Ducks Veterans Hoist the Hardware

Prior to the start of the 2015 season, Ducks manager Kevin Baez noted that the key to his club’s success this year would be pitching and defense. It’s what any good team needs to have to win ballgames, and ultimately, a championship. Long Island ended up boasting the best offensive numbers in the Atlantic League, batting .283 as a team and leading the circuit with 649 runs scored. However, the other aspects of the game were not too shabby either. Their pitching staff compiled a 3.50 ERA, good for third-best in the league, and the defensive posted a league-high .982 fielding percentage along with 20 fewer errors than any other team in the league (91).  John Brownell and Dan Lyons have become synonymous with the “good pitching and defense” discussion, and this week, they were both honored for their contributions in 2015.

Brownell, who just complete his fourth year and third full season with the Ducks, was named the Atlantic League’s Pitcher of the Year on Tuesday when the league began announcing its postseason awards. He became the second Ducks player ever to earn the distinction, joining Mike Loree. He, of course, took home the honor after winning the pitching Triple Crown in 2011 with 14 wins, a 1.98 ERA and 131 strikeouts. Then on Wednesday, Lyons was announced as the inaugural winner of the league’s Rawlings Gold Glove Defensive Player of the Year Award and was selected to the league’s first-ever Red, White and Blue All-Defensive team. The Gold Glove Award is always one of the most prestigious among Major Leagues, and many have their Hall of Fame worthiness judged based on how many they take home in their career. However, this marks the first time that the award is handed out to any Atlantic League ballplayer and goes to only the best of the best rather than the best at each position.

Unsurprisingly, both were chosen as End-of-Season All-Stars as well, with Lyons holding down the shortstop position and Brownell the starting pitcher role. Also expected was how both would react upon hearing the news that the other had received such high honors.

“He’s very deserving,” said Lyons about Brownell, “I’m very happy for him in getting that award. He’s been on this club since 2012, and I became very good friends with him throughout the years. Every day he’s pitching we know we’re going to get his best effort out there, and he always gives it to us. He’s been the most consistent pitcher maybe in the history of this club. It’s very comforting knowing that you’ve got a guy like him that’s going to go out there every five days and give us everything he’s got.”

“It’s awesome,” Brownell exclaimed in reference to Lyons’ honor. “I’m just really proud of Dan. He’s improved a lot over the last few years in all facets of the game. He’s always been a real good defensive player, and I’m glad he got the recognition for that this year. I feel like he’s really coming into his own as a player, and I’d just like to say congrats to him.”

We had the chance to speak with both Brownell, who is now at home in Omaha, Nebraska, and Lyons, who recently made the trek back home to Rochester, Minnesota, on Wednesday. Here are our conversations with them both about receiving these prestigious honors:

John Brownell

What does it mean to you to be named the Atlantic League’s Pitcher of the Year?
“It’s a great honor. There are a lot of good pitchers in the league and a lot of deserving guys out there. I’m very thankful that the league chose me as the Pitcher of the Year.”

If you could attribute your success this season to any one thing, what would it be?
“I just really worked on my off-speed pitches a lot this offseason and being able to be more consistent with it. I’m not a guy that throws hard by any means, so I’ve got to mix it up a lot and keep hitters off-balance a little bit more than some of the other guys. We had good catchers this year that really called the game to my strengths, and we had a good defense that played behind me. It keeps a lot of runners off base when you have a good defense and catchers calling the right pitches at the right time.”

Do you feel like you’ve been getting better as a pitcher since joining the Ducks?
“I think with each year, I’ve figured out a little more about the type of pitcher I am. A coach of mine in college told me once that ‘what got you here may not work here,’ and I’ve always kind of held onto that saying. The pitcher I was coming into Long Island worked to some extent, but I knew that I needed to get my off-speed more consistent, had to be a lot better with my change-up and had to develop my cutter. From 2013 on, I started mastering those pitches off of the fastball.”

How special is it to join a guy like Mike Loree on the list of Ducks to have received the award?
“To be one of two Ducks to get that award is a great honor. It’s such a good franchise, and I know there have been a lot of really good pitchers that have come through the Ducks organization. It’s just an honor to have my name up there with Mike and be a part of that history.”

In a league full of excellent pitchers, what does it take to stand out from the rest?
“You take care of your business and don’t think about postseason awards or anything like that. You’re just really going out there and competing for your team and trying to win every game that you can. There are a lot of really good pitchers in the Atlantic League every year. To put up the numbers to be at the top of the list is tough to do, and you have to have a really great supporting cast with you.”

How much fun was it to be a on a pitching staff that saw six guys get signed by outside organizations?
“It was a lot of fun. I’m a guy that doesn’t have a whole lot of affiliated experience, so to have guys like that on your team and watch how they pitch and conduct their business, you really learn a lot. I can say that picking their brains has really helped me.”

In what way did new pitching coach Marty Janzen help you be so successful this year?  
“He was a big influence. He’s really calm and loose and is always joking around and keeping you loose. That way, you’re not getting too uptight or too intense to where you can’t control your emotions and thought process while you’re out there. Just going over the scouting reports with him and discussing hitters’ weaknesses to see how you can pitch guys really helped out a lot. He’s been around the game a long time and pitched at the game’s highest level, so he’s got the experience as a player and a coach.”

Lyons throw

How special is it to be the first Atlantic Leaguer ever to win the Rawlings Gold Glove Defensive Player of the Year Award?
“That’s very exciting! To be named the recipient of that award in its first year is something where my name will be at the top of that list as long as the league’s in existence. It’s a great honor. Defense is something that I pride myself on every single year I go out and play. It’s been what has kind of defined me as a baseball player. It’s really special to get to share that award with my family, my friends and my teammates.”

What does it take to be such an elite defender?
“The first couple days [of the season] are always a little rough. You’re just trying to get your feet underneath you, trying to get your balance and put yourself in a good position. I’ve trained myself since I was a little kid to get myself in the right position every time, and after a while, it just becomes routine. I feel a lot of people tend to have a tough time doing that every once in a while, but if you make an effort to get yourself in the right position, you’re going to make the plays more often than not.”

Does this award mean more to you knowing how many other talented defenders are in the league?
“It is really tough to be on the top of that list. We’ve played against many great shortstops throughout my years here as a Duck, and typically the teams put their top defensive player at short. To be at the top of that is a great honor. I pride myself on my defense, and that’s something that I always work hard for. I know a lot of guys on other teams do that as well, and it really means a lot to know that my hard work has been recognized to this degree.”

What do you attribute most to having such a wide range at shortstop?
“I think a big thing that’s helped me with my range is just the experience I’ve had playing baseball. Getting to know some of the hitters and what their tendencies are, getting to know our pitchers and where they throw the ball, it’s just about pre-pitch preparation. I’m able to see as the ball’s going to the hitter whether it’s going to be inside or outside and prepare myself to move one way or another. Once it’s put in play, I’m just basically running as fast as I can to that spot, and a lot of that is experience. I can judge the flight of the ball off the bat well and listen to how the ball sounds off the crack of the bat to see how deep or shallow it’s going to be. I think just the years of experience has made it all easier for me.”

Are you able to appreciate this honor even more because it came in a season where you were also recognized for your contributions offensively?
“It’s very special because that’s something that really hasn’t been a huge part of my game up until this year. I’ve always been a defensive player, putting up decent numbers offensively, but never to the extent of where I was this year. Getting recognized as more of an offensive threat this year has helped out a lot. It feels good to know that that part of my game has really elevated itself.”

Were you surprised at all by how well you performed at the plate in 2015?
“I’ve always known that I’ve had it, but we play against great pitching every day. It’s tough to go out there and get hits. I think a lot of it might just be the experience. I know how to be a better hitter now more than I did three or four years ago. This past offseason, I came in stronger and in better shape and that’s allowed me to let the ball get deeper and see pitches a lot better. It really helps out a lot if you get that extra split second to be able to see where that ball is going to be.”

Congratulations to John and Dan on being honored by the Atlantic League with such high distinctions! In addition to these awards, both were joined by infielders Cody Puckett and Sean Burroughs on the End-of-Season All-Star team, giving the Ducks a league-high four representatives. An additional shout-out goes to Atlantic League Player of the Year Welington Dotel of the Bridgeport Bluefish, Manager of the Year Brett Jodie of the Somerset Patriots, and all of the others who were chosen as End-of-Season All-Stars or selected to the inaugural Red, White and Blue All-Defensive team. You can view the full list of recipients at The rest of the awards are slated to be announced on Thursday. Soon thereafter, the 2016 Atlantic League schedule will be announced, and the focus will shift heavily towards next season!

Posted on October 14, 2015, in Ducks News, Feature Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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