Opening Day: Manager Nevin putting pieces into placeWritten by Jason Mack | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Mud Hens are looking to improve on a tough 2011 season as the team wraps up spring training in manager Phil Nevin’s second year on the job.
“It’s been a great camp,” Nevin said. “We have new leaders in place as far as our minor league director and field coordinator, and they’ve done a heck of a job. The preparation and attention to detail has been smooth for camp. The players have been very receptive to everything and working hard. I really enjoy the people involved here. Everybody has come to camp in great shape and ready to go. We’ve added some pieces that will help our Triple-A roster out, mostly on the offensive side, guys like Jerad Head and Quintin Berry.”
Nevin said he is excited about additions to the roster, but there are still some questions about who will be with the team.
“We still have some major decisions going on with the roster,” he said. “Quintin Berry is still with the major league team and you don’t know what’s going to happen. Jerad Head, Eric Patterson and Matt Young have already come down. Those are quality players that have had success in Triple-A in the past and for the time being will help us out quite a bit in Toledo.”
Adjusting to an ever-changing roster is second nature to Nevin after last season.
“We have an idea of when things are going to happen,” he said. “You can’t account for injuries on any level, but we have an idea of who is going to be where, and we have from the beginning of spring. It’s just a matter of getting pieces in place toward the end and getting everybody ready for the season.”
The Mud Hens went 67-77 in Nevin’s first season with the team. First baseman Ryan Strieby paced the offense with team highs of 19 home runs and 76 RBI, but Toledo finished with only 586 total runs, the third-fewest in the International League (IL). With the Detroit Tigers two deep at first base, Strieby should be a mainstay with Toledo in 2012. Left-hander Duane Below led the pitching staff last season, with nine wins, finishing 9-4 in 18 starts with a 3.13 ERA in 115 innings.
The team finished 21 games back in the division behind IL champion Columbus. In its attempt to close the gap with the Clippers, Toledo will rely on a young pitching staff and veteran leadership on offense.
“Columbus always has a veteran mix with sixth-year free agents and prospects,” Nevin said. “That’s along the lines of what we’re doing this year. Most of our younger guys are on the mound, and having veterans in the lineup is really going to help our offense.”
Opportunity to expand
Nevin said he is eager for the opportunity to expand on his first season.
“For me, it’s the familiarity with different people,” he said. “It’s going to be nice going back to the same place for the first time. I won’t have to learn new names, whether it’s in the front office, umpires or clubhouse people throughout the league. It will be more familiar for me. It makes the season start off a little smoother.”
Despite the advantages of another year on the job, Nevin is not ready to speculate about how it will translate on the field.
“It’s hard to predict championships and rosters and records and things like that until you go throughout the league,” he said. “I’m excited going into the season. I think we have a chance to be pretty good. There’s a good mix of veteran guys on offense, and we’ll have some solid young starting pitching and a good bullpen. It’s our job to have them prepared to play every day and we’ll see where it goes.”
Toledo will tune up for the season with a charity game at Fifth Third Field against the Detroit Tigers at noon April 4.
“It’s an exciting time for the city,” Nevin said. “It will be an exciting atmosphere the first time you get into the stadium and see a packed house. It will be neat for the players to get a taste of Toledo before we start our season a couple days later.”
The Mud Hens open the season 5 p.m. April 6 at home against division rival Indianapolis, which went 76-68 last season.
“This is about the time where you’re starting to count down the days,” Nevin said. “Guys are getting antsy to get out of spring training. A lot of guys have been here over a month now and are ready to get the season started.”