The Sugar Land Skeeters had a light schedule last week and hit a seven-game win streak before losing a pair of games at home over the weekend to a very determined Long Island Ducks team.
The Skeeters beat the Ducks for the Atlantic League championship last fall for the second time in three years. That brought the Ducks in with something to prove.
“Long Island actually came in and they played pretty well,” said bench coach Lincoln “Juice” Gumbs. “We played pretty well too, we just didn’t play Skeeter baseball. I think we’ll be fine. We don’t make no excuses, so we’ll take our lumps and we’ll just keep going.”
On Friday, for the first of three games, the Ducks sent former Skeeter Brett Marshall to the mound. He got a no-decision as the Skeeters won in walk-off fashion, 4-3. The next two games went to the Ducks. They won 8-5 in 11 innings on Saturday and 3-1 on Sunday.
Next man up
Like last year when 12 players had their contracts purchased by Major League teams, the Skeeters are rapidly rotating through their roster. Just three weeks into the season and five players have already been called up and two more player-coaches are gone. On Friday, the Skeeters cut player-coach Josh Prince, which came on the heels of player-coach James Loney suddenly retiring.
“Like the old saying, when one goes down, somebody else has to step up, so we lost a big cog in James (Loney), a 12-year veteran in the MLB,” Gumbs said. “Great kid. He just felt it was time to hang it up. So, as a team, we have to come together now and next-man-up. It’s that type of attitude that we carry – next man up.”
Loney, 35, appeared in 11 games with the Skeeters this season, hitting .278/.357/.333 with a triple and three RBI. He also pitched an inning of relief on May 1 against the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, allowing a run on two hits while picking up his first professional strikeout. Loney graduated from Elkins High School in Missouri City, where the Los Angeles Dodgers selected him in the first round (19th overall) of the 2002 MLB Draft. He spent seven of his 11 Major League seasons with the Dodgers, also appearing with the Boston Red Sox (2012), Tampa Bay Rays (2013-15) and New York Mets (2016).
Pitcher Dallas Beeler credits manager Pete Incaviglia with getting good players in as current players move up to Minor League rosters.
“Five guys picked up. It seems to be the common trend just like last year,” Beeler said. “Pete does a great job with us of getting our name out there and doing phone calls. He really wants us to get out of here, whether we’re playing good or not. He does a good job of finding guys to fill in.”
Beeler is one of those players who got called up last year. He was with the Kansas City Royals’ Triple-A team for a month before returning to the Skeeters.
“I’m happy to be back in Sugar Land. Fortunate that I was given the opportunity to be back here,” he said. “New season, same goals – stay healthy and help the team win.”
Beeler is 2-0 in three starts with a no-decision in Saturday’s loss.
“I’m feeling comfortable,” he said. “All of my pitches are working. I took this offseason to try to tinker with a few pitches here and there, just try to find some more feel in the off-speed pitches and I feel I’ve done a good job with it so far. I’ve been trying to use everything in my game, change-up, curveball, cutter, two-seam, four-seam, so I got a little ways to go but I’m happy with it.”
With a rotating roster, the Skeeters have been busy breaking in new players.
“We’re hitting our stride a little bit,” Beeler said. “Everyone takes a little break-in to learn the role and to start getting comfortable with each other, but I think we’re good. We’re solid defensively. We just got a few guys back that I think will be important to our lineup. I’m happy, man. We’ve got a lot of hard workers out there. I know for me a lot of my defenders will put their body on the line to make a play and that’s all I can ask for.”
Gumbs said that despite losing player-coaches, the team leadership remains strong.
“Some of the guys will remember the same philosophy from last year. Most of the guys that’s here now that was here last year, and the new guys, they’ve all bought into the brand of baseball that Pete (Incaviglia) loves. As far as leadership goes, we’ll be fine,” he said.
Saturday’s game was a Game of Thrones night for the Skeeters, featuring a bobblehead with Incaviglia sitting on the Iron Throne. When asked how he felt about being a bobblehead, Incaviglia said he was impressed.
“I’ve been a lot of them, but I think this is the best one,” he said.
Skeeter of the Week
Making his Skeeters debut Friday, Jason Martinson belted a home run in his first at-bat, followed by several key plays on the field. For his strong start, Martinson earns Skeeter of the Week honors.
“Great kid, he swings a bat pretty well,” Gumbs said. “He was hurt in the beginning of the season from spring training, so he just got off the injured list. He should help us a lot because he can move around on the infield and can also play outfield.”
The Skeeters host the York Revolution for seven games through Sunday. They are off Monday and then play six on the road at Somerset and Long Island. They return home to Constellation Field on May 27 for seven games with the Somerset Patriots.
There will be post-game concerts on May 18 featuring Cory Morrow and May 31 with the Spazmatics.
Last week’s results
Tuesday, May 7
Skeeters 1, Barnstormers 0
Skeeters 15, Barnstormers 6
Friday, May 10
Skeeters 4, Ducks 3
Saturday, May 11
Skeeters 5, Ducks 8 (11 innings)
Sunday, May 12
Skeeters 1, Ducks 3
Atlantic League standings
Wins – Losses – Games back
Sugar Land Skeeters 10-7-0
Lancaster Barnstormers 4-10-4
York Revolution 4-11-5
S. Maryland Blue Crabs 4-11-5
Somerset Patriots 11-3-0
Long Island Ducks 12-4-0
High Point Rockers 9-7-3
New Britain Bees 6-8-5