with runners in scoring position, going hitless in 10 such at-bats.
And the Bulls got several fine running catches by center fielder Mikie Mahtook, along with a stellar play at shortstop by Hak-Ju Lee on a ninth-inning grounder by Ezequiel Carrera that stopped a potential Hens rally in its tracks.
“I think we can shake this one off,” said Mike Hessman, who provided all of Toledo’s offense with a pair of home runs sandwiched around a sacrifice fly. “We’ll go get ’em [today] and stick with the same gameplan.
“When you’re getting good swings and hitting the ball hard, they’re bound to fall in. … Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the other team for making good plays when they need to.”
Hessman homered off Durham starter Merrill Kelly to lead off the fourth, then started the eighth with a first-pitch homer off reliever C.J. Riefenhauser. Hessman leads the IL with 13 home runs.
“On the first home run I was looking fastball [on a 3-2 pitch], but I got a breaking ball that was up in the zone and I put a good swing on it,” he said. “The second home run I got a first-pitch fastball, and it was a good pitch to hit.”
But a bases-loaded, no-out rally in the fifth produced only one run on Hessman’s sac fly. It didn’t help that the bottom three hitters in the Toledo lineup combined to go 1-for-12 with five of Durham’s six strikeouts.
Mud Hens starter Drew VerHagen held the Bulls in check until the fifth, when an RBI single by Justin Christian and a two out, two-run double by Mike Fontenot spoiled an otherwise solid effort.
“I didn’t have my change-up at all the entire night,” VerHagen said. “I threw a few that were really good, but for the most part I didn’t have command of that pitch.
“I thought the second time through the order they were sitting on the fastball and capitalized on it.”
Durham added a run in the eighth on a sacrifice fly, and the Hens eventually lost after having won four of five before Monday.
“I think we are playing well right now,” VerHagen said. “We’re swinging the bats well — we could have put up double the number of runs we scored if some of those hard-hit balls fell. …
“All our hitters can control is swinging the bat well, and I think they are right now.”
NOTES: Hessman now has 402 home runs in the minor leagues, the third-most among players in affiliated leagues. He also has 257 home runs in International League play, one shy of tying the league record. … Monday’s crowd of 8,981 was the Hens’ fifth sellout this season and the 366th in Fifth Third Field history.