Baseball makes its return to Akron on Thursday as the last of the full season minor league affiliates of the Cleveland Indians finally opens the home portion of its schedule.
The RubberDucks will host the Bowie BaySox, the Double-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, for four games beginning Thursday night at 6:35 PM ET. Gates open at 5 PM.
The RubberDucks are off to a quick start after sweeping the BaySox in their home opening series before taking two of three versus the Altoona Curve, dropping a 9-5 decision on Wednesday. The young lineup for the 5-1 club features several notable top prospect names, including pitcher Rob Kaminsky and position players Bradley Zimmer, Clint Frazier, and Nellie Rodriguez, and turned a triple play in Tuesday night’s win over the Curve.
If that isn’t enough to get you out to the ballpark, Indians one-time All-Star Michael Brantley will continue his rehab assignment with the RubberDucks on Thursday night.
In addition to the home opening ceremonies on Thursday, the first 5,000 fans in attendance will receive a RubberDucks poster schedule. There will be a Main Street festival for fans in attendance. It is also the first of the “Thirsty Thursday” events for fans, presented by D.G. Yuengling Brewery and 94.9 WQMX; fans can enjoy $1 draft beers and fountain sodas. Following the game, there will be a Latin Pop fireworks show.
Fans present can see several returning familiar faces in addition to getting a glimpse of some of the top prospects in the Indians farm system, including Zimmer and Rodriguez, who both begin their second seasons in electric blue after being called up from Lynchburg during the 2015 season.
Jordan Smith will see time in the RubberDucks outfield this season, his third with the club after playing in 126 games in each of the last two seasons. He is hitting .300 to start the year. Bryson Myles returns to Akron this season as well and joins Smith, Zimmer, and Frazier in the outfield. The 26-year-old is in his third season with the club after playing 84 games there in 2014 and 102 in 2015.
Jeremy Lucas, who hit .239 last season in 68 games for Akron, is off to an incredible start and has already matched his home run production for all of last year. The 25-year-old hit a career-high 12 homers and drove in 58 runs during a breakout campaign in 2014 at High-A Carolina. Entering play on Wednesday, he was hitting .538 with seven hits, including his two homers and six RBI. He has also added four walks and has scored five times.
Shortstop and Dublin, Ohio, native Eric Stamets returns to start his second season in the Indians organization. He was acquired by Cleveland from the Los Angeles Angels at the end of July in exchange for veteran outfielder David Murphy. He hit .197 for Akron and .248 with Arkansas previously in his second season of action at the Double-A level. Now 24, he is off to a good start for the RubberDucks, hitting .296 with a .387 on-base percentage and has stolen two bases and scored seven runs, one of which came on his second inning grand slam in the loss on Wednesday.
Left-hander Shawn Morimando (1-0, 3.00 ERA) will make the start for Akron. The 23-year-old allowed two earned runs on four hits in six innings of work on Friday in a win over the BaySox while walking three and striking out one. He will be opposed by 24-year-old right-hander Joe Gunkel (0-1, 3.60), who allowed two runs on seven hits and struck out five over five innings in Bowie’s Opening Day loss to Akron last Thursday.
Akron will be at home for a week, later taking on the Binghamton Mets in three games before returning to the road to visit Trenton.