RubberDucks Are Keeping Their Eyes on September

With the All Star break over and gone, the Akron RubberDucks are looking forward to September. While this team may not have looked exciting on paper, they’ve managed to put together a solid season thus far through 2015. Through the first half of 2015, the RubberDucks stood at a record of 47-43 and as of July 20, they’re sitting in third place of the Eastern League Western division with a record of 50-44. Going into the second half, and beyond, they’re sporting a higher than .500 record, and have real chances of seeing playing time once September rolls around.

Looking back at the first half, the RubberDucks have a lot they should be proud of, but there are definite parts of their game that need to be improved on.

After starting the season with top prospects Cody Anderson, Francisco Lindor, Giovanny Urshela, and Tyler Naquin, the RubberDucks were going to be pretty overlooked to start the season. While Anderson and Naquin both started the season in Akron, neither of them were here for very long. Anderson, of course, has become a mainstay in the Indians rotation after sporting a dominant 1.73 ERA in 10 starts at Akron, and followed that with an ERA of 2.33 in 3 starts at Triple-A Columbus. This obviously is credit to the phenomenal beard that he grew during the offseason.

Without the leadership of Lindor, Urshela, and Tyler Holt, who had started his season in 2014 at Akron, the RubberDucks were in need of someone to step up. This honor didn’t fall into the hands of just one player, but into the hands of many. Most of the players on the RubberDucks roster were returning members from the 2014 season. Players like Bryson Myles, Jordan Smith, Anthony Gallas, Ronny Rodriguez, Erik Gonzalez, and Will Roberts. While some continued to produce this season, there were some that have still not exactly lived up to expectations.

New arrivals to the team included players like Todd Hankins, Yandy Diaz, Jeremy Lucas, and Josh Martin, who only pitched in 2 innings in 2014. Diaz took over primary third base duty for the RubberDucks, and has filled in at the hot corner phenomenally. In the first half, Diaz hit .317/.417/.371 with 2 home runs, 6 doubles, 3 triples, and 30 RBI. He’s only struck out 44 times, but he’s walked 56 times. He’s been an on base machine, and essential member to the offense. The only problem is that he has almost no power whatsoever. For as big as he is, he’s only slugging .371. The power may come in time, but for now, he’s basically the third base version of Carlos Santana, with less power and can play gold glove defense at third base.

Hankins has also been a blessing for the RubberDucks this season. While he’s primarily slotted at second base, he has the ability to play anywhere in the field. He’s seen time in center field, right field, and shortstop. Now that Gonzalez has been promoted to Triple-A Columbus, Hankins may see more time at shortstop, but he’s done an excellent job covering second base.

Moving on to the other side of the diamond, the RubberDucks have had outstanding pitching almost all season long. Aside from the great start that Anderson had, Roberts also continued to provide a workhorse mentality this season. Before being promoted to Triple-A Columbus, in 14 starts,  Roberts had an ERA of 3.77 in 86 innings. That’s about 6 innings per start. Along with Roberts, the RubberDucks had solid starts from Shawn Morimando, Ryan Merritt, Michael Clevinger, and Adam Plutko. Plutko, who was promoted to Akron midseason from High-A Lynchburg, started off well when he arrived to Akron. Aside from his last start on 7/12, he has only given up a max of 3 runs, which was only in one start this season.

Merritt, who had won the Bob Feller Award this winter for being the best pitcher in the Indians minor league system last season, went through a bit of a learning phase in the month of May. Merritt is well known for having great control of all of his pitches, which can actually make him a bit too predictable at the plate. In order for Merritt to be successful, he had to learn how to intentionally throw balls at time to either setup pitches, or try to get a batter to chase. After he began to change his approach, the results showed in June when he posted a record of 2-2, with an ERA of 2.88. He also threw the first Akron no-hitter in July.

The only players that haven’t really lived up to any expectations this season lies in Jake Lowery and Tony Wolters. Since Wolters was promoted to Double-A in 2014, he’s had a rough go of it so far. Last year he batted .249/.319/.314 with 1 home run, 15 doubles, 2 triples, and 34 RBI. This season, he’s batting an even worse .209/.290/.280 with 2 home runs, 7 doubles, 2 triples, and 17 RBI in 65 games. Wolters will also be sitting out the rest of the season due to an injury to his left knee.

Lowery on the other hand has just had an abysmal season. While only seeing limited playing time, he’s hit .147/.233/.224 in 39 games for the RubberDucks. He’s hit 1 home run, 6 doubles, 1 triple and 11 RBI. With Lucas and Wolters doing the catching in the first half, Lowery was seeing a lot of playing time at first base. Once Rodriguez and Lucas started sharing time at first, Lowery saw a dip in playing time, and never produced when he did get to play. Now that Lowery is 25 years old, his time with the Indians may be wearing thin as Alex Lavisky is likely to take on backup catching time to Lucas with the Wolters injury.

The bullpen for the RubberDucks has been pretty strong this season. Martin has been one of the leaders in the pen as he’s sporting an amazing 1.52 ERA in 47.1 innings pitched. He’s struck out 49, and only walked 14. He’s been one of the more reliable arms in the pen, along with Trey Haley, Jeff Johnson, and Enosil Tejeda.

The RubberDucks were fortunate enough to send five guys to the All Star Game this season. This included Diaz, Gallas, Hankins, Johnson, and Martin. All five of these players were well deserving of the honor. Gallas was also asked to be a part of the Home Run Derby.

Manager David Wallace has again done a fine job of managing here in Akron. His managing reflects the style of Terry Francona for the Indians as he is totally a player’s manager. He’s able to relate to the guys, and the guys are able to relate to him. He’s been impressed with the team thus far in the season, especially with their work ethic in the first half of the season.

“I think we’ve done a great job of showing up everyday and working. Our pregame work has been good, it’s focused. As movements happened, roster wise as it does every year, we’ve been able to maintain a great work ethic and continuity in the clubhouse,” Wallace said.

In the second half of the season, with having a good amount of guys that have been in Akron before, they know what kind of mentality is needed to stay consistent through September. Leadership can be found in guys like Rodriguez, Gallas, Myles and Morimando. These are the type of guys that the younger crowd is going to look up to for advice, and follow their example. That is exactly what Wallace is looking for in his clubhouse leaders, especially going into the second half.

“I just expect them to keep going. It’s only going to get tougher as the season goes on. It’s going to be important, the nutrition and the sleep, and all that to stay on it,” Wallace said. “That’s how you sustain and play well in late July and August, and into September. If we do all that we’re going to be in a really good spot playoff wise.”

Oh, and let’s not forget that the RubberDucks now have a guy by the name of Bradley Zimmer on their roster, who was quickly promoted to the team following the Future Games.

Playoff hopes remain a very real possibility for the RubberDucks. Obviously there are bound to be some changes to the current roster as we could see some more movement of players from Akron going up, getting released, or moved down to Lynchburg. We may also see some new faces of players being promoted to Akron. Fluid schedules are a mainstay in Akron, and they’re used to it. The key is to continue to play solid baseball, and go with the flow as situations continue to change.

With the first half over, it’s time to recharge and get back to work.

Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN Photographer

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