By: Mike Ashmore (Special to LIDucks.com)
(Central Islip, N.Y., Oct. 1, 2019) - Vin Mazzaro, postseason ace?
Improbable as that sounded even a few months ago, that’s the new reality for the Long Island Ducks, who will rely on the reinvigorated now-starting pitcher in Game 1 of the 2019 Atlantic League Championship Series tonight at 6:35 PM at Bethpage Ballpark against the Sugar Land Skeeters.
The former major-leaguer struggled to a 3-4 record and 6.15 ERA in 29 relief appearances before manager Wally Backman and pitching coach Rick Tomlin made the decision to try to turn his season around by moving him into the starting rotation.
“We took him in, we said, ‘We want to try to start you again,’” Backman recalled. “He’d started before, but it had been quite a few years ago, so originally it was just going to be a short-term thing to try to get him back on track. But, we lost some guys, so Vinnie settled right into that spot and never left it.”
Why would he?
Since joining the rotation on July 24, Mazzaro has been one of the best pitchers in the league thanks to a 9-0 record and sterling 1.89 ERA, including a Game 2 outing in the Liberty Division Championship Series against the High Point Rockers in which he allowed just one unearned run over eight otherwise nearly spotless innings on just two hits and four walks.
That Mazzaro will be trusted with the Game 1 start – and Game 5, should the series get that far – with everything on the line is no longer surprising. But, how did he get to this point? According to catcher Hector Sanchez, opening up the 33-year-old righty’s arsenal with the switch to starting has been key.
“He’d been doing a really good job in the bullpen, but when he moved to be a starter, he added a couple pitches,” Sanchez said. “He’s throwing a curveball now, and a changeup. He’s commanding those pitches well, especially with the sinker and two-seamer he has, so it’s a plus to have that and the other pitches working pretty well. Now, you can mix it up pretty well with the hitters, and that makes the hitter think about a little bit more. Before, they just had to worry about fastball and slider, now they have to think about four really good pitches.”
Confidence in Mazzaro has never been higher, even as he faces a Skeeters lineup that was one of the most potent in the league this season.
“We’re very confident,” Backman said. “We switched our rotation a little bit so he can pitch Game 1 and Game 5 if it goes five, but Vinnie – between him and (Darin) Downs – they’ve been outstanding all year long. Downs has been outstanding, and Vinnie, since he came into the starting role, has been outstanding. Our guys are rested, they’re prepared and we think we’ve got a very good starting rotation.”