Mud Hens mixed on return of six-game series schedule format next season

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Sep. 20—In the first season since the reconstruction of minor league baseball, Triple-A teams played under a new six-game series schedule format.

That plan is here to stay for another year.

In 120 games, the Toledo Mud Hens played their opponents in a six-game series that began on Tuesday and ran through Sunday, with Monday being an off day every week.

The Mud Hens next year will play 144 games with most of the series again lasting six games. Off days will be either Monday or Tuesday.

Toledo's Kody Clemens, right, and Christin Stewart, center, celebrate an Aderlin Rodriguez home run that brought Clemens home during a Triple-A East baseball game between the Toledo Mud Hens and the Indianapolis Indians at Fifth Third Field Aug. 19 in Toledo.

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Toledo manager Tom Prince said batters have had to adjust more than pitchers in the new format.

"I think its easier for a pitcher to find a weakness on a hitter," Prince said. "There's some things that go on. I think the managers have done an outstanding job throughout the league of handling situations that come out," Prince said. "I think it's been really good for baseball just to get these guys back playing again. So that's the biggest thing."

Under the new schedule format, if a team is using a five-man rotation, a starter who pitches in the first game of the series likely goes out again for the series finale.

"I'm not a real fan of it," Mud Hens starting pitcher Mark Leiter Jr. said. "I don't think it's good for our development. I think that if you're trying to get ready to be a big leaguer, you need to be pitching every five days the same way they are in the big leagues. I think it's nice for traveling. It makes things easy, but I'm more of a traditional fan of baseball."

Leiter was the starter for the first and last games against the Iowa Cubs in a home series back in July.

"It's very tough to have to pitch twice to the same team in a row," Leiter said. "That happens sometimes in the big leagues, but I just I liked the way it was personally. Don't really like scheduled off days every Monday. I like when it's kind of more random, but that's just my opinion, and they're going to do what they're going to do."

The Mud Hens found a way to make it work, winning the Triple-A East Midwest Division championship. Toledo won 11 of 20 series in the regular season, including a six-game sweep of St. Paul in late August.

The Mud Hens were especially strong at closing series, going 15-6 in Sunday games.

Toledo's .286 batting average in Sunday games was best in the league, and Sunday is the only day in which the team earned-run average was less than 4.

The Mud Hens faced eight different opponents this year. That number increases to 10 for 2022 as the Mud Hens will face three opponents it hadn't faced in 2021: Rochester Red Wings (Washington Nationals affiliate), Worcester Red Sox (Boston Red Sox affiliate), and Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (New York Yankees affiliate).

The Triple-A East and Triple-A West formats differ from each other for next season, said Peter Woodfork MLB's senior vice president of minor league operations and development.

For example, the Tacoma Rainiers (Seattle Mariners affiliate), who compete in the Triple-A West West Division, play 22 six-game series and four three-game sets next year.

Toledo has two three-game series in 2022, both against the Columbus Clippers.

"This year is really difficult to evaluate. We saw some benefits. We've got some issues with it. Next year, hopefully we're playing in a season that starts on time and can have fans," Woodfork said, "We have full fan attendance from the beginning, and the players are back in that rhythm, and you can really evaluate what's the best next step for 2023, 2024?"

The schedule format is here for another season, but Woodfork said they'll continue to listen to feedback for upcoming years.

"I think if you say you have it right in any time, you probably have it wrong. We want to try it," Woodfork said. "We're going to try to look at it, make sure we kind of keep a mindset of growth and development and the flexibility to change moving forward. We don't know if we have it perfect. Our players and our staff and the fans will let us know, because that's the one thing for sure. And if we need to make an adjustment or make a change or do something different, we have to have the open-mindedness to do that."

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