The Atlantic League is a league of opportunity, and perhaps no one has seized his opportunity more than Ducks pitcher Bruce Kern.
Kern, a Yaphank native and Bellport High School graduate, joined the Ducks in April as a camp invite. He was unsure if he would even make the team.
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Now, five months later, Kern finds himself part of the Ducks' playoff rotation, scheduled to start Game 4 of the best-of-five Liberty Division Championship Series against the Somerset Patriots. The game is scheduled for Saturday night in Somerset, New Jersey. The Ducks lost Game 1, 5-3, Wednesday night at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip and beat Somerset, 5-4, in Game 2 Thursday night.
"It's awesome," Kern said before Game 1. "It's baseball. It's a game of opportunity. You work hard for opportunities like this. I'm looking forward to it."
Kern, who began the year in the bullpen, made 13 regular- season starts. He is 9-6 with a 3.51 ERA and has 102 strikeouts with 31 walks in 1072/3 innings.
"It's all about the eye test," Ducks manager Kevin Baez said. "No matter where you've played, it's about how you're playing now. He's produced. He's earned going into the rotation. He pounds the strike zone, has a good curveball, a good changeup and cutter, and he throws strikes."
Kern was drafted by the Rockies in 2010 and spent five seasons in their system before being released in March.
Kern said he battled injuries the previous three seasons. His workload this season is his biggest in pro ball since he pitched 742/3 innings for Class A Asheville in 2011.
"My arm feels great," he said. "I feel stronger now than I did in the beginning of the year. It's pretty awesome."
Kern was brilliant in his last start against Somerset, a 5-1 victory on Aug. 20. He allowed one run, five hits and two walks in eight innings, striking out six.
Kern said he enjoys pitching in Somerset, which makes him confident.
"It's more of a pitchers' park, so I have a little bit of an advantage," he said. "Hopefully our bats come to play, I do what I've been doing over there, and we get the win."
Kern said he last made the playoffs in 2013 when he was pitching for Class A Modesto, making two relief appearances. He also pitched for St. John's Big East Tournament championship team in 2010, starting Game 2 against Louisville and coming out of the bullpen in the championship game against UConn.
Kern certainly has the experience and doesn't expect to be intimidated by the moment in Game 4.
"I'm going to try and treat it like a regular-season game," he said. "I'm going to try and not do too much and execute my pitches."