Henry plays waiting game at Triple-A Toledo

Published 11:06 am Monday, July 5, 2010

If there’s one thing Justin Henry has learned in 3 1/2 seasons in the minor leagues, it’s that nothing is ever permanent.

So, when he was called into his manager’s office on June 26, he had an idea of what was about to happen — just not where he’d be the next day. As it turns out, the former Vicksburg High and Ole Miss star got good news.

Because of an injury to another player, Henry was needed by the Toledo Mud Hens. The Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers is one step removed from the majors, and the promotion was the first Henry had gotten in the middle of a season.

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“I was definitely surprised and excited at the same time. My situation is I’ve always been at a level each year, so I never got the call in the middle of the season,” Henry said. “In Erie a lot of changes were happening with the roster, though, so I thought something might happen.”

Henry’s promotion might be temporary. He was called up to fill in for injured second baseman Scott Sizemore, who is on the seven-day disabled list with a hip strain.

Sizemore began the season in the majors as the Tigers’ starting second baseman, but struggled and was sent back down to Toledo in May. When he comes off the DL it likely means Henry will return to Double-A Erie.

Because of Sizemore’s status as a starter-in-waiting, as well as the solid play of infield mate Will Rhymes (.288, 27 RBIs, 41 runs scored and 18 stolen bases), even a successful stint in Triple-A doesn’t guarantee that Henry will stay in Toledo.

Despite that uncertainty, Henry is trying to make the most of this opportunity. He’s played in four games, starting three, since being called up and gone 3-for-10 with three walks, three stolen bases and one run scored. He went 0-for-2 with two walks in a 7-1 loss to Columbus on Saturday.

“You want to advance to the next level. Moreso, it’s getting here and seeing that it’s the same game. You tell yourself that, but until you get out there and play you don’t always believe it,” Henry said. “I’m just trying to go out there and do the best I can to make more opportunities for myself.”

Henry admitted that a return to Double-A wouldn’t be the worst thing for him, either. He’s a part-time player in Toledo, but was the starting second baseman for the Erie Seawolves. At Erie, he was hitting .272 with 13 RBIs, 12 doubles, 24 runs scored and nine stolen bases in 55 games.

Henry had also been playing well the last two months. He hit just .133 in April, then hit over .300 and raised his average nearly 140 points in May and June.

“Every year since I’ve been playing in the pros it’s been the same,” Henry said with a laugh. “May and June are better than April. I stunk in April and dug myself a pretty big hole.”

A return to Erie could also set up a reunion with his younger brother Jordan, who was called up to the Cleveland Indians’ Double-A affiliate Akron last month. Akron and Erie play eight consecutive games against each other from July 9-18. They also play eight times in late August and early September, so even if the brothers don’t meet up this month they could face each other later in the season.

“It was going to be fun. I was definitely looking forward to it,” Justin Henry said. “Erie and Akron play a lot down the stretch, so it could still happen.”

Ideally, though, Justin Henry would like to keep his spot in Toledo for a while. He had hoped — and still does — to start the 2011 season there, but realizes it’s something he doesn’t have a lot of control over. Triple-A is often a holding area for struggling major leaguers like Sizemore, and making the leap to that level requires as much luck as skill.

“That’s the way this business works. You have to be playing well, but you also have to be fortunate, and be in the right place at the right time,” Henry said. “Each year you want to make the next step. There’s tons of guys on our roster that have played in the big leagues. You’re at a step now where you don’t necessarily move up just because you have a good year.”