As the Ducks look to rejigger and refine their roster for the playoffs next month, manager Wally Backman is working his Rolodex — trying to find anyone on the proverbial unending waiver wire who can come to Central Islip, take some hacks while they wait for a major-league affiliate to notice. And help the Ducks win some games, and maybe a championship — in the process.
Backman said he reached out to former Met Lucas Duda last week. The Ducks are looking for someone to fill the hole in the middle of the lineup that the retirement of Kirk Nieuwenhuis created three weeks ago. Duda, released by the Royals last Sunday, hit .171 in 39 games and 105 at-bats with Kansas City.
“He did seem interested,” said Backman, who added that there were “no guarantees.” “Lucas played for me, for parts of three different years [in the Mets’ minor-league system]. Some was just rehabbing, when he was hurt in the big leagues. I called him and he called me right back. He showed some interest and I think he was going to talk it over with his wife.”
Duda played parts of eight seasons with the Mets, bashing 30 home runs in 2014 and 27 in 2015. He hit 30 again in 2017 with the Mets and Rays. But his numbers dipped last season, when he had 14 home runs and 50 RBIs in 107 games with the Royals and Braves.
“My thing to Lucas was, you need to get more at-bats if you’re going to continue to want to play,” Backman said. “He’s 33 years old now and still has some life left in him in the game. That will be a decision that he’s going to have to make, but it would be a nice decision for the Ducks if he came to play for us.”
While Duda is, at this point, a “kicking the tires” scenario, former Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz was in the Ducks’ clubhouse Friday and is scheduled to start Sunday against the High Point Rockers. Matusz, whose mother grew up in Bay Shore, pitched parts of eight seasons with the Orioles and made one start with the Cubs in 2016. He spent 2017 with Triple-A Reno in the Diamondbacks’ organization and spent 2018 away from the game.
“There was no real reason. I just took a break,” said Matusz, 32, who made seven playoff appearances with Baltimore in 2012 and 2014. “Having that layoff was strange . . . It was nice to take a break, really my first from baseball in my entire life. To take that time and relax, play golf, and chill. But I started getting that itch and wanted to play ball again.”
Matusz, who was famously thrown out of a game for having a foreign substance on his right forearm while playing with the Orioles in 2015, spent the beginning of 2019 training in Mexico and made one start with Monclova of the Mexican League. The start didn’t go well — five runs in three innings — but Backman said that the Mexican League still has interest in him for next season.
“He needs to pitch and he wanted to come here to pitch and we’re going to give him a shot,” Backman said.
ABS is adequate
The reviews are in and so far, Backman said he has seen few problems with the Atlantic League’s automated ball-strike system (ABS), which officially launched July 25. The system uses radar to call balls and strikes, with the calls being relayed to the home-plate umpire through an earpiece.
“It’s made a few mistakes, but I think it’s less mistakes,” Backman said. “I like it. I really do. I think it’s going to last a long time . . . I’ve only seen just a few [calls] that I would question and it’s always been on a low pitch.”
Former Met T.J. Rivera generally agreed.
“It’s been all right,” Rivera said. “There’s been some hiccups, which I think we all expected, a little inconsistency with some of the calls, but it is what it is. There’s some things that need to be adjusted or we as players have to adjust to, and that’s the balls nipping the lower part of the zone . . . I haven’t seen anything that’s been really overwhelming or tough to take. It’s been an easy transition.”