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Mud Hens have thrived thanks to versatile pitching staff

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    Toledo Mud Hens pitching coach Jeff Pico oversees a staff that has had 17 different pitchers start a game this year, among the most in the IL.

    BLADE PHOTO

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    With nine starts, Toledo's Ryan Carpenter leads the Mud Hens in the category this year.

    BLADE PHOTO

The contributions of the offense to the Toledo Mud Hens’ outstanding start in 2018 are obvious, because they rank among the International League leaders in team batting average, home runs, and runs scored.

That also holds true for the Hens’ defense, which ranks among the best in the league when it comes to fielding percentage, fewest errors committed, or double plays turned.

But the pitching staff? It might seem that group is not pulling its weight if you look no further than a 3.92 ERA that is 10th in the 14-team league.

Mud Hens manager Doug Mientkiewicz disagrees strongly. He said that, considering the challenges his staff has faced, the pitchers deserve an equal share of credit for the team’s IL-best start.

“That’s the glory of this team: Everybody at some point has done something to help us win a lot of games,” he said. “Whether it’s someone going two or three innings when they’re used to going one, someone starting whose never started a game before, or someone finishing a game who has never finished a game before.

“When their name is called, they pitch. And they deserve a lot of credit for that.”

A lot of names have been called this season. Toledo has used 26 pitchers, tied with Columbus and Gwinnett for the most in the league. What’s more, the Hens have used 17 different starters, one fewer than Gwinnett and one more than Durham.

The other 11 teams in the IL have averaged 10.2 starters used this season.

“Every team goes through what we’re going through,” Mientkiewicz said. “But it’s an opportunity for guys to step onto the mound and show what they can do.

“I’d like to have roles for the pitchers, but the moves happen so fast we can’t really do that for them. They’ve done a great job of not caring what their role is. When their name is called, they pitch.”

The positive to the number of pitchers who have seen action for Toledo this season, according to pitching coach Jeff Pico, is it has opened up some opportunities for guys to pitch in “high-leverage” situations they might not otherwise fill.

“I think a lot of guys have stepped up no matter what role we put them in,” he said. “Our pitchers know they may not have a specific role, but if they’re rested there’s a good chance [they will pitch].

“They’ve all stepped up in high-leverage situations.”

The Mud Hens lead the IL with 26 saves, and seven different pitchers have at least two. Toledo has a 33-0 record when leading a game entering the ninth inning, and the bullpen has blown two saves all season. One of those came in the sixth inning of a game Toledo eventually won.

“The Tigers have done a great job of not just bringing in great players, but of bringing in great people,” Mientkiewicz said. “Especially with the winning: It’s either jump on board, or you won’t be here very long.”

Mientkiewicz also gave much of the credit for the pitchers’ work this season to Pico, who handles many of the responsibilities with the staff. Toledo’s first-year manager said he feels “fortunate” to work with Toledo’s third-year pitching coach.

“I pick his brain daily,” Mientkiewicz said of Pico. “He has such a calm demeanor, and he teaches well.

“He’s here at 10 o’clock every morning studying his brains out. You can tell that he cares about his job as much as anybody, and it’s easy to work with guys like that.”

Pico deflected much of the staff’s success to the pitchers themselves, especially for their willingness to embrace roles that might improve their chances of reaching the major leagues.

“If these guys go up to Detroit, they’re not going to be the closer right away,” Pico said. “We want all of these guys go multiple innings. …

“When they get the call to Detroit, they’re going to be expected to go multiple innings.”

Contact John Wagner at jwagner@theblade.com419-724-6481, or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.

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