Travis Banwart is back at sea level, and back to knowing where his pitches are going. Banwart, whom the Ducks signed June 7, has been virtually unhittable in his first three starts with the team. That’s a welcome change from the first part of his season, when the 33-year-old had a 7.15 ERA in nine starts for Puebla in the Mexican League.
Part of the reason for Banwart’s inflated numbers in Mexico, he said, was the high altitude (Puebla is 7,000 feet above sea level). Think Coors Field on steroids.
“The ball moves more [in Central Islip],” Banwart said. “The sliders [in Mexico] will just spin on you, and you’re out of breath half the game . . . Also, they changed the balls down there. It’s a little different baseball. So you’re not throwing a rubbed-up baseball.”
It’s a pitcher’s nightmare, really.
“It’s been a big difference,” Banwart said of coming back to sea level. “I’m not worried about mis-hit fly balls going over the fence. I feel like if I make a mistake, I’m not going to get absolutely crushed with it. It’s definitely good to feel the ball in my hand and make it move.”
He’s made it move so much that opponents have barely touched it. Banwart is 2-0 with a 0.45 ERA in three starts with the Ducks. He’s allowed one run, nine hits, and has struck out 20 in 20 innings. Opponents are hitting .136 against him.
“He’s very consistent,” Ducks manager Wally Backman said. “He pitches ahead in the count. He locates to both sides of the plate and has a swing-and-miss breaking ball. He’s just a good pitcher. He knows how to pitch.”
Banwart gave up two hits and struck out six in six shutout innings in the Ducks’ 6-0 win over rival Somerset on Thursday night.
“My command’s been there,” Banwart said. “I’m getting ahead of guys. I’ve been pretty much able to throw any pitch in any count. I’ve kind of told the catchers that. They’re just kind of thinking ahead and working from there.”
The Ducks are in a crucial stretch, through Saturday 1 1/2 games ahead of Somerset in the Liberty Division with 15 games left in the first half. The first-half winner earns an automatic playoff berth.
“We need to keep him as long as we can,” said Backman, who has already seen nine of his pitchers leave for other pro organizations since April. “He’s been a huge asset to us since he’s come here.”
The Ducks play a three-game series with the Patriots next weekend. Somerset took two of three from the Ducks this week in Somerset to briefly take first place.
“We definitely have to pay them back,” Ducks outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis said. “After that, we have about a week left, it’ll be a big series.”
“We’re healthy right now. We’ve bettered our pitching staff. We pitch well. We have good defense. We’ve been pretty consistent all year. We just have to take it one game at a time and just play it out and see how the cards fall, but I like our chances.”
Marlins call up former Duck
Catcher Wilkin Castillo was called up by the Miami Marlins on Friday, making him the 19th former Duck to return to the big leagues after playing in Central Islip.
Castillo had a go-ahead two-run double in the seventh inning in Miami's 5-3 victory over the host Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday.
Castillo played 20 games with the Ducks last season and hit .314 with two home runs and 12 RBIs.