Duncan, Clippard are hot at the break

When teams and players are on hot streaks, the last thing they want to do is take time off. With the Eastern League All-Star break approaching, the Trenton Thunder are five games out of first place and players like Eric Duncan and Tyler Clippard are finding their groove.

But with the two days off on July 11 and 12, they aren't worried about losing their momentum. In fact, the time off will only help.

"Everybody needs that All-Star break," said Thunder manager Bill Masse. "I wish it was three days, not two days."

Masse's Thunder played 28 games in a row leading up to the break with their last day off coming on June 12. With two games to go, the Thunder are 16-10 and have outscored teams 118-87 including seven shutouts.

Part of it is thanks to the offense, with speed at the top of the lineup and power in the middle. That power is led by cleanup hitter Eric Duncan, who was transferred to Trenton on June 7 after struggling earlier in the year at Columbus.

Duncan is batting .270 with five homeruns and 18 RBI with a .381 OBP and .510 SLG in 28 games. While Duncan is settling in to his role at Trenton and starting to heat up, he says that he is still looking forward to the couple days off.

"Whether you're hot or cold, it doesn't matter," he said. "The season is so long and it takes a toll on your body whether you are going good or bad."

As far as second half goals, Duncan is trying not to look too far into the future because he knows that's when you put unneeded pressure on yourself and try to press.

He is just focusing on the next groundball and the next at bat. Duncan has a plan that is working and the biggest thing for him is to find something that feels good mentally at the plate and that's where he is right now.

The Thunder's pitching is first in the Eastern League with a team ERA of 3.34 and a league leading 654 strikeouts. The bullpen has been sharp and while everybody knows about starting pitcher Phil Hughes and his dominance, it has been right-hander Tyler Clippard who is emerging as a solid pitcher after struggling earlier in the year.

Clippard has the most starts on the team, with 17, and is 4-10 with a 4.29 ERA. His statistics may not look impressive, but in his last few starts Clippard has been lights out. In his last start on July 4 against Harrisburg, Clippard went eight innings, giving up one hit and striking out 11 batters.

"He is starting to understand himself a little better and making adjustments on the fly in a game where as before he wasn't," said Thunder pitching coach Dave Eiland. "He just has to keep doing what he has been doing."

As simple as it sounds, Clippard is more focused and relaxed on the mound and is starting to mix up his fastball and his changeup which has been deadly of late. Clippard is third in the Eastern League with 94 strikeouts, but he doesn't let numbers affect him while he is on the mound. Clippard is also not worried about the couple days throwing him off because he is scheduled to go on his normal fifth day.

"I'll go back home in Tampa, right by the Yankees complex, and throw my normal bullpen and stay in season form so it won't have any effect," Clippard said. "I am pitching well and I'll have some rough spots here and there but I just want to minimize those and pitch well."

Eiland added, "He is in a groove. All the work is starting to pay off."

The Thunder lost to Portland in the semifinals of the Eastern League Championship last season and behind timely hitting and solid pitching, the Thunder are hoping their hard work pays off in the second half the season.

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