The Ducks needed two things from starting pitcher Darin Downs Sunday afternoon – length and quality. Unfortunately for them, the former major leaguer didn’t give them much of either. Downs lasted five innings and allowed a grand slam and a solo home run in the Ducks 9-3 loss to the New Britain Bees in front of 5,236 fans at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip.
“I didn’t feel too great, rhythm-wise,” said Downs, who also allowed five hits, struck out six, and walked three. “My stuff was there, I just didn’t have the control I’ve had in the past.”
The Ducks (16-8) split a four-game series with New Britain and are 6-4 in their last 10 games. They are tied with the Somerset Patriots for first place atop the Atlantic League's Liberty Division. Bees starter Rainy Lara pitched five innings, allowed two runs, struck out two and earned the win.
The Ducks used 10 pitchers, and position player Matt den Dekker, Saturday, en route to a split of a day/night double header, so getting a lot from Downs was a virtual must.
“He went out there and sucked it up for those five innings,” Ducks manager Wally Backman said. “We needed a little bit more out of him because we used everybody in our bullpen in that double header...He went out and gave us five innings and we really needed that today.”
The longball proved to be Downs’ downfall early in Sunday’s game. Ozzie Martinez’s solo blast to left with one out in the first inning gave the Bees a 1-0 lead and, after the Ducks tied the score in the bottom of the first, Alexi Amarista’s grand slam in the second inning put the Bees ahead 5-1.
“He struggled with command the first two innings,” Backman said. “He left some pitches out over the plate and got hit hard…Darin’s a guy that has to be able to locate his fastball and he was on too much of the plate early.”
Downs faced nine batters in the second inning and had no one but himself to consult. These days, pitchers are on their own when things go wrong. Non-pitching change mound visits, except in the case of injury, are prohibited thanks to the agreement between Major League Baseball and the Atlantic League that allows MLB to test experimental rules in the independent league.
“It definitely hurts,” Backman said. “There were a couple times we could have went out, tried to slow the tempo of the game down, talk to him a little bit, and reassure him how we wanted to pitch to hitters…It’s a concern because I like to be able to control with tempo of the game and, with no mound visits, it takes it away from you.”
The Ducks got a run back in the fourth when David Washington’s one-out RBI single drove in Steve Lombardozzi. But, that’s all the Ducks would get after a nice run-saving play by Bees first baseman Jason Rogers on a sharply hit ball from Daniel Fields and Washington was picked off at second base by catcher Logan Moore.
“I was a little overaggressive on trying to score on a single,” Washington said. “I got caught a little too far off and Logan made a good throw to second.”
The Bees added a run in the eighth and three more in the ninth.
Backman mum on Mets talk
The Met fan twitterverse was abuzz with talk, or pleas, of Backman taking over the reigns in Queens should the Mets fire manager Mickey Calloway, whose team got swept by the hapless Marlins this weekend.
But Backman, who once thought he was in line for the position, was mum on the subject.
“I’m only concerned with the Ducks right now. That’s my team,” Backman said. “This is my team. Whatever they do there is whatever they do, but I only concern myself with this team right here.”