Toledo’s Wade Gaynor, right, is congratulated by teammates after hitting a home run in the first inning against Indianapolis. BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
A name — and an arm — from last season rode in to rescue the Mud Hens beleaguered pitching staff Wednesday.
Shawn Hill threw six scoreless innings in his first start with Toledo this season as the Hens cruised to an 11-0 victory over Indianapolis at Fifth Third Field.
Hill pitched for the Hens a year ago and was a workhorse, making 26 starts and finishing with a 4-14 record and 5.51 ERA.
He began this season in Toronto’s minor league system, splitting time between Buffalo (2-1, 4.85 ERA) and Double-A New Hampshire (0-2, 5.09 ERA). Then Hill was traded to the White Sox and pitched for Charlotte, where he was 2-4 with a 4.81 ERA before asking for his release.
“It has been an interesting year,” the 33-year-old right- hander said. “I didn’t know what would happen when I asked for my release — I was partially prepared to go home.
“Detroit called right away, and with my familiarity here and with the situation being I would start here … it was good timing [to come here].”
The Mud Hens gave Hill a big early cushion, scoring six times in the first off another former Hen, Adam Wilk. Tyler Collins hammered Wilk’s pitch to deep right-center for a double, and he came home on a single by Hernan Perez.
Wilk got a double play, then walked the bases loaded before getting Daniel Fields to hit a grounder that looked to be the final out of the inning. Instead Indianapolis second baseman Blake Davis misplayed it for an error that allowed two runs to come home.
Wade Gaynor then hammered a no-doubt three-run homer to left to cap the rally.
“That was a big hit by Gaynor, especially following an error,” Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish said. “That inning was pretty much the game.”
Toledo also got a two-run homer by James McCann in the second, a two-run shot by Mike Hessman in the fourth, and a solo home run by Perez in the sixth.
That was more than enough offense for Hill, who cruised through the first three innings before pitching out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the fourth. The Indians got a single, a double and a walk, but Hill coaxed Tony Sanchez to line out, then saw Chris McGuiness hit a liner to shortstop that Perez turned into an inning-ending double play.
“That was a horseshoe, getting out of that situation,” Hill said. “But [because of the big lead], it was a no-panic situation for me.
“If I gave up two or three runs, I wouldn’t have liked it, but it wouldn’t have mattered. That’s what the run support afforded me.”
A double play also helped Hill avoid trouble in the sixth, and he finished with six hits and one walk allowed while fanning three in six scoreless innings.
Jim Johnson followed with two scoreless innings of relief in his third Mud Hens appearance, retiring all six batters he faced.
“He threw the ball better,” Parrish said of Johnson. “He had good bite to his breaking ball, and he threw his fastball for strikes. He was pretty sharp.”
Chad Smith pitched around a two-out double and a walk in the ninth to close out the Mud Hens’ 13th shutout of the season.
NOTES: After the game, the Tigers promoted pitcher Melvin Mercedes to Detroit and optioned pitcher Buck Farmer to the Hens. Columbus scored two runs in the bottom of the 10th inning Wednesday to beat Lehigh Valley. Toledo remains six games back in the International League’s West Division. … Johnson bought his teammates in the Mud Hens clubhouse a postgame spread from Real Seafood.