The Long Island Ducks have seen four of their starters find jobs elsewhere, over the past month. And since the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball playoffs begin in roughly one month, tt may be time to bring in the Chicago Cubs 12-year old phenom, Henry Rowengartner.
July 3 not only marked the largest crowd in Ducks history (7,602) but it also became Day 1 of a dark road in which the team lost four key pitchers. Starter Mark Blackmar was the first to leave the organization, as he had his contract purchased by the Washington Nationals organization and headed to Advanced-A Potomac. Less than a week later, the club lost starter Jack Snodgrass, who had his contract purchased by the Texas Rangers organization and joined Triple-A Round Rock.
Blackmar was a solid pitcher for the Ducks as he earned six wins and was third in the league with an ERA of 2.72 before joing the Nats organization, while Snodgrass tallied six wins this season and was seventh in the league in strikeouts with 85 before Texas came calling.
“The challenge for us right now is to get through this bridge period and to get to the end of August and beginning of September when other leagues end,” said Ducks General Manager Michael Pfaff. “Leagues like the Mexican League other Independent leagues, the Frontier, the American Association, and focus on some other players where their seasons are coming to an end and where players want to continue playing.”
Long Island’s ball club finished atop the Liberty Division in the first half with a record of 40-30. Claiming first place guaranteed them a ticket to the 2016 Playoffs. They managed to get there with the help of their core-four-like pitching staff. Blackmar and Snodgrass helped push the Ducks along, but so did Bruce Kern and Darin Downs.
Downs joined Long Island last August to help lead them to the playoffs. He solidified himself as a starter this year and put up good enough numbers to explain his departure. The former Detroit Tiger was fifth in the league with eight wins and fourth in the league with 108 strikeouts. On July 27, his contract was purchased by the Uni-President Lions of the Chinese Professional Baseball League.
Kern, in his second season with the Flock, was placed on the inactive list on July 24, and then had his contract purchased by Brother Elephants of the Chinese Professional Baseball League on the 28th. The Ducks starter racked up four wins before his discharge to the other side of the globe.
Along with the four starters being shipped out of town, relievers Frank DeJiulio Jr. and Kevin Vance left the club as well. DeJiulio was traded to the Bridgeport Bluefish on July 13th in exchange for RHP Scott Shuman. Vance was traded across the Long Island Sound, as well, but to the New Britain club, the Bees. He was sent there for a player to be named later, only it won’t be “Crash” Davis of the Durham Bulls who at one time entered a locker room calling himself “the player to be named later”
“You want starters that can give you length,” said Pfaff. “I think our bullpen has been handled really well by our manager (Kevin Baez) and pitching coach (Marty Janzen). When we lost Blackmar and Snodgrass, we immediately filled in with [Danny] Burawa and [Kyle] Hansen. When we lost Kern and Downs, we went back to 13 which is a full pitching staff. We’re not going to be able to mirror the length of the four guys who are gone, but certainly the guys that have come in are going to have the opportunity to do just that.”
Luckily for Long Island, they have already clinched a playoff spot so they no longer have to worry about having a solid pitching staff push them to the postseason. What they do have to be concerned with is the pitching staff they plan to bring into the playoffs and will they be able to carry the load required of them. As of right now, one of the Ducks best relievers, Eury De La Rosa, has been moved into the rotation along with Bobby Blevins, as Dustin Richardson finds himself back in the bullpen. De La Rosa has been a key component to setting up for closer Todd Coffey and one can only hope he finds his way back in the set-up role come playoff time.
“The guys that we bring in need to make the most of the opportunity,” said Baez. As far as De La Rosa goes and making him a starter, “It’s not something we did without his consent. It’s something he’s done before and it’s something he wanted to do again. If he wanted to stay in the pen, then we would have looked elsewhere. He has done both and has been successful doing both.”
After tonight’s walk off 6-5 victory over the Somerset Patriots in 12 innings, Baez appeared frustrated to have to answer questions about his depleted starting rotation. They went all season long with one solid core, and going into the playoffs now they face a major change in the group of guys they plan to keep as starters. One player that the team wishes stayed in the bullpen is, in fact, De La Rosa and the skipper was not pleased having to answer questions about one of their most dominant set up pitchers.
“It all depends on what we get and who comes back,” said Baez when asked about the possibility of having De La Rosa back in the bullpen.
Only time will tell how the Ducks fare down the stretch, but going into the playoffs will they find the right solid permanent replacements for the starting rotation?