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Former Met T.J. Rivera leaves Ducks for Nationals organization

The Long Island Ducks' T.J. Rivera drives a

The Long Island Ducks' T.J. Rivera drives a single to centerfield against the High Point Rockers on Friday at Bethpage Ballpark. Credit: George A. Faella

T.J. Rivera’s short stint in Central Islip is over. The former Met, who came to the Ducks on July 6, had his contract purchased by the Washington Nationals organization on Sunday. He’ll report to their Double-A affiliate in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The move was announced before the Ducks’ 6-3 loss to the High Point Rockers at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip.

Rivera, who played for the Mets in 2016 and 2017 and missed the vast majority of last season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, hit .270 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 23 games (89 at-bats) with the Ducks. He hit safely in 16 of his 23 games with Long Island and reached base in 19 of the 23. Rivera hit home runs in three of his last nine games.

“I had some ups and downs,” Rivera said Friday afternoon, less than 48-hours before his departure was announced. “I started really good and have been working through some things. But that’s part of the game. I’m enjoying it. Getting to play baseball everyday, putting on a [uniform], and getting to go out there and compete again is what I missed the most.”

“I thought we were probably going to lose him a week ago and that didn’t happen," Ducks manager Wally Backman said. "I think [the Nationals] know what T.J. Rivera is capable of. T.J. came here and did exactly what he had to do, proved that he can still play in the field and throw the ball across the diamond from third base. He’s hit everywhere he’s gone. The rest is history. I think the next time we’re really talking about T.J., he’s probably going to be back in the big leagues in the near future.”

Rivera is the 14th Ducks player and second position player to have his contract purchased by a major-league or foreign organization this season. His departure deepens the hole in the middle of the Ducks’ lineup that grew exponentially when another former Met, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, retired last month. In an effort to fill that void, Backman said he contacted former Met Lucas Duda, who was released by the Royals on July 28. While Backman said there are ‘no guarantees,’ Duda did appear ‘interested.’

Shortly after Rivera skipped town, former major-leaguer pitcher Brian Matusz made his Ducks debut. Matusz, a former Oriole who signed with the Ducks on Friday, allowed two runs (one earned) and three hits in four innings. He struck out one batter, walked three, and left with the score tied at 2.

The Rockers (13-12) jumped on Matusz for two runs in the first. An RBI double from Hector Gomez drove in Stephen Cardullo and Gomez scored when Ducks rightfielder Rey Fuentes dropped a fly ball.

The Ducks (10-12) cut the Rockers lead in half with a run in the second and tied the score at 2 in the fourth after Clint Freeman’s double scraped the centerfield wall and drove in John Apostolo.

But the Rockers scored three more in the sixth to take a 5-2 lead. Jared Mitchell’s double off reliever Kevin McAvoy broke the tie. Later in the inning, Mitchell scored on a wild pitch from McAvoy and Gomez scored after Freeman misplayed a pop-up at first base.

“I thought he held his own today," Backman said of Matusz. "I liked some of the things that I saw and I think it’s only going to get better . . . He gave us three pretty good innings [after the first]. He got a little too deep in counts, but that can be expected with as long as he’s been laid off. But [High Point] is a pretty good hitting team, predominantly righthanded facing a lefty and he held his own.

“He pitched with no fear, which should be expected from a guy like that.”

“It took a little bit of time to find a rhythm, but overall it felt good," Matusz said. "The natural baseball instincts are still there.  In terms of finding the delivery and getting all the pitches working, I feel is taking some time, but the natural baseball instincts, I still feel them.”

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