According to Ducks starter John Brownell, he’s nothing special. Manager Kevin Baez vehemently disagrees.
“He’s a proven pitcher in this league and on this team,” Baez said Saturday morning at the team’s media day at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip. “We know what to expect when he takes the mound. He’s going to throw strikes and keep us in the game. He’s a bulldog out there. He doesn’t want to come out of the game. He’s competitive and leads by example.”
Baez confirmed that Brownell, 32, will be on the mound Thursday night when the Ducks open their 17th season in Somerset, New Jersey, against the defending Atlantic League champion Patriots.
“He wants the ball. He deserves the ball. He’s got the ball,” Baez said.
It will be the third consecutive year that Brownell has gotten the ball on opening night. As he did in the previous two seasons, the righthander downplayed the significance of that.
“I’m just excited I get to start a day earlier than the next guy,” Brownell said. “I’m just the guy for one day out of every five days. For whoever starts the second day, that’s his opening night. It’s just the start of the season.”
But from a raw numbers standpoint, there’s no one else the Ducks would want to start their quest for a fourth Atlantic League title.
Brownell was the 2015 Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year, going 12-6 with a 3.38 ERA. His 146 strikeouts led the league and broke the franchise record. One year after tossing more than 200 innings for the first time in his 10-year career, he threw 175 2⁄3 last season.
Brownell played winter ball in Puerto Rico, where he began to work on a new two-seam grip, something he hopes to have success with this season.
“Hopefully, I can have a little bit of sink to my two-seamer when I need a ground-ball double play,” he said. “I like the action a little bit better and have a better feel with this new grip.”
Brownell pitched four no-hit innings Saturday afternoon in his spring training debut, a 6-2 loss to the Bridgeport Bluefish. He threw 55 pitches, struck out three and walked one.
“I felt good with all my pitches,” he said. “I hit two batters. I threw a cutter in on the first batter I hit and pulled it a little bit too much. It wasn’t a terrible pitch, but I’m just working the kinks out.”