A few post-game notes from the Mud Hens 4-1 victory over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre from Fifth Third Field on Thursday ...
- First, the good news for the Hens: Toledo has won four in a row for the first time this season. After a 7-20 April, the Mud Hens were 10-28 until winning the final game of the four-game series at Indianapolis May 13. That game was the first win in the team's current four-game winning streak.
Here's a taste of how the Hens had struggled to start the season: Toledo has won the first three games of their series against the RailRiders (the Hens go for the sweep Friday night). This is just the SECOND series (out of 12) Toledo will win this season, and the team had lost five of its last six series (splitting one) before this win.
- RHP Brayan Villarreal struggled in his 1.2 innings of work, allowing one hit and three walks with only one strikeout. Here is all you need to know about Villarreal Thursday night: He threw 37 pitches, only 17 of which were strikes.
Want to know more? Of course you do ... He came on in the seventh with runners on first and second with one out and Toledo leading 3-1. Villarreal struck out Brennan Boesch, then walked Zoilo Almonte (on four pitches) before getting Ronnier Mustelier on a groundout to shortstop (where Argenis Diaz made a nice play in the hole and threw Mustelier out at first on a bang-bang play). Of the 10 pitches Villarreal threw that inning, all 10 were fastballs in the 96-98 mph range (three at 98, five at 97, two at 96), and five were strikes.
Then Villarreal came on for the eighth and threw 27 pitches, only 12 of which were strikes. He gave up a single and a walk, then got a grounder to third that had a chance to be a triple play -- instead the Mud Hens turned two and got runners out and second and third. With two outs and a runner on first Villarreal gave up another walk, then a flyout.
The pitch speeds for Villarreal were all over the place in the eighth. Most of the fastballs sat at 95-97 mph, although the breakdown was one at 93, one at 94, five at 95, 10 at 96, four at 97, one at 98. I theorized that Villarreal may be throwing a sinker, but I was told after the game he does not: His repertoire is four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball and slider. His slowest pitch was at 88 mph, with two at 89, one at 90 and one at 91. That is awfully fast for the slider, and obviously there weren't many of them.
In short, Villarreal struggled and pitched his way into jams, but he also managed to pitch his way out of jams.
NOTE: I was also told after the game not to believe all of the pitch speeds I saw on the scoreboard. So use them at your discretion.
- Bruce Rondon came on in the ninth and nailed down his eighth save with the Mud Hens. Rondon hit the first batter he faced -- more on that in a minute -- then got a groundout, a strikeout and a groundout to end the game.
Rondon threw just 11 pitches, eight of which were strikes. Of those 11 pitches, eight were fastballs that ranged between 94-97 mph (two at 94, three at 96, two at 97, one at 100). Of the eight fastballs, seven were strikes (two taken, three fouled, two put in play). Notice the number that were swung at and missed (zero).
Rondon threw three sliders, interestingly they all came in at 84 mph. One hit Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Corban Joseph, but it was a terrific back-foot slider to a left-handed hitter. The pitch hit Joseph on the top of the shoe, and there was discussion as to whether or not Joseph had swung at the 0-2 pitch (to my untrained eye, it looked as if he did. If he didn't, we all can agree it was close). The second slider was a ball, and the third resulted in a swing-and-miss strikeout.
In short, lately Rondon has had a better slider. He does need to keep throwing it, though, to continue the pitch's development. This is the second time I've seen Rondon have a better slider than fastball -- click here to read a May 6 post-game look at Rondon.
- As you may or may not have noticed if you read the in-game blog, OF Quintin Berry did not start Thursday's game. He is not hurt -- actually, he came on for defense in the top of the ninth inning. It also wasn't a lefty-right situation -- Scranton/Wilkes-Barre started a right-hander, Chien-Ming Wang, and the Hens used a left-handed hitter in the outfield in Danny Dorn.
When I asked Toledo manager Phil Nevin about the situation, he simply said Berry is not hurt. What Nevin didn't have to say is that Berry has been struggling at the plate: Berry hit .206 in April and just .133 in May. He also has 35 strikeouts in 36 games.
Something to remember about Berry, who has disappointed some people who thought he might make the Tigers Opening Day roster: Before last season, Berry had never played more than four games above Double-A and had never played above Triple-A. He is not extremely experienced at this level. But he does need to figure some things out at the plate.
- As a team, the Mud Hens offense is on a roll. In the team's last 10 games, the Hens have hit .294 and scored 61 runs (6.1 runs per game). In the last five contests, Toledo has hit .337 as a team and scored 34 runs (6.8 runs per game).
- There are a lot of guys who are rolling offensively, but one who should not be overlooked as C Bryan Holaday. Holaday hit .231 with a pair of home runs and four RBIs in 19 games in April, but the offense has picked up in May. This month Holaday is hitting .355 with no homers and four RBIs in just nine games. He went 4-for-4 in the 12-11 win Wednesday and is 7-for-12 in his last three games. Holaday's season numbers now are a .271 batting average with two homers and eight RBIs.
It's worth noting that Holaday has thrown out 13-of-29 would-be base stealers this season (44.8 percent). That's the second-best mark in the International League this season.
- Another hitter who seems to be figuring some things out is OF Nick Castellanos. Castellanos has hit .375 in his last 10 games with a home run, 10 RBIs and 11 runs scored. In the first three games of this homestand he has gone 7-for-12 (.583) with his first Fifth Third Field home run of the season.
His recent at-bats have been very strong, full of solid contact -- his two hits today were a solid single up the middle and a line drive off the pitcher, followed by a groundout and flyball to medium depth right. Here's the best news, though: Castellanos has struck out just three times in his last 29 at-bats (a span of eight games), or one strikeout every 9.7 at-bats. Before that the 21-year-old had struck out 33 times in 34 games, or 179 at-bats (one strikeout every 5.4 at-bats).
- The Mud Hens will need to make a move after placing IF Brandon Douglas on the disabled list. Douglas did not play Thursday after suffering a shin contusion in Wednesday's win over the RailRiders.