Hens third baseman Mike Hessman bare hands the bunted ball of Clippers short stop Justin Sellers. Blade/Jetta Fraser
There was no mystery as to the cause of the Mud Hens’ 4-0 loss to Columbus at Fifth Third Field Sunday, nor the team’s three-game losing streak.
“We’ve scored two runs in the last three games, and you’re not going to win many games like that,” Toledo manager Larry Parrish said.
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“Right now we’re mixing in a hit here and there, but we’re not bunching them together.
“We’re not stringing together quality at-bats one after the other.”
Sunday the Hens managed just six hits, all singles, against Columbus starter Travis Banwart and two relievers. Toledo managed to push a baserunner to second base only twice and moved a man to third only once.
Still, Mike Hessman cautioned fans not to panic about the Hens’ offensive struggles.
“The guys were swinging the bats well on the road, but we’ve run into two guys who threw the ball well the past two nights,” said Hessman, who had two of Toledo’s six hits.
“I think the guys feel good about their swings right now, so I think we’ll be all right.
“Guys are working hard and getting their swings in the cage. But some times good pitching beats good hitting. You don’t want to get down because we haven’t scored many runs the last two nights.”
It looked as if the Mud Hens offense would get off to a fast start in the first inning when leadoff man Ezequiel Carrera singled, and Hernan Perez lined an apparent single to center.
Clippers centerfielder Tyler Holt charged the ball and threw to second, and the ball beat Carrera to the base for a forceout.
“There’s no reason for that,” Parrish said. “We had one of the fastest guys in the league on the bases, but our guy played it nonchalant and their guy hustled.
“It cost Perez a hit, but we could have started the game with two on and none out. It was a momentum-killer, and you can’t make any excuses there.”
If the momentum had not shifted after that baserunning blunder, it certainly shifted after the top of the second.
After an easy first inning, Toledo starter Duane Below struggled to hold Columbus in check in the second.
His problems began when Giovanny Urshela was able to line a 1-2 pitch into the left-center gap for a double.
“The pitch that he hit for a double was down, and he had an awkward swing on it,” Below said. “But he got good wood on it and got a double.”
One out later Below got Carlos Moncrief to hit a slow roller that hugged the first-base line.
Below’s throw to first was late to retire Moncrief, and his throw was wild so it allowed Urshela to race home for a run.
“I got some bad swings on the cutter from Moncrief, but I didn’t get the next pitch far enough away and he topped the swinging bunt down the line,” Below said. “I knew I had to be quick [to first], and I knew I didn’t want to throw it too hard, but I ‘alligator armed’ it.
“I probably should have held on to it and tried to get a double play [with the next batter]. But hindsight is 20-20.”
Below did get the second out, but the Clippers’ Ryan Rohlinger then hit a high fly down the left-field line that bounced off the foul-pole screen for a home run, his fifth of the year.
“It was a cutter in on his hands, and from the sound of it I thought I had jammed him,” Below said. “But you have to tip your cap on that one. It kept going, and it stayed fair.
“It was a frustrating inning.”
After that Below held Columbus in check, allowing just three singles through the seventh.
He did not walk a batter and struck out three.
“In the fourth inning I ran across something that I’m going to work on in my next bullpen,” he said.
“It kept everything, even my cutter and off-speed, on a downward plane, and I had a nice rhythm to my mechanics.”
While the Clippers added a run in the eighth off reliever Evan Reed — he gave up a single to Holt, who then stole second and third before scoring on a single by Jesus Aguilar — that three-run second was plenty to beat the Hens.
Banwart cruised through seven scoreless innings. Outside of the first, the only challenge he faced came in the fourth when Tyler Collins walked, then moved to second on a Hessman single.
James McCann hit into a double play and Ben Guez took a called third strike to blunt that threat.
“Below did a good job, but [Banwart] did a better one,” Parrish said.
NOTES: Trevor Crowe singled in seventh to extend his hitting streak to 11 games, the longest for a Hen this season. … While Perez did not get a single in the first, he did single in the sixth to extend his current hit streak to 10 games. … The crowd of 9,557 at Fifth Third Field Sunday was the Mud Hens 13th sellout this season and 374th in ballpark history.