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Ducks try to get pitching in order for playoffs

Duck starting pitcher John Brownell #7 delivers a

Duck starting pitcher John Brownell #7 delivers a pitch during the second inning of a game against the Sugar Land Skeeters at Bethpage Ballpark on June 5, 2016. Credit: Daniel De Mato

The summer siesta is almost over. After winning the first half and clinching an automatic playoff berth, the Ducks were able to tinker with a starting rotation that, at times, seemed more like an escalator to other professional leagues than a unit designed for long-term continuity.

But now, crunchtime is fast approaching and decisions have to be made. With the final week of the regular season about to begin, the frantic rotation rebuilding has started to show fruits, but that doesn’t necessarily mean manager Kevin Baez is ready to commit to anyone besides veteran righthander John Brownell quite yet.

Brownell, who won only one of his six starts in August, will start Game 1 of the Liberty Division Championship Series, scheduled for Sept. 21, Baez said Wednesday night. As far as the other playoff starters, Baez said he will make those decisions this week.

Newly acquired Jarret Leverett made his case for a spot in the playoff rotation with five scoreless innings and five strikeouts in a 2-0 win over Bridgeport in the second game of a doubleheader Wednesday night.

It was Leverett’s second start since being sent over from the New Britain Bees on Aug. 28 in the completion of an earlier trade. The righthander allowed six runs in five innings against Lancaster on Sept. 1.

“I felt a lot better tonight than I did in my first start,” Leverett said after the win. “I was a lot more in control. [Catcher Mike] Blanke and I were on the same page for the majority of the night.”

But perhaps more concerning than the starting pitching for the Ducks is their slumping offense. Entering the weekend series with York, the Ducks had scored two runs or less in nine of their last ten games.

“I think there have been some guys coming back from injuries and they haven’t had a full season of at-bats,” Ducks president and general manager Michael Pfaff said. “They’re trying to find their strokes. While at the same time, guys who are at the plate every single day for months, have hit a little bit of a lull. A guy like Anthony Vega, he’s played almost every day since May and he needs to get himself back in the frame of mind of being aggressive at the plate and contributing offensively.”

Vega, who went to Patchogue-Medford High School, hit .287 in the first half, but has struggled since, carrying a .209 second-half batting average into the weekend. He had only four two-hit games since Aug.1 and one three-hit game in the second half.

“I really feel that, with Mike Dowd having a great year offensively, Cody Puckett, Dan Lyons, [Tyler] Colvin, [Lew] Ford, [Delta] Cleary Jr., and [Fehlandt] Lentini [in the lineup], we should be scoring more runs than we are,” Pfaff said. “I don’t think there’s anybody down there who doesn’t think that’s true.”

Seven millionth fan

Based on their attendance of 5,213 fans per game, the Ducks project that their seven millionth fan will enter Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip this weekend. The Ducks, in their 17th season, are the first Atlantic League team to break that threshold, according to the team.

On deck

The Ducks host York Sunday afternoon in their regular-season home finale. They close out the year with three games in Sugar Land, beginning Monday night, and four games in York.


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