If the Ducks are to make a run at a second half title in the Atlantic League’s Liberty Division, they’ll need to figure out how to fix the bridge to closer Francisco Rodriguez. The Ducks’ middle relief has been a major issue of late.
The weekend began when the Ducks placed on the disabled list setup man Wander Perez (elbow) — something they hope will be brief — and ended with their healthy pen blowing a four-run lead against their division rivals, the Somerset Patriots, who scored four runs in the eighth inning and beat the Ducks, 12-9, in front of 4,766 fans at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip Sunday night.
The Patriots swept the Ducks and have a four-game lead in the second-half race. The Ducks finished a potentially pivotal homestand 2-4 against the New Britain Bees and the Patriots. The Ducks are 6-6 and Somerset is 10-2.
Brandon Pinder, who got two big outs with the bases loaded in the eighth, walked Matt Oberste to force in a run and give the Patriots a 10-9 lead. One batter later, Mike Fransoso’s single drove in Ramon Flores for Somerset’s 11th run.
Pinder, who informed the Ducks of his impending retirement earlier this month and played his final game Sunday, said of the walk: “I was just trying to throw strikes, trying to get ahead, a couple got away, I ended up walking a guy, and a run came in.”
All told, the Ducks bullpen allowed 10 runs (eight earned) after starter Matt Larkins left after the third inning. Larkins allowed two runs, three hits, and struck out three. It was Larkins’ first start in over a month after traveling back to his Idaho home for the birth of his first child. Because of this, the Ducks did not intend to keep him in the game very long, making Sunday a non-injury rehab start of sorts for the righthander.
After allowing leadoff doubles and a run in each of the first two innings, Larkins left the game looking his strongest. He struck out the last two batters he faced as part of a 1-2-3 third inning.
“I felt really good,” he said. “Obviously, I was really excited to be out there so I was a little up the first couple innings. I was just trying to get the feel back and balance the intensity of going out there. First two innings was kind of a feel out and third inning it all came together.”
“He’s a bulldog,” manager Kevin Baez said. “He just hasn’t pitched it a while . . . He threw the ball well. Next outing, we expect him to go longer.”
The Ducks’ bullpen took over in the fourth and the struggles began. Lee Sosa, who tied the franchise record for walks in a game in his start on Wednesday, lasted only one-third of an inning and allowed three runs.
Hector Silvestre, who tried out for the Ducks on Saturday and was signed Sunday, allowed a hit and two runs (one earned) in the fifth inning. Jose Cuas worked around a leadoff single to pitch a scoreless sixth.
“We have to get better,” Baez said of the bullpen. “We got to find a way. There’s no other way around it. We have to find a way.”
Ducks designated hitter Lew Ford finished a triple shy of the cycle as his hot second half continued. Ford, who entered Sunday hitting .400 in his last nine games, went 3-for-5 with a home run, three runs, and five RBIs.
“I feel like I’m putting the bat on the ball a little more,” he said, “hitting the ball where it’s pitched, swinging at better pitches, and just doing everything a little better and getting better results.”