BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — At a team workout Tuesday afternoon, the Ducks spoke confidently of their starting rotation entering the Atlantic League playoffs. But that wasn’t always the case — not by a long shot and not until recently.
Perhaps nothing is more indicative of just how uncertain things were around the duck pond as the regular season dwindled than the identity of Thurdsay night’s Game 2 starting pitcher in the Liberty Division Championship Series.
Matt Larkins, a 27-year old righthander, was acquired by the Ducks in a trade with the Lincoln Saltdogs of the American Association, another Independent league, on Sept.7 for a player to be named later. Such was the situation for the Ducks, who lost five starting pitchers to outside organizations, two to injury, and still had major question marks with two weeks remaining in the second half.
Larkins was 7-7 with a 3.69 ERA in 21 games (19 starts) with Lincoln.
“His manager in the American Association [Bobby Brown] spoke about him the way we speak about John Brownell,” Ducks president and general manager Michael Pfaff said Tuesday. “He’s somebody that never backs down from a challenge, has a great presence on the mound, leads by example and is a real competitor.”
Larkins was as-advertised in his two regular season starts, pitching to a 3.21 ERA with 10 strikeouts in 14 innings. He won his last outing, allowing one run on seven hits over seven innings in the Ducks 4-1 victory over York on Friday.
“It’s been a lot of fastball command to both sides of the plate,” Larkins said. “I’ve worked well with [catcher] Mike Dowd, to mix in a few off-speed pitches off the fastball. I’ve been able to establish the inside against the guys out here and mix off-speed pitches in hitters counts.”
Because the American Association calendar is different than that of the Atlantic League, Larkins thought his season was over. Then, following the Saltdogs’ final game, he was told that the cleats he was about to hang up for the winter were needed in Central Islip.
“I was a little nervous about it, to be honest,” he said. “I was already figuring out travel plans to go home. To find out that I was going to come out and play for another couple of weeks and keep throwing, I was pretty excited. I wanted to come in here and make sure I fit in with these guys and help them out for the playoffs.”
Said Ducks manager Kevin Baez, “He’s pitched two good games for us and throws strikes. He was impressive. [Somerset] hasn’t seen him, so we like our chances.”