As the playoffs get closer, the Ducks are getting healthier. That’s only good news for a team that has played a little below their first half pace in the first two months of the second half.
Yes, the Ducks still were in first place in the Liberty Division as the weekend dawned and stood at 26-21 in the second half, entering play Saturday. But, that was a minor dip from their .614 first half winning percentage.
And no, it doesn’t matter a tremendous amount whether or not they win any games at this point. By virtue of their first half championship, the Ducks have had a playoff spot clinched since early July and had the luxury of a two-month trial and error period to try and sure up some holes left by early and mid-season departures.
One of those holes was filled last Monday when first baseman David Washington returned from a month on the disabled list with a broken finger. Washington, who is the biggest power threat in the Ducks’ lineup, suffered the injury sliding into third base during a game in late July.
It was a new injury for Washington, who said he had never broken a finger sliding before. Originally, the injury was thought to be a two-week setback. It ended up being a shade over a month.
“The process was getting to where I could comfortably grip things, then moving forward and doing baseball activities, like swinging a bat,” said Washington, who played briefly for the Orioles in 2017. “Obviously, getting back to that was a lot of caution just because you don’t want to rush back and make the injury worse. There was maybe about a week or two of nothing with it, then slowly getting back to gripping stuff and eventually swinging.”
Swinging is something that Washington does with often booming results. He hits balls hard and far. Entering Saturday, Washington ranked eighth in the league in home runs with 19, one behind five other players and a potential six-way tie for third. All five players with 20 home runs had played, at least, eight more games than Washington.
In other words, his power is palpable.
Washington stayed with the team for most of his rehab, even traveling with them once he was cleared for baseball activities.
“To see the guys go out and compete night to night, kind of feeling like I’m with them instead of just sitting on the couch at home, it was definitely a positive,” Washington said.
Early in the season, Washington said he had improved his two-strike approach at the plate. Early results, and a higher average, looked promising. But, while his average has once again dipped below .250 (.243, entering Saturday), Washington said that the injury forced him to analyze some of his bad habits at the plate and focus on his two-strike hitting again.
“I feel like in the middle of the season, I had kind of gotten away from what I was trying to do and day-in and day-out as far as putting together good at-bats,” Washington said. “Taking that time off and being able to watch the game and think about things, I was able to get back to that two strike approach a little more.”
Ducks manager Wally Backman was thrilled to have his slugger back in the lineup, but urged patience when it came to immediate production.
“He’s very good at first base, picks the ball out the dirt,” Backman said. “He’s a good defender. We still have a month, I’m sure that we will see signs of that power again. I think it’s going to take him a little time. He’s been out for (a month). This is almost like spring training for him, so it’s going to take him seven to ten days to get ready.”
In addition to Washington, Backman said he expects Steve Lombardozzi to return from a foot injury next weekend. The Ducks placed Lombardozzi, a former National, on the disabled list on July 2, retroactive to June 30. In 59 games with the Ducks, Lombardozzi hit .271 with two home runs and 28 RBIs.
“It definitely makes us better defensively and I think it makes us better offensively as well,” Backman said. “Lombardozzi will go right back into the two hole. Washington will be a little bit lower in the order, but he’s a big power threat for us, a threat that we really haven’t had since we lost him.”