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Improved bullpen could help Ducks’ playoff hopes

Ducks pitcher Francisco Rodriguez #57 pitching in the

Ducks pitcher Francisco Rodriguez #57 pitching in the 9th inning against the Sugar Land Texas Skeeters at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip on July 8th 2018. Photo Credit: Daniel De Mato

The Atlantic League season isn’t a marathon or a sprint — it’s a relay race. Players come and go. Strengths become weaknesses and weaknesses become strengths. It’s a game of roulette, really — and once again, the Ducks appear to be in the money. But will they be in the playoffs? That question will be answered at some point this week — the Ducks hope sooner rather than later.

The Ducks entered their final home weekend series against the homeless Road Warriors one game in front of the Somerset Patriots for first place in the Liberty Division second half race and tied with the York Revolution for the second wild card spot with nine games to play. If the Patriots and Sugar Land Skeeters, who won their respective first half championships, win again in the second half, two wild card teams will reach the post-season.

The Ducks will have to make their final stand for the playoffs deep in the heart of Texas. A six-game series with the Skeeters to end the regular season begins Tuesday. It isn’t the easiest way to end the season, but thanks to an inconsistent first half and a four-game losing streak right before Labor Day, they’ll have no choice. Sugar Land is, without question, the best team in the league.

“[The Skeeters] have been playing really well and they usually play really well in Sugar Land,” Ducks manager Kevin Baez said. “I was just hoping that we’d have a nice little cushion when we got down there . . . But, we’ll relish the opportunity and get after it.”

A major weakness for the Ducks at the beginning of the second half — the bullpen — has become a strength.

“We have lefthanders and righthanders. It’s a lot better for [Baez] to do matchups and stuff,” closer Francisco Rodriguez said. “But, for this stretch we have right now, we need a strong bullpen, and we’ve got one. As long as we continue to do what we’re supposed to do, things are going to be better for us down the road.”

The Ducks dodged disaster after Rodriguez left the opening game of a double-header on Aug. 29 with a gluteus strain. But, the injury appeared to be extremely mild. Rodriguez only missed three days and the Ducks said Thursday that he is back at full strength with no restrictions. He pitched scoreless innings in his first two post-injury appearances and allowed an unearned run in a third. Rodriguez was 2-1 with a 2.79 ERA and 25 saves in 40 appearances, entering the weekend.

“I’m feeling well,” Rodriguez said. “I think the numbers say that I’ve been doing my job every time they ask for me. I’m feeling back to normal. I’ve been doing this for years and nothing is different.”

The bridge to him continues to strengthen as well. Baez has a plethora of options in the late innings before he hands Rodriguez a potential lead.

Former Red Logan Ondrusek entered the weekend having not allowed an earned run since Aug. 2 (14 appearances). Fernando Abad, signed on Aug. 3, had an ERA under one (0.61) in 15 appearances. Jose Cuas allowed two runs in 14 appearances, dating back to Aug.2. Even Carlos Pimentel, who had a rough July, entered the weekend with 10 consecutive scoreless appearances under his belt.

Even without Rodriguez, who is one of the greatest closers of all-time, the Ducks have a strong bullpen. With him, it might be enough to carry them to a third consecutive Atlantic League Championship Series appearance. If they can find a way to get into the playoffs, that is.

“That’s one of the luxuries right now,” Baez said of the bullpen. “You feel confident in whoever you have in there. Obviously, you have your guys if you have a lead, you have your seven, eight, nine guy that you’re going to go 99 percent of the time. But, it’s nice to have those guys if the game is close, or we’re up maybe four or five runs and you want to keep the game where it is.”

Ducks adds two players for late run

The Ducks acquired outfielder Rubi Silva and relief pitcher Taylor Grover from the Chicago Dogs of the Independent American Association in exchange for two players to be named later Wednesday. Silva, who played for York earlier in the season and in 2017, hit . 286 with five home runs and 30 RBIs in 47 games with the Dogs.

“Just from facing him, I knew that he’s swung the bat really well, can run, and can play good defense,” Baez said. “He made a nice play [on Wednesday] and threw the guy out at the plate. He puts the ball in play. He’s a good player, so we expect him to get in here, just do what he does, and cause havoc out there.”

Grover was 1-2 with a 2.62 ERA and 14 saves in 43 appearances with the Dogs. He allowed one hit in his first two appearances with the Ducks.

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