CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y.— The Ducks have been limited to five relievers at times in the bullpen, putting the pressure on the starting rotation to go deep into games.
Conventional wisdom would suggest a patient approach for Southern Maryland to drive up the pitch count and face overworked relievers. But Southern Maryland employed an aggressive strategy against Ducks right-hander Jake Dittler on Saturday night.
The Blue Crabs jumped out to six first-pitch singles against Dittler to cap a four-run fifth inning as the Duck fell, 6-2, in front of 6,904 fans at Suffolk County Sports Park.
Jarrett Grube threw seven shutout innings to make the lead stand up, holding the Atlantic League-leading Ducks to just five hits while striking out seven.
The Ducks committed three errors in losing for just the fourth time in the last 13 games. Southern Maryland moved within two games of Long Island in the Liberty Division.
Grube threw seven scoreless innings in a no-decision against the Ducks at home on May 1 in a game the Blue Crabs won, 1-0. He is now 1-0 with 14 strikeouts against three walks in 14 innings against the Ducks this season.
“We haven’t scored a run off of Grube in two games so he gets all the credit,” Ducks manager Dave LaPoint said.
Joe Valentine’s mid-week departure to the Mexican League left LaPoint with just six relievers as the Ducks try to sign another arm for the bullpen. LaPoint said he has been hesitant to use closer Kane Davis on back-to-back days, further limiting the middle-relief options.
The Blue Crabs instead used a free-swinging approach to break open a scoreless game in the fifth. Shaun Cumberland, Richard Giannotti and Christian Lopez each reached on first-pitch singles to start the inning. Cumberland bunted in front of the pitcher’s mound and Dittler couldn’t field it cleanly.
“That was an ambush that inning,” LaPoint said. “The biggest play in that inning is him not fielding the bunt that he probably should have [had].”
Kody Kirkland actually took a pitch before delivering a RBI ground out for a 2-0 lead. Casey Benjamin followed with a first-pitch single to right. John Rodriguez misplayed the ball in right for an error that allowed Benjamin to reach third.
Patrick Osborn and Matt Craig followed with base hits on the first
pitch. Osborn’s single made it 4-0.
“They weren’t trying to pull him,” LaPoint said. “It was a great approach by them. Usually it’s harder to get your team to do that. He was throwing strikes and it was perfect timing.”
Dittler (2-2) recovered to throw a scoreless sixth and finished with a line of four earned runs on nine hits in six innings. Dittler was coming off his best start of the season when he held Newark to one run in eight innings on May 23. Against the Blue Crabs, the 6-foot-4 Dittler struck out five and walked one.
“He’ll run off a stretch of five or good starts and then have a bad one,” LaPoint said. “When gets the confidence level up, he’s a pretty good pitcher.”
The Ducks mustered two hits off Grube in the first but the righty stranded a pair in scoring position by striking out Matt Padgett. Grube would not allow another hit until the sixth and struck out the side in the third to move to 3-2.
“He keeps the ball down and he’s not afraid to throw a slider when he’s behind in the count,” LaPoint said. “He’s been like this for three years. Why he’s still here, who knows? He’s one of the best in the league.”
Southern Maryland tacked on two seventh-inning insurance runs off Ivan Maldonado in the seventh.
Matt Cavagnaro greeted reliever Chris Mobley with an eighth-inning home run to right. Cavagnaro’s blast near the line was his second home run and first since April 29 against Somerset.
Reliever Bill White, who allowed runs in his last two outings, entered in the top of the eighth and struck out the side in order.
After splitting the first two games, the Ducks will try to win the three-game series with a Sunday matinee. Joselo Diaz (2-1, 1.72 ERA) is expected to get the start for the Ducks against fellow right-hander Dan Reichert (3-3, 4.82) in the 1:35 p.m. contest.