The RubberDucks’ recent revival is still going strong.
Even a temporary glitch — like an ugly loss Saturday — can’t derail the positive momentum they have built in a late push for the playoffs. Two big home runs backed solid pitching as the Ducks rolled to an 8-2 victory over the Richmond Flying Squirrels on Sunday at Canal Park.
The victory kept the Ducks (70-62) in second place in the Eastern League’s Western Division, 1˝ games ahead of the third-place Harrisburg Senators. With nine games remaining, they trail the first-place Altoona Curve by two games. The top two teams in each division qualify for the postseason.
The Squirrels (56-77) scored 12 runs in the fifth inning of a 13-3 rout of the Ducks on Saturday, and a rain delay further dampened the evening. But the Ducks bounced back emphatically in front of 4,854 fans Sunday.
“Proud of them,” Ducks manager Dave Wallace said. “That’s what I expected. I knew they’d come back and be ready to play. That’s one reason we’re in a good position right now.”
They split the four-game series with the Flying Squirrels and have won 14 of their last 17. That follows a 2-14 skid when the Ducks struggled to adjust to personnel changes, mainly player promotions to Triple-A Columbus.
They head to Erie for the first of a four-game set at 7:05 p.m. Monday.
Nellie Rodriguez’s three-run home run, his 25th, in the third followed a one-out single by Luigi Rodriguez and two-out walk to Jordan Smith. After the Flying Squirrels scored two runs against right-hander Michael Peoples (11-6) in the fifth to make it 3-2, Eric Stamets’ two-run homer in the bottom of the inning pushed the lead to 5-2.
The Ducks added two more in the sixth on Joe Sever’s two-run double, and another run in the seventh, and relievers Cole Sulser and Jared Head combined for four scoreless innings.
“I’m confident in our [bull]pen,” said Wallace. “We could have sent Peoples back out there for a few more pitches, but our pen has been such a strength for us lately that I was confident going to them there, and giving the lineup a little bit of a different look. Obviously it played out very well.”
Peoples scattered seven hits, walking one. Sulser allowed a hit with two strikeouts in 1? innings. Head gave up two hits in 2? innings, and finished with a flourish by striking out the last three batters and five total.
Nellie Rodriguez ranks third in the EL in home runs and is just two off the franchise record, shared by Jonathan Van Every (2005) and Rod McCall (1996). He also hit one in a suspended game at Bowie Aug. 21 that will be added to his total when that game is completed before Friday’s regularly scheduled game at Canal Park.
Stamets’ sixth home run over the left-field fence off Richmond right-hander Sam Coonrod (4-3) came after Luigi Rodriguez was hit by a pitch. The Ducks’ turnaround has coincided with the return of Stamets as starting shortstop after a 22-game stay with Columbus.
“And I’m from Columbus,” said Stamets, who lives in suburban Dublin. “But I’ve played with these guys [in Akron] more, know a little more about these guys and how they play. But it was good to get that experience up there.
Stamets hit .164 at Columbus but things have improved since returning to the Ducks.
“I just scuffled a little bit,” he said. “I think I might have tried to do a little too much. Pitchers are better up there. It was a handful of things I know now. Just going to work on it going forward.”