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Few Clouds 40° Good Evening

Former Cy Young winner Eric Gagne will have to earn closer role with Long Island Ducks

Eric Gagne, pitching for Team Canada, warms

Eric Gagne, pitching for Team Canada, warms up against the Blue Jays in the fourth inning of an exhibition baseball game, Tuesday, March 7, 2017, in Dunedin, Fla. Photo Credit: AP / John Raoux

The Ducks made their biggest free-agent splash in years Friday when they signed former National League Cy Young award winner Eric Gagne to bolster their bullpen.

Though he hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2008, the 41-year-old reliever pitched for Canada in the World Baseball Classic, striking out two in 2 1⁄3 scoreless innings.

Now, Gagne is the biggest name in Central Islip.

The new addition won the NL Cy Young as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers in in 2003 and finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting in 2002 and 2004. During his Cy Young winning season, Gagne was perfect in 55 save opportunities. He holds the major-league record for most consecutive save opportunities converted — 84 — from August 2002 to July 2004.

Ducks manager Kevin Baez loves the idea of increased bullpen depth, but wasn’t ready to anoint Gagne the closer on Friday afternoon, nor does the manager feel any pressure to get his newly-acquired star in the game. Fans may clammer for the famous righty but, unless the manager thinks it’s right, Gagne won’t be trotted out of the pen.

“I don’t manage for the fans,” Baez said. “I manage to win ballgames. He’s a late inning guy. He’s probably going to come in when we’re winning late in the game.”

Another former major-league closer, David Aardsma, has the ninth-inning job for now and isn’t about to lose it based on Gagne’s name-value alone. Aardsma was 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA, had two saves, allowed one run, struck out nine and walked three in six innings, entering play Saturday.

“You have to prove yourself around here,” Baez said. “Aardsma has done a fine job. We actually have a lot of guys in the backend of the bullpen that were closers. [Chin-Hui] Tsao, Aardsma, Gagne, [Amalio] Diaz, and [Zac] Treece have all closed. But [Gagne] will come in, pitch late in games and we’ll see where we’re at.”

Although the Ducks lost, 2-1, to the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in Gagne’s debut Friday night, a glimpse into Baez’s thinking — at least in the short-term — was seen late in the game. Gagne pitched a hitless eighth, striking out two. Aardsma followed with the exact same stat line in the ninth.

Although the chain-of-bullpen-command didn’t change much on Friday, the excitement surrounding Gagne’s arrival was palpable.

“Whenever you have guys like that with a lot of experience, sort of on the same level as [Aardsma], you can pick their brains,” Ducks pitcher and Floral Park native Dennis O’Grady said. “Not only will they make the pitching staff better as a whole, but hopefully you can pick something up from them that will make yourself individually better.”

O’Grady, who was 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA and 11 strikeouts in his first 12 innings of the season, is excited to have yet-another veteran to learn the tools of the trade from.

“It could be anything from mindset to pitch-grips,” O’Grady said of what he may learn. “There’s endless amounts of things, whether they’re small or big, that you can pick up from a guy with a lot of experience like that.”

Offense erupts on the road

In the extreme short term, it appears that the Ducks bats like it a bit better away from home. After failing to score in all but three of the 26 innings played against the New Britain Bees last weekend at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip, the Ducks scored 31 runs in a four-game sweep of York early last week.

“I just think you need at least two weeks [of the season] to get the bats going,” Baez said. “It’s like spring training. It stinks, but some guys get out of the gate quicker than others. We just couldn’t get out of the gate quick. It seemed like pitchers were ahead early in the season.”

Next Up: Southern Maryland @ Ducks, 1:35 p.m.

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