Matt Larkins is hoping to turn his season around, and the Ducks are giving him a major chance to do so. Larkins, who generally has been good in his three-season tenure with the team but struggled in the second half this year, will start Game 1 of the Liberty Division championship series against the Somerset Patriots Wednesday night at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip.
It’s the fourth consecutive year that the Ducks have faced the Patriots in the best-of-five first round of the Atlantic League playoffs. The Ducks have won the last two series, including a four-game series win last season and a dramatic five-game shocker in which the Ducks needed to win the final three games two years ago.
“They know us and we know them,” Ducks manager Kevin Baez said at an optional team workout Tuesday afternoon. “ …There’s a lot of different guys, but we know [Somerset’s] a good organization and has a good team. They have a good manager and a good pitching coach. They’re fundamentally sound. They don’t give away outs too many times. They make the plays and don’t beat themselves. We have to respond and play fundamentally sound baseball.”
It’s more of the same for the Ducks. Facing and beating the Patriots has become a rite of passage in mid-September. Winning a championship, however, hasn’t. The Ducks have been swept in the last two Atlantic League championship series and are looking to change that. They haven’t won a championship since 2013.
But first it’s Larkins against Somerset for the early advantage. The righthander was 7-5 with a 4.55 ERA, 66 strikeouts, and 21 walks in 19 starts this season. Because of some untimely September rain, he’s well-rested. He pitched only three innings before a rain delay in his last start, Sept. 12 against Sugar Land, and only two-thirds of an inning before a delay on Sept. 6 against New Britain. His last "regular start" did not go well. He allowed nine runs and 15 hits in six innings of a loss to York on Aug. 31.
“The last two or three starts, my arm’s been feeling a lot better,” Larkins said. “I feel really good. I’m confident in what I can do.”
Larkins missed a month in the middle of the season to return home to Idaho for the birth of his first child, Oliver. Larkins said getting back to form after the month off took a little longer than expected.
“I felt good and fresh, but that extra sharpness wasn’t quite there yet,” Larkins said. “[Over the last three starts], it feels like it did before I left. I’m starting to get the feel for all those pitches that I didn’t have when I got back.”
The Ducks will start lefthander Jake Fisher in Game 2 Thursday night. Fisher finished the season 8-7 with a 3.91 ERA, 107 strikeouts, and 25 walks in 21 starts . Despite the better numbers on Fisher’s part, Baez said he decided on Larkins for Game 1 because he wanted to pitch a lefthander in Game 2.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Baez said.