While the Ducks once-strong starting rotation now appears to be in flux, their offense has, generally, remained potent. The Ducks had three of the top four hitters in the Atlantic League entering play Thursday night.
Outfielder Delta Cleary Jr., who missed 31 games earlier this season with a broken hand, stood atop the batting chase, hitting at a .329 clip. Outfielder Fehlandt Lentini was second at .326 and catcher Mike Dowd was fourth at .308. Bridgeport’s Wellington Dotel split up the All-Long Island batting race, ranking third at .318.
Ducks have won the last two batting championships. Sean Burroughs, who now plays for Bridgeport, won it last season and Lew Ford won it in 2014.
Perhaps feeling the effects of having four of his starting pitchers signed by other professional leagues in the last month and a half, Ducks manager Kevin Baez quipped last week that he needed the top nine hitters in the league.
But, three out of four isn’t bad, especially when one of those hitters, Lentini, celebrated his 39th birthday earlier this month.
“He makes in-game adjustments and corrections,” Baez said of Lentini. “He’ll feel something and he’ll know that he’s coming around the ball or doing something else. It clicks for him. He’s a consummate professional. He goes out there and expects to do well . . . he’s a guy you want on your team.”
Lentini, who is the all-time Independent league leader in stolen bases, takes tremendous pride in having so much success at an advanced age.
“I want to prove all the people that think age matters wrong,” he said.
Lentini has spent the last few years undergoing a massive swing change to combat the lingering effects of ankle and hand injuries suffered in college. Now, healthier than he’s been in years, he said he’s paying more attention to the chase for the league’s highest average, happy that he’s in it, but happier that he’s helping the Ducks win.
“When I had my old swing, I used to look at the numbers and I felt like they would push me to do better,” Lentini said. “The years I was searching [for my swing], I didn’t like to look at the numbers because I felt like I was already under pressure because I didn’t feel like I normally did . . . I’ve gotten back to looking at them and they’ve been driving me forward.”
Cleary said he doesn’t give numbers much thought, but sees the large picture in all of this — the Ducks offense is dangerous. “We’re special,” Cleary said. “Not just us three, but one through nine. That’s the good thing. A lot of people don’t realize that to hit good, you have to have a lot of good people around you as well.”
Sharing a clubhouse with Lentini, a man with an endless wealth of baseball knowledge, has proved instrumental in Cleary’s development.
“We sort of have the same thought process, as far as hitting,” Cleary said. “We just like to keep it simple and make adjustments when we can. Of course, we want to take a great swing every time, but it’s not going to happen every time. But from the failure you get, you can always take something from it.”
And so far, those failures have been few and far between.
After finishing up their road trip Sunday night in Sugar Land, the Ducks have their first off day since Aug. 1, and last of the regular season, Monday. They open up a six-game homestand Tuesday.