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MOOSIC, Pa. -- Scott Strickland hasn't actively sought his role as elder statesman among his Scranton/Wilkes-Barre teammates. Yet the veteran reliever has become just that for the Yankees, providing an experienced voice in a clubhouse that doesn't have much in the way of Major League experience.
The veteran of six Major League seasons has spent the year in Northeast Pennsylvania trying to work his way back to the big time. Whether he makes it back there next season is a question that won't be answered until the spring. But if what he's done this year at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, both in the regular season and in the opening round of the International League playoffs, is any indication, then Strickland is certainly deserving of the chance.
Strickland was 4-0 with a 3.53 ERA and 12 saves in 52 appearances during the regular season and has allowed only one hit over 4 1/3 scoreless innings in the Governors Cup playoffs. He had a win and a save against Pawtucket in the opening round, pitching the final two innings of Sunday's clincher in relief of Phil Hughes. He'll need to continue that run if the Yankees are to get by Durham and reach the Bricktown Showdown next week in Oklahoma City.
While it came as a bit of a surprise to him that the parent club didn't call him earlier this season after Joba Chamberlain moved into the rotation and Kyle Farnsworth was traded, Strickland proved his worth in the SWB clubhouse by not sulking or complaining. He simply continued to pitch, and pitch well.
"I'll get into those modes once in a while," Strickland said of sulking. "Everyone goes through that period where they are sick of the game. But my wife would always correct me. I'd look in the mirror and say I didn't want to be that miserable guy. I'm in Triple-A, and of course I want to be in the big leagues.
"But I refuse to be a miserable teammate and to me, being miserable in Triple-A does no one any good. If we had bad guys on this team, maybe it would be that way. But we have a good group of guys here, and with the talent we have here, it's been fun."
Strickland knows that his fastball, which now resides in the high 80s, occasionally touching the low 90s, is also part of the reason he wasn't brought to New York. He's relying on guile and experience in the International League. While that approach could work in the big leagues, he won't know unless he's given the chance.
"Everyone wants to see 92, 93, 94," he said. "I've been told I'm consistently between 88 and 91. That's hitting speed in the big leagues. I believe if I was 93-94 now, like I was before Tommy John surgery [in 2003], I'd be in the big leagues."
What the future holds for Strickland remains unclear. He said he wouldn't mind coming back to the Yankees next year, even to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre if he knows the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues was there. If not, he'll be hawking his wares this winter.
He rejoined Scranton this season because the Yanks took a flyer on him last year after he asked for and was granted his release by San Diego. Strickland had been pitching for Portland, but on the flight from the West Coast to New York his wife, Charisse, went into labor. She eventually delivered the couple's twins, Jaden and Calie, but they were three months premature.
The Yankees, however, understood the situation and told Strickland to go be with his family. The youngsters, who are fine now, were in the hospital for three months, but Strickland didn't forget about what the Yankees did for him.
"I felt like I owed it to them to come back and they were gracious enough to sign me," he said. "I'd like to be back next year if I can somehow be assured of an opportunity to come up. First, I need to get back in the loop. I need that chance and I need to take advantage of it."
As for his role as mentor/coach/closer in Scranton, Strickland says he's happy being someone's guru if it helps.
"The coach thing kind of comes with the gig," Strickland said. "I never approached anyone in the bullpen or the clubhouse, though, and told them what to do. But I've been through so many situations that I feel when they ask, that by telling them and giving them the knowledge, they don't have to experience the failures to learn about them."
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (88-55) vs. Durham (74-70)
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, a staple in the IL playoffs over the last decade, has reached the postseason for the seventh time in 11 years. The franchise has never won a Governors' Cup title, losing in the semifinals each of the past two seasons. This year, however, they upended Pawtucket in the opening round.
Durham, which won back-to-back titles in 2002-'03 but lost in the finals last year to Richmond, has eight playoff appearances in 11 seasons. The Bulls ousted Louisville in the opening round. This will be their sixth appearance in the finals over that 11-year stretch.
The Yankees dominated the season series, winning seven of eight games. SWB won three of four games in early April, then swept a four-game series in Pennsylvania in early May. Starters posted a 3.71 ERA in those eight games, but Dan Giese and Darrell Rasner are in New York, Jeffrey Marquez is back in Trenton, Heath Phillips is with Durham now and Steve White was released.
Kei Igawa (1-1, 4.26) is the only remaining starter who has faced the Bulls this season. Marquez was 2-0 but posted a 7.36 ERA in 11 innings. Strickland was 1-0 with a 2.35 ERA in four appearances. Shelley Duncan hit .412 (7-for-17) with two homers and four RBIs, while Justin Christian hit .407 (11-for-27) with a homer and 13 RBIs. Chris Stewart hit .600 (9-for-15) with five RBIs. ... Mitch Talbot made one start for Durham and lasted only two innings, giving up eight runs on eight hits and two walks. Chris Mason was 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA in two starts, while Mike Prochaska was 0-2 with a 12.91 ERA in two starts. Jon Weber was 9-for-27 with two homers and six RBIs, but was the only Bull to hit better than .300 in the series. Take him out of the equation and Durham hit .198 in the eight games.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: There were some hitting stars for sure in the opening-round victory over Pawtucket, but the Yanks reached the finals because of their pitching. They posted a 1.75 ERA in the four games, striking out 38, walking 14 and allowing only seven earned runs in 36 innings. All indications are that Chase Wright will start the opener. He allowed one run in 4 2/3 innings in the opener against Pawtucket but needed 87 pitches to get that far. Ian Kennedy allowed two runs over seven innings in Game 2, losing only because Devern Hansack was busy tossing six no-hit innings for the PawSox. Igawa, who has 15 victories this season and was named as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Pitcher of the Year, has been sharp all season, but 10 of his victories came at home. If manager Dave Miley sticks with his rotation, Igawa would start Game 3 in Durham and he is only 5-5 on the road, though he does have a pair of complete games and a 3.72 ERA away from PNC Park. Phil Hughes was masterful in pitching eight shutout innings in the clincher. The possibility that he gets called up to New York to take over for Sidney Ponson or Carl Pavano exists. But if he doesn't get called, he would be in line to pitch a fourth game Friday night if needed. Eric Duncan and Ben Broussard each had five hits in the opening series.
Durham: Durham's pitching staff is equally impressive, even if it didn't show as much in the opening round. Collectively, the staff posted a 4.37 ERA, but much of that damage came in Game 2 against Louisville when the Bulls allowed 19 runs. Expect former top pick David Price to get the nod in the opener. He earned a win against Louisville with five shutout innings, during which he scattered three hits. If Durham goes back to Talbot, a 13-game winner during the regular season, he'll need to make some marked improvements over his start against Louisville. He allowed seven runs on nine hits in two innings in that 19-run debacle. Jeff Niemann, another former first-rounder, made a bid for a no-hitter in Game 3, allowing one run on two hits over eight innings. Wade Davis allowed only one run on four hits in six innings during the clincher. Tampa Bay isn't expected to recall any of them before the end of the playoffs. Jonny Gomes was 4-for-15 with two homers and five RBIs, while Matt Spring, a late addition to the roster, was 4-for-5 with a homer and six RBIs.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.