Mud Hens pitcher Mike Belfiore struck out six Lehigh Valley batters and walked just one over seven innings on Sunday. THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
With talk swirling around the Mud Hens regarding potential call-ups to Detroit, Mike Belfiore made a statement.
The left-hander shut out Lehigh Valley on five hits over seven innings to pitch Toledo to a 6-0 victory at Fifth Third Field on Sunday.
On a day when the Tigers called up four Hens pitchers, Belfiore won for the third time in four starts and lowered his ERA to 3.23 in 31 appearances.
PHOTO GALLERY: Mud Hens blank IronPigs
Belfiore, who the Tigers acquired from Baltimore just before the season began, said he is excited about the move from the bullpen into the rotation.
“I feel I can [be a starter],” he said. “I feel I can pitch deep into games, and I have the confidence to do it.”
Belfiore allowed two baserunners in the first inning, then got a double play to escape trouble in the second. After that, he retired 15 of the last 17 batters he faced.
“I’m getting into a good rhythm out there,” Belfiore said. “I’m locating my fastball early and getting the hitters off-balance instead of trying to strike everyone out.”
What was especially impressive was that Belfiore, who mixes a curveball, slider, and split-change with a fastball, threw first-pitch strikes to 15 of the 21 batters he faced Sunday.
“As a starter, I think he has thrown more off-speed pitches and mixed things up rather than thinking he has to throw hard when he comes out of the bullpen,” manager Larry Parrish said of Belfiore. “As a starter, he mixes and matches breaking pitches with the fastball, then elevates the fastball to get strikeouts.”
Meanwhile, the Toledo offense gave Belfiore some early breathing room by scoring two runs in the bottom of the first off Lehigh Valley starter Greg Smith.
Hernan Perez got the rally started when he slammed Smith’s fourth pitch of the game over the left-field fence for his fifth home run of the season. James McCann followed with a double into the left-center gap, took third on an infield single by Mike Hessman, then came home on a sacrifice fly by Manny Pina.
“When we scored two early, that gave us some breathing room,” Parrish said.
Toledo made it 3-0 in the fifth. Perez singled with one out, then moved to second when McCann walked. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch, and Perez scored on Hessman’s sacrifice fly.
The Hens added a run in the sixth on an RBI single by Brandon Douglas, then closed the scoring with two runs in the eighth.
Guez jump-started that rally with a triple, then trotted home on a Daniel Fields single. Fields moved to second on a single by Douglas, took third on a single by Tyler Collins, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Perez. Jim Johnson continued his audition for a job in Detroit with a scoreless eighth, and Kenny Faulk notched two strikeouts in the ninth.
NOTES: Before the game, the Tigers announced that LHP Robbie Ray would be called up and start for Detroit Wednesday at home against Pittsburgh. … After the Mud Hens contest, pitchers Kevin Whelan, Ian Krol and Justin Miller were promoted to Detroit. No word was available on when they would be activated or who roster spots they would fill. … OF Andy Dirks took some swings in the batting cage well before the contest. … McCann’s double extended his current hit streak to 13 consecutive games.