Bruce Kern’s yearlong worldwide baseball journey has led him back home. Finally.
After playing a major part in the Ducks’ 2015 playoff run and getting off to an impressive start with the 2016 club, the Yaphank native is back in the fold in Central Islip, just in time for what the Ducks hope will be a fruitful playoff run.
Kern, 29, re-signed with the Ducks on Wednesday after spending parts of the last two seasons pitching for the Chinatrust Brother Elephants of the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan. He was released last month after suffering from “tired arm,’’ something he attributes to the almost constant stream of innings he’s thrown since the beginning of 2016, when he was with the Kansas City Royals in spring training, the Ducks and Elephants in the regular season, and Charros de Jalisco in Mexican winter ball.
“It was just a lot of innings that caught up to me,” Kern said.
After nearly a month off, Kern feels energized and ready to pitch again — something that should happen by the end of the week, both he and Ducks manager Kevin Baez said. After spending his season halfway around the world, it’s good to finally be around his family and friends.
“[China] got lonely and a little boring at times,” Kern said. “The baseball aspect of it was awesome. I loved playing. That was great. But here I love playing because I get to look up in the stands and see all my friends and family. It’s motivating. It makes you play a little harder and work a little harder because they get to see you every day. [In China], no one really was there to watch me. It was just me.”
It’s also nice to be back in a place where the fine art of pitching is highly valued, something he said wasn’t always the case in China.
“They’re more about offense than they are about defense and pitching,” Kern said. “American baseball seems to be ‘pitching and defense wins games.’ I felt like, over there, they feel like hitting wins games.”
This juxtaposition led to a more reckless approach from hitters.
“They just swing and swing and swing,” Kern said. “Their approach is to swing at pitches that are in the zone . . . There’s not a lot of pitch selection. They’re very aggressive.”
The Ducks hope Atlantic League hitters do a lot of swinging and missing when Kern is on the mound. When former major- leaguer Henderson Alvarez’s contract was purchased by the Phillies’ organization Aug. 26, it left a void that the team was eager to have Kern fill.
Before leaving for China last season, Kern looked at becoming one of the team’s more reliable pitchers. He was 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA, 61 strikeouts and 18 walks in 18 games (11 starts).
“It’s a big pickup,” Baez said of the reunion. “It definitely helps us out . . . He has a plus fastball and good command of his off-speed, and he’s a great competitor out there.”
As much as Kern loves the atmosphere and the close-to-home aspect of Bethpage Ballpark, make no mistake — he came back to win.
“That’s why I’m here,” Kern said. “I want to pitch in playoff games and in a playoff atmosphere. That’s what I love and what everyone loves as baseball players. To be a part of a team that’s winning and gets to play in the playoffs, I absolutely want to be here.”
On deck: vs. New Britain, 1:35 p.m. Sunday