CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y.— Sidney Ponson’s 91 career major league victories would appear to make him the unquestioned ace on the Long Island Ducks.
But the former Yankee and Orioles right-hander is currently pitching like the fourth starter in the minor league rotation. Ponson lost his third straight start, surrendering five runs (four earned) in seven innings as the Ducks dropped a 6-3 decision to the Somerset Patriots on Wednesday night.
Fellow starters Randy Leek, Jake Dittler and Joselo Diaz picked up four victories during the Ducks 7-2 stretch in its previous nine games. That included a four-game winning streak before last night.
Yet Ponson—who allowed six earned runs in just 2 2/3 innings in his previous outing against York— received little run support in falling to 3-4.
Somerset scored single runs in the second and third before Joe Holden, Noah Hall and Matt Hagen each added RBIs as part of a three-run Patriots fourth inning that put the Ducks in a 5-1 hole.
Tom Mastny (2-1) allowed six hits in seven innings with Matt Esquivel’s second-inning solo home run and Ray
Navarrete’s two-run shot in the seventh in his only mistakes.
Ponson struck out two and labored on a humid evening as Somerset tagged him for nine hits. The 12-year big league veteran rebounded to retire nine straight batters from the fifth
to the seventh, providing a lift for the bullpen.
“The results aren’t going the way I want to right now but at least I’m healthy,” said Ponson, who went 91-113 for seven major league teams, including 2009 with Kansas City. “My arm is feeling good. I just need to put three or four good games in a row and see what happens.”
The Ducks lost for the first time in five games against the two-time defending Atlantic League champions. In April, the club posted a three-game road sweep and won the opener of the three-game set on Tuesday.
“Tonight we weren’t into it mentally, it seemed like,” Ducks manager Dave LaPoint said. “It’s hard to put a finger on it. We’ve been playing pretty good baseball. You don’t think you’d have a down one, but we do have one once in awhile.”
Ponson logged at least seven innings for the third time in his last four starts. The Ducks have scored just 10 runs total in that stretch.
LaPoint said two errors in the first two innings also made it hard for LaPoint to get in a grove. Shortstop Bridger Hunt committed a first-inning error in his Ducks debut and Juan Francia couldn’t handle a grounder at second in the next inning to set up Elliot Ayala’s run-scoring hit.
“We haven’t really scored a lot of runs for him. Maybe they think he’s going to throw a shutout every time,” LaPoint said. “We’ve really played poor defense behind him and I think he’s trying to do a little too much to shut the other team down.”
Ayala drove a hard-hit single to right past the draw-in infield for a second-inning RBI single to open the scoring.
Esquivel tied it in the bottom of the inning when he pulled Mastny’s second-pitch over the left-centerfield wall. Esquivel’s blast marked his Ducks-leading fifth home run and second in two nights.
Esquivel hit a career-high 21 home runs for York last year and has teamed with Atlantic League MVP Ray Navarrete to give the Ducks two consist power threats.
“He’s a threat for a home run every time he gets up there,” LaPoint said on Esquivel’s acquisition. “Now Ray’s in the lineup; he’s the same way.”
Somerset saw six different players register RBIs. Joe Burke’s third-inning single to center plated Hagen. The Patriots put the first two runners on base in the fourth and advanced to second and third on a sacrificed bunt.
Holden hit a shallow pop fly that landed just inside the leftfield line to score Ayala. Hall drove in another run with a sacrifice fly to left and Hagen extended the lead to 5-1 on a run-scoring double to deep right that John Rodriguez couldn’t chase down.
Navarrete made it a 5-3 game with two-outs in the seventh when he pulled Mastny’s pitch down the leftfield line for his third home run of the year. Mastny induced a groundout to end the inning and cap his night.
Former Ducks reliever Ben Grezlovski pitched a scoreless eighth and Ryan Houston threw a
1-2-3 ninth for his seventh save. The teams will play the finale of the three-game set on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. from Suffolk County Sports Park.