The ‘Way’ to Long Island

There aren’t too many notable people from Sitka, Alaska. Former NFL placekicker Jason Elam is one of them, as is award-winning author John Straley according to Wikipedia. It was also a setting used in the 2009 movie The Proposal with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. However, the Ducks have been fortunate enough the past two seasons to have a pretty good pitcher from Sitka call Long Island home. That man is Matt Way, and today, the team announced that he would be returning for a third season in 2014.

“If I was going to play in the Atlantic League, I wanted to play in a place where I had already gotten to know everybody and come back to a championship team,” he said via telephone on Monday. “When you win two years in a row, you build some friendships with the players and people around the organization. It’s nice to come back to a place that I already knew.”

Way first made the journey to Long Island near the end of the 2012 season. The Ducks were struggling in the second half and needed some help in the starting rotation before beginning the playoffs. The lefty entered the scene in September and was masterful in two starts to close the regular season, with both coincidentally coming against the Camden Riversharks. In just over 13 innings scoreless innings, he struck out 19 batters and allowed just four hits and four walks.

Those performances were good enough to earn Way the #2 starter role in the postseason. With the pressure ramped up, he did not falter. His two starts were once again strong, helping the Ducks to victories in both games. He even made a couple of relief appearances in Game Five of both series and earned the win in the first round series clincher over Southern Maryland. His 2.87 ERA and 18 more strikeouts in 15 and two-thirds innings propelled long Island to their first Atlantic League title in eight years.

When the Ducks built their team for the title defense, it was clear from the beginning that Way was a primary target if available. However, the southpaw was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to spring training from the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. Coming off a stellar year and having never advanced above High-A ball before, Way felt this was his shot to make it to the Major Leagues. However, despite a strong spring, he was released by the Diamondbacks, paving the way for a return to the Flock. However, despite returning to the team he had just won a title with, Way’s spirits were down.

“I worked really hard that offseason, showed up there, felt good, was throwing well, and I just didn’t make the club,” he recalled. “That discouraged me when you think you’re about to make it, and I think it just took the wind out of my sails really. I think that discouragement of missing that opportunity with the Diamondbacks kind of knocked me down a bunch.”

His frustration showed a bit during the 2013 season, as his numbers and control weren’t as sparkling as they were at the end of 2012. Way posted a 4-5 record with an ERA of 4.04 during the year. Those stats weren’t all that bad, but the injuries were his biggest issue. The Washington State University alum was limited to just 16 starts last season, missing a couple of weeks in early June, nearly the entire month of July and having to shut it down completely after a start in mid-August. From a shoulder impingement to an elbow injury, it was a tough year physically for Way.

“It was an injury that really wasn’t a rehab injury where you had to strengthen anything,” he noted. “It was a bone issue, and with bones, you just have to let them sit and heal on their own. I’ve done some physical therapy just to check it, and got x-rays. I gave it the full offseason of rest after we tested it and started throwing again a couple of weeks ago. It feels great! It feels strong.”

Now that he is healthy and ready to take the mound once again, Way’s spirits are much higher at this point than they were a year ago. He’s joining a pitching staff that features seven players who have won a championship on Long Island. In fact, all but Shaun Garceau have been a part of both the 2012 and 2013 title-winning squads. That familiarity is extremely important for Way.

“I think it’s really important for championship-winning teams to have that good clubhouse atmosphere,” he said. “KB [manager Kevin Baez] mostly stays out of the way and kind of lets the players mingle amongst themselves and make friends the way they would normally do it. It seems like everybody just kind of meshes and does well once everybody does get that chemistry going.”

As for the roster as a whole, Way is just another piece of the puzzle. He knows it takes a team effort to pull off the success of the last two playoff runs, and he is thrilled about the other puzzles pieces that are already in place.

“I’m really excited for the possibility of a ‘three-peat!’” he exclaimed. “It was a really good adjustment that the Ducks made the last two seasons to help pick up those championships. We got the right players that we needed and put the right team together for the final push. I think when that happens it gives us a really good opportunity, and now that we’re bringing back a strong amount of players from last year, I think we have a really good shot at it.”

Way added, “I think our starting pitching is going to be really strong again, and I think our bullpen’s going to be solid just like it was last year. In terms of the offense, I’ve seen a couple of players like Lew, Strieby, Dan Lyons and Adam Bailey that will be back. Those are all real strong offensive players, that I think are going to help us. With the pitching staff that we have too, it looks like a pretty good team that we’re going to start the year off with. I’m excited to come back and be a part of all that again. It makes it all the better.”

As for his goals this year, the focus can be summed up in two words: “Stay Healthy”

“I battled injuries all season, and finally at the end of the season I couldn’t throw anymore,” Way remembered. “I tried to do it as long as I could, and it just seems that when you’re hurt, you’re just struggling through the year trying to finish it off. You don’t want to quit, and I think that if I focus on staying healthy, my numbers will be fine and they’ll speak for themselves.”

As it stands right now, Way joins a rotation that already has John Brownell, Shaun Garceau and Bobby Blevins guaranteed spots. Don’t be surprised too if Jared Lansford earns a spot in the rotation, as he has been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to start games for the Ducks. Not only does that rotation look outstanding on paper, but the Ducks are also fortunate to have versatile arms filling the rest of the pitching staff. Guys like Casey Barnes, Fernando Hernandez, Eric Niesen and Josh Lansford can always fill spots in both the rotation and the bullpen as needed during the year. It’s a pitching staff that has many great pieces already in place but is still in the process of being built.

Finally, a couple of other notes items to mention:

-Happy Birthday to Joash Brodin. The 27-year-old was another late addition to the 2012 championship team that played a major role in winning the title. He also was the team’s most consistent offensive force in 2013 before earning a contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, his first appearance in affiliated baseball. He has been in spring training with the D-Backs this year.

-Congratulations to Josh Lansford and his wife, Mallory. The couple announced yesterday that “Baby Lansford is stepping into the world this September!” The due date is September 4, so the Lansford family will likely be receiving a great late-season gift. For what it’s worth, the Ducks will be in Sugar Land, Texas in the midst of a six-game series on that date. At least that’s much closer to his hometown of Queen Creek, Arizona than Long Island!

-Thank you to everyone who came out to Bethpage Ballpark on Saturday, March 22 for the annual Opening Day of Ticket Sales. Hundreds of fans came out to purchase their individual game tickets for the 2014 season and were also treated to a wide variety of fun-filled entertainment. It was another great day at the ballpark, and the unofficial beginning of baseball season. A special shout-out goes to the Czark Family of Setauket who camped out and waited nearly 30 hours to be the first fans on line! Well done Chris, Sharon, Patrick, Brianna and Kaylin!



Posted on March 24, 2014, in Player Signings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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