Injuries have lowered the boom on the RubberDucks’ fortunes in recent days, knocking three of their best players out of the lineup.
But that has created opportunities, and their replacements are making the most of it. All three contributed to an 11-2 Eastern League victory over Harrisburg before 6,004 fans Sunday afternoon at Canal Park.
Ollie Linton, Erik Gonzalez and Adam Abraham assumed the first three spots in the batting order, all scoring in a three-run first inning to provide a lead the Ducks maintained.
And when things got tight later, their teammates joined in a blitz of eight runs in their final two at-bats. The Ducks pounded out 16 hits, gaining a split of their four-game series.
At least they didn’t have to contend with Bryce Harper any more. The star outfielder returned to the Washington Nationals after three games of injury rehab including Saturday’s three home run outburst.
The Ducks (47-35), who trail Eastern Division leader Richmond by one-half game, start a four-game series at Erie tonight.
Abraham, who spent much of the previous two seasons in Akron, returned from Class AAA Columbus on Saturday. He replaces third baseman Joey Wendle who suffered a hamate fracture in his right wrist Thursday.
The designated hitter Sunday, Abraham drove in six runs and scored three with a home run and two doubles.
“Adam’s an experienced hitter,” said Ducks manager David Wallace. “He knows what he’s doing at the plate. Did a good job getting some good pitches, laying off some tough ones.”
Gonzalez was promoted from High A Carolina to fill in for shortstop Francisco Lindor — who suffered a broken nose resulting from a bad-hop grounder Wednesday — and collected his first three Class AA hits, scoring three times and knocking in one.
And Linton, who went back to Carolina on Wednesday, returned to Akron for the second time Saturday after center fielder Tyler Naquin was hit by a pitch that broke his right hand Friday.
Linton doubled and scored in the first, adding a sacrifice bunt in a three-run seventh. He moved up to the leadoff spot after going 3-for-3 with a home run, two RBI and a stolen base the previous night.
“It was a quick two-day vacation down in Carolina but I’m glad to be back,” said Linton, smallest player on the team at 5-foot-8, 160 pounds. “It’s a great group of guys here, great group of guys there but I’m just trying to get on the field any way I can.”
He hit .320 in 23 games with the Mudcats and is now at .324 in 16 games with the Ducks. Linton signed with the Indians in March after being released by Arizona.
He missed all of 2013 with a hamstring injury and most of 2012 with a fractured cheekbone. That followed two all-star seasons with Mobile in the Southern League.
“Those injuries set me back a little bit but everything happens for a reason,” said Linton. “Those two years were really long and I’m just happy to be healthy right now.”
The Ducks gave a rude welcome to old friend Brett Brach (1-3), the Harrisburg starting pitcher. Brach spent most of the past two seasons in Akron but was released by the Indians in May, shortly before signing with the Nationals.
Linton’s double was followed by a Gonzalez single, Abraham’s RBI double, a wild pitch for another run and Anthony Gallas’ sacrifice fly for a 3-0 lead.
Right-hander Joe Colon (8-4) allowed one run on two hits with four strikeouts to earn the win, but did not show his usual fine command, walking a season-high five in five innings.
“He tends to get a little too fine with some of his pitches,” said Wallace. “We want him to be more aggressive in the zone, as far as pitching to contact. Sometimes he tries to nibble and strike everybody out.”
Jordan Cooper, J.C. Ramirez and Shawn Armstrong pitched the final four innings, allowing a run on Ramirez’ bases-loaded walk in the seventh.
Meanwhile, the Ducks scored eight runs off two Senators relievers, five off Bryce Harper’s older brother, Bryan, in the eighth.
Right fielder Jordan Smith went 3-for-4 with two runs and two RBI. Gallas and catcher Tony Wolters each had two hits.