David Washington has never been uncomfortable in a good hitter’s count — he’s hit more than a few mammoth home runs in his season-plus tenure with the Ducks to prove that. His swing sometimes looks effortless, gliding through the zone as he launches a ball into the Central Islip night. But, this season, Washington has felt more comfortable in unfriendly counts, too — namely ones with two strikes on him — and it’s led to a higher average and welcome results for the Ducks.
“Obviously, throughout my career, I’ve struggled with striking out a lot. So, that kind of builds up in your head. You get to two strikes and you start trying to protect the plate instead of locking in on the pitcher and just attacking the ball as you would in other counts,” said Washington, who played three games with the Orioles in 2017.
Last season Washington did strike out a lot. The 6-5 power-hitter batted .226 with 24 home runs and 71 RBIs and struck out 179 times in 113 games. This season, however, he has shown improved discipline at the plate.
Entering Saturday, Washington had 23 RBIs and only 46 strikeouts in 32 games. His eight home runs were tied for second-most in the league, one behind York’s Telvin Nash, entering play on Saturday.
Washington homered in his first two at-bats Saturday night against the Revolution in York, Pennsylvania. That raised his total to 10 home runs. Nash also hit his 10th home run.
“It’s just being ready for good pitches to hit and not missing them as much,” Washington said. “Last year, I spent a lot of the year in between on fastball and off-speed pitches. This year, I’m trying to be better at always being ready for a fastball and in a good spot to hit it. So far, it’s worked out.”
Perhaps Ducks manager Wally Backman described Washington’s power best.
“He’s long and lean with a lot of leverage,” Backman said.
The manager said he’s noticed a significant plate discipline improvement from Washington.
“Last year, from what I remember, he was a lot more of a free swinger,” Backman said. “He can get that way at times. But, I think more consistently this year, he’s been able to shorten his swing with two strikes and has been more disciplined at the plate. I know that his strikeouts are still pretty high, but when he’s most needed to drive in runs, he’s been capable of hitting over .300 (with runners in scoring position) for us and is able to drive in runs, as well as get those big home runs for us.”
Ducks bring in two more ex-big leaguers
This is one way to fortify a bullpen. After losing reliever Jose Cuas to the Diamondbacks' organization and George Kontos to the Nationals' organization, the Ducks signed relievers Tanner Scheppers and Josh Lueke early last week. Both are former major-leaguers, with Scheppers spending parts of six seasons with the Rangers and Lueke pitching for the Mariners and Rays from 2011-2014.
The two combined to throw 1 2/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen in Friday night’s 6-2 win over York. It was Scheppers first appearance for the Ducks. Lueke allowed two hits and struck out three in three scoreless innings, entering Saturday.
Backman said he has confidence using both pitchers in a closing role as the season progresses.
“They’re both big league arms that have pitched in the back end of bullpens,” Backman said. “[Reliever Enrique] Burgos has a little cut on his finger, so he hasn’t been able to pitch for a few days, so Lueke really stepped up those first few days when we first got him. Not having a guy and not knowing a whole lot about him, to see the way he pitched the eighth inning one day and come in and close the next day for us was nice to see."
ATLANTIC LEAGUE HR LEADERS
David Washington, Ducks 10
Telvin Nash, 10
Quincy Latimore, High Point 8
Four tied with 6