Mike Blanke knows both sides of the battery. The 26-year-old pitcher, who was chosen by the Chicago White Sox in the 14th round of the 2010 draft, spent his first four seasons as a catcher.
Before last season, Blanke was told that he'd have a better shot at climbing up the organizational ladder if he moved his position a shade over 60 feet to the north and began pitching. Not wanting to miss a chance to impress, Blanke agreed. In 13 games for Class A Great Falls (Montana), Blanke failed to factor into a decision, allowed seven runs and 17 hits and struck out 10 batters in 131/3 innings. He had a 4.72 ERA.
This season, Blanke returned to his more natural catching role. He was traded from the White Sox to the Arizona Diamondbacks in March and, after only 12 days in Arizona's system, was granted his release.
He found his way to the Ducks and, with the exception of a two-week stint in the Red Sox organization in May, has split time behind the plate all season. After a year off from hitting, Blanke has a .295 average with nine home runs and 41 RBIs in 76 games (268 at-bats).
The Ducks entered play Saturday night locked in a three-way tie with the Somerset Patriots and Bridgeport Bluefish for first place in the Liberty Division second-half standings with 22 games to play. Because the Ducks hold a double-digit lead in the wild-card chase, they likely would miss the Atlantic League playoffs only if Bridgeport wins the division. They begin a three-game set with Bridgeport on Tuesday at Bethpage Ballpark.
How did pitching last year make you a better catcher?
It helped a lot. It also helped as a hitter. You realize that, as a pitcher, you're trying to hit a certain spot. But you're going to miss and make mistakes. Sometimes you give the hitter too much credit and try to make a perfect pitch instead of just getting ahead and throwing strikes early. As a hitter, I know that they're going to make a mistake. I'll be a little more patient, look for that mistake, and hit a good fastball or a good pitch up in the zone. I can drive that, instead of just trying to put it in play.
What have you done well at the plate this year?
Early in the year, I was trying to iron out the kinks in my swing. I started standing taller at bat. This allowed me more time to see the ball and to let the ball get deeper. I get to use my leverage more because [at 6-4] I'm a taller guy. I used to be a little lower and wider. As a taller guy, it's tough to get extension when you're low at bat.
Why did the team struggle in Bridgeport last week?
It was just one of those series that it seemed like we couldn't get the ball rolling for us offensively. We had our chances, getting guys on base, but we hit a lot of hard outs as well. We had some bad innings defensively, or we walked batters, and it multiplied. We had a tough time coming back and putting runs together. It just kind of happened quick. It's one of those things in baseball. I still feel we're the better team. I trust our team, our pitching staff, and our defense to play better. We could all do a better job.
Next up: Sunday, Ducks at Southern Maryland, 2:05 p.m.