Feeling the effects of a starting rotation gutted by both the Major Leagues and China, Ducks President and General Manager Michael Pfaff needed to make some quick repairs. Although afforded the luxury of no longer being in a playoff race, with the first half Liberty Division title and automatic berth wrapped up early last month, the team is not in the business of losing games, or wearing out a bullpen that needs to be in tip-top shape when the playoffs begin in late September.
Starters Bruce Kern, a Yaphank native, and Darin Downs both had their contracts purchased by the Chinese Professional Baseball League during the final week of July. Starters Jack Snodgrass (Rangers) and Mark Blackmar (Nationals) were signed to Major League organizations earlier in July.
To replace those arms, Pfaff chose the path of the blockbuster, trading Sean Burroughs, the defending Atlantic-League batting champion, to the Bridgeport Bluefish for former-Yankee pitcher D.J. Mitchell Monday.
“It’s always tough leaving guys that you’ve had relationships with, guys I’ve played with and been around for two years. But, at the same time, I’m excited,” Mitchell, 29, said Friday. “The guys over here, I felt like I knew everyone here because I played against them for so long. I was excited to come to a playoff team and I was looking forward to it.”
Burroughs, 35, who battled a shoulder injury during the first half, batted .281 with nine RBIs and 18 runs in 42 games. Acquired from Bridgeport by the Ducks last August, the infielder hit .340 in 2015.
With the emergence of first baseman Mark Minicozzi, the anticipated return of injured DH and outfielder Lew Ford, and the general health of the offense (two of the league’s top three hitters entering the weekend play on Long Island), Burroughs suddenly became expendable.
“Sean is someone who we loved,” Pfaff said. “He’s a great guy, a great teammate, and a very good hitter. He’s just a really good baseball player and someone that we’ll miss. But, we have quite a few options at the corner and we have Lew Ford coming back here in the next couple of weeks. When you have multiple options in one area and some deficiencies in another, you have to deal from a position of strength to sure up that weakness, and that’s what we did.”
Pfaff also floated the possibility of utilizing free-agency to bolster any holes that Burroughs absence may leave.
“There are some very good options in offense right now in free agency and there weren’t in starting pitching,” Pfaff said.
The move greatly enhances Bridgeport’s sudden bid for a post-season berth, a prospect that seemed unlikely a month ago. After finishing 10 games behind the Ducks in the Liberty Division first half standings, the Bluefish entered the weekend one game behind the the Ducks in the second half title
chase and 6 1/2 games behind the Sugar Land Skeeters for the Wild Card.
Mitchell, who went 2-3 with a 4.39 ERA in 12 appearances (nine starts) in Bridgeport, allowed two runs on four hits, struck out five and walked four in five innings in his Ducks debut, a 3-2 win over the division-rival Somerset Patriots Wednesday.
“I’m going through some struggles mechanically with my delivery,” Mitchell said. “I’m trying to iron that out and getting closer and closer.”
Despite the shaky mechanics, the Ducks are excited to finally have Mitchell pitching for them.
“He’s given us fits for years at Bridgeport,” Ducks manager Kevin Baez said Wednesday afternoon. “He keeps the ball down and throws strikes. The balls that are not strikes look like strikes. He’s a competitor. We’ve had really tough times hitting against him. So hopefully he can bring that to us and keeps doing what he’s been doing.”
Mitchell made four appearances with the Yankees in 2012, allowing two runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings. He was drafted by the Yankees in 2008 and was part of the trade that brought Ichiro Suzuki to the Bronx in 2012.
The North Carolina-native made 34 appearances (13 starts) with the Mets triple-A affiliate in 2013.
After wrapping up a six-game road trip Sunday in Bridgeport, the Ducks return home Monday to face Somerset for four games and Lancaster for three.