Wally Backman has a message for all opponents who enter Bethpage Ballpark this season – here, hit it.
The new Ducks manager is enamored of his defensive depth, flexibility and raw talent. Backman’s first season on Long Island, and the team’s 20th, begins Friday in York, Pennsylvania. As long as his pitching staff throws strikes, the former Met trusts that those balls will find gloves.
“Our defense is superior to most of these guys in the league,” Backman said last week after a team workout.
In the infield, former major-leaguer Ivan De Jesus Jr. will play third but can play shortstop and second base if necessary. De Jesus, one of 17 former major-leaguers on the Ducks’ roster, played for the Dodgers, Reds and Red Sox and made two errors in 47 chances in parts of three big-league seasons at third base.
Shortstop Vladimir Frias is a two-time Atlantic League All-Star with tremendous defensive range who was acquired in the offseason from the Lancaster Barnstormers, completing a previous trade.
“Frias was one of the best shortstops in the game last year,” Backman said. “He’s only got Triple-A time, but we made a trade for him this winter to get him here because he was one of the top two shortstops in the league and he hit well.”
Former National Steve Lombardozzi will start at second base but also played third and shortstop in his six-year major-league career.
Utilityman Rando Moreno can play second, third, and shortstop, and he impressed Backman when he played in the Giants’ organization. He’s another strong defender, winning the Gilded Glove Award in the Pacific Association last year.
“We’ll probably do some sort of rotation in the infield because guys like De Jesus and Lombardozzi are two guys that organizations are going to continue to look at because of their versatility,” Backman said. “They’ll all play all three of those positions at some point in time.”
Backman’s outfield arguably is stronger than his infield, with three centerfielders patrolling the turf. Former Mets Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker will play rightfield and leftfield, respectively. Rey Fuentes, who played centerfield for the Diamondbacks in 2017 and the Padres in 2013, will start the season there for the Ducks, Backman said. Fuentes also played left and right for the Royals in 2016.
“We have three centerfielders in the outfield and three shortstops in the infield that can play three [positions],” Backman said. “Defensively, we should be outstanding. The key is for our pitchers to throw strikes and let our defense play.”