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Youth prevails as Hens stay on roll

06/01/2014, 12:06am EDT
By JOHN WAGNER BLADE SPORTS WRITER

1st-year players spark Toledo to win


Toledo’s Drew VerHagen was impressive on Saturday night against Charlotte at Fifth Third Field. He only allowed two hits in six innings of work to pick up his third victory of the season. BLADE/ISAAC HALE

First-year players often struggle to get their bearings when they join the Mud Hens. That’s not unusual for any player in their first International League season.

But the kids were all right for Toledo on Saturday night as the Hens knocked off Charlotte 4-1 at Fifth Third Field.

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First-year players Hernan Perez, Eugenio Suarez, and James McCann each had a pair of hits to lead Toledo’s 11-hit attack, while first-year pitcher Drew VerHagen allowed just two hits in six innings.

That keyed the Hens to their third win in a row and eighth victory in the last 11 contests.

“Our kids are doing a good job,” Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish said. “They are playing solid defensively and giving us some solid at-bats.

“There are going to be days when they’re out of whack, but they all go through that their first time in this league.”

Suarez, who singled twice in the victory, now is batting .382 in nine games since joining the Hens on May 22. McCann singled twice and also drew two walks to raise his batting average to .290 for the season.

Their quick adaptation to hitting in the IL has brought a smile to Parrish’s face.

“A lot of times these guys have never seen a guy confident enough to throw a 2-0 breaking ball or a 3-2 breaking ball,” Parrish said. “So they go through a little bit of a learning curve — or they look for the breaking ball, and they get a fastball that seems like it’s 110 [miles per hour].”

Perez beat out a bunt single in the third, then doubled in the fourth and now is batting .252, a batting average Parrish said was misleading.

“Early in the year, Perez was snake-bit; the harder he hit it, the more it went right at somebody,” Parrish said. “These have been the ones swinging the bat well, so they belong at the top of the order.”

The Hens broke on top in the second when Mike Hessman walked, moved to second on a McCann single, then scored when Wade Gaynor’s looping liner eluded Charlotte shortstop Tyler Saladino for an RBI single.

Toledo got a run in the third when a passed ball by Josh Phegley allowed Ezequiel Carrera to score, and Ben Guez hammered a home run off the left-field foul pole in the fourth.

“It was good to see Guez swing the bat well,” Parrish said. “I told him his bat was having trouble seeing the ball, so I drew some eyes on his bat so his bat could see the ball better.

“And it worked.”

Toledo added an insurance run in the eighth when Guez lifted a fly ball to left that Michael Johnson dropped for a two-base error, and Guez scored on a single by Carrera.

That was more than enough offense thanks to Mud Hens starter Drew VerHagen and the bullpen.

VerHagen allowed just one run in six innings, and that run was tainted as Tyler Collins dropped a fly ball in left that was ruled a double. Jordan Danks, who reached base on that misplay, later scored.

VerHagen allowed just two hits and two walks while fanning five.

“He threw a few more pitches than we would have liked, so he could have gone deeper in the game,” Parrish said. “But he only allowed two hits, and he pitched pretty well.”

Pat McCoy retired the Knights in order in the seventh, and Jose Ortega threw a scoreless eighth while Kevin Whelan pitched around a pair of ninth-inning walks to record his eighth save.

NOTES: The Mud Hens finished 17-13 in May, their first winning month since June of last season, and evened their home record at 15-15 this year. … Toledo struck out 14 times on Saturday and have fanned 30 times in the last two games. … The crowd of 11,500 was the Mud Hens‘ eighth sellout this season and the 369th in Fifth Third Field history.

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.

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