Duck throwers bring heat to the chase for a championship

Ducks manager Wally Backman thinks he’s solved the puzzle, or at least part of it.

How do you build a dominant pitching staff in the Atlantic League in 2022? Load it up with “bike”, of course

Velo, short for velocity, is hard to find at this level of the sport. And that makes sense. Flamethrowers thrive, by and large, within the narrow confines of major league organizations. But Backman thinks the Ducks have found some, certainly enough to return to the top of the Atlantic League mountain.

“We’ve got a few guys who can run really well up there,” said Backman, who is entering his third season as manager. “The one thing I found out, more so last year, is that guys with velocity are tough on good hitters. That’s one of the reasons I think some of the good hitters are in this league, they had trouble hitting speed. We looked for a few guys. I think we have three or four 94, 95 (mph) plus guys. We had one last year (Michael Tonkin, now in the Braves system). »

The Ducks open their 22nd season Friday night against the York Revolution at Fairfield Properties Ballpark in Central Islip. They are seeking their second championship in three seasons and fifth in franchise history. They lost in four games to Lexington in the Atlantic League Championship Series last season.

“It bothered me for a while,” said 45-year-old Ducks all-time hits leader Lew Ford, who is back for his 12th season. “We would have liked to win. I feel like we had the best team. [We had] the best record (68-52). It didn’t feel good to end the season like that. I think for the guys who were here last year, it’s another motivation to go out and be ready and have another chance.

The Ducks have made the championship series finale in each of the last five seasons, winning once.

Backman, who agreed to a new three-year contract to manage the team, hopes the extra speed from the mound will lead to another title. Former major leaguers Brett Kennedy, Akeel Morris and Tyler Webb are all approaching 95 miles per hour.

“We’ve got tougher pitchers this year and they’re better pitchers as well,” Backman said. “They are good pitchers with velocity. I think it will improve the whole pitching team.

Backman is not the kind of manager who lives and dies by the radar gun, he just recognizes his added value at this level.

“I would rather have pitchers who can pitch, who throw strikes,” he said. “But it’s nice to have these guys who also have speed, who can get the strikeout. I think that’s the difference we have. We have guys who can come in and hit guys.

Webb, who made seven appearances for the Yankees in 2017, will likely shut down, Backman said. The southpaw threw a 2.08 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings with the Cardinals in 2020, but had a 13.22 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings at St. Louis last season.

“I want to pitch well and just go out, in any capacity,” Webb said. “The job description is the same whether you’re here or in the big leagues. You get paid to hang out, so that’s what I’m gonna do.

Offensively, the Ducks are still trying to fill some holes, Backman said, including the one left by former Nationals infielder Steve Lombardozzi. Lombardozzi remains in “partial retirement” after being named Atlantic League Player of the Year last season. Lombardozzi hit .329 with 16 home runs and 83 RBIs. He set a Ducks franchise record and led the league in walks (90) and finished in the top five in games played (119), hits (143) and runs scored (99).

Backman said he hopes the hole left by the man known as “Lombo” will be filled by Lombo himself.

“I tried so hard to bring Lombo back,” Backman said. “He has a family now and he just feels right now he has to stay with his family. Trust me, his wife is everything for him to come back. He won’t fully retire. I hope the guy will want to come back sooner rather than later, and I think he might.

The same goes for catcher Sal Giardina, who hit .317 in 81 games last season. Giardina played last year with the intention of it being his last, but Backman hopes he will return as well.

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