By Chris Hirons
BETHESDA, Md. — Cody Bosak (Catholic) was worked into a stressful situation in the bottom of the eighth inning. With the game tied at three, runners on the corners and with one out, he took a deep breath and paused before throwing his first pitch to the Bethesda Big Train’s No. 7 hitter Keith Torres (Sacramento State).
He had already worked himself out of the same jam in his first frame of work in the inning prior by forcing Bethesda’s No. 3 hitter Matt Thomas (William & Mary) to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Bosak, working in his second multi-inning appearance since joining the Grays just under a week ago, threw two straight balls to Torres that missed the strike zone by inches — one a touch high, the other an inch or two low-and-outside. The third pitch slipped out of his hand, out of the reach of catcher Burke Camper’s (Towson), striking the home plate umpire in the mask, and allowed the go-ahead run to score and the runner on first to reach third.
He forced Torres to pop up to second base on the next pitch, but an error followed suit and allowed the runner at third to score. Bosak, a high school senior, was sharp aside from the pitch that ran wild, and, by the end, took the loss in Bethesda's 5-3 win over the DC Grays (7-14) on Tuesday night.
The Big Train’s two scores in the bottom half of the eighth were just enough to squeak by DC, which led off the top of the ninth with a walk from Jahli Hendricks (Southern) that brought the tying-run to the plate three separate times. But the next three Grays’ hitters went down in order, ending a game defined by their spotty hitting and few pitching mistakes.
Tuesday marked Tucker Alch’s (Catholic) second start against Bethesda this year, eight days removed from his gutsy 4 ⅔ inning and six-run (three earned) performance at Shirley Povich Field. A start in which Bethesda taggedAlch for the first runs he had allowed all season, after beginning the year with 16 ⅔ scoreless frames. He was solid in his first start against Bethesda. But on Tuesday, he turned it up a notch — Alch shoved.
It’s Alch’s nature to deceive hitters with his craft. He won’t light up a radar gun with every pitch he throws, but he makes up for it by mixing his speeds, movement and pitches. He gutted through all 88 of his pitches — 62 were thrown for strikes — on Tuesday night in his five inning, three-run (two earned) start.
He was knocked around a bit early, allowing two runs to score in the first inning before bouncing back in the second. The Big Train tacked on another run in the third, but that was it. Alch then worked around a runner on third with no outs in the fourth and fifth innings. With a little bit of defensive help, Alch and his defense kept Bethesda's offense quiet.
And then, about an hour-and-a-half after the first pitch was thrown, Cooper Vest (BYU) was the first pitcher asked to loosen in the Grays’ bullpen. It was a winning formula manager Reggie Terry would have liked to turn to later in the game, but Alch was pulled a tad early after Bethesda ran up his pitch count and forced him into multiple high-leverage situations. Vest got two quick outs and then worked around a two-out infield single to keep the game tied at three in the bottom of the sixth.
Yet the Grays’ offense wasn’t able to use Alch’s performance and Vest’s dominance as a springboard.
They missed multiple opportunities to score runs in innings they didn’t, and even when they scored runs in the innings they did, missed more opportunities to tack on and distance themselves from the Big Train. In the first, Scott Bandura (Princeton) reached to leadoff the game, stole second and was moved to third on a ground out. Back-to-back strikeouts stranded him. And then the Grays left nine more runners on base.
Jay Tarkenton (Old Dominion) drove in the Grays’ first run of the day with an infield single in the second and Patrick Vandenbergh (Lafayette) followed that up with a single up the middle to load the bases with an out. Bandura smoked a hard ground ball to the third baseman, who threw Peter Costigan (Charleston) out on a force play at home, and the next hitter grounded out to short.
The same thing happened in the fourth and sixth innings when the Grays loaded the bases with less than two outs but only came away with a run from each inning.
And then the Big Train offense broke through in the bottom of the eighth to score two runs to break the tie in the bottom of the eighth. And finally, after Hendricks reached on a lead-off walk in the ninth, Jared Sprague-Lott (Richmond) almost kept the Grays’ mini-rally going with a rope to right-center field that was just in reach of the right fielder’s glove.
It ended the Grays’ chances and left them with their 10th game that they’ve lost by two runs or fewer. On a night where it looked like they could finally piece it all together for their first back-to-back wins of the season, the Grays buckled.
The DC Grays look to bounce back on Wednesday evening against the Alexandria Aces at Frank Mann Field. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m.
Cooper Vest (left) and Scott Bandura (right) go over an outfield drill with Mamie Johnson Little League members.
By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — On a neighborhood baseball field, where more grass than dirt covered the infield, behind Kimball Elementary School in Southeast Washington, D.C., a young player ran out to center field to meet up with his teammates and to take part in a drill conducted by two DC Grays outfielders.
“What’s your name,” the player asked in a high-pitched tone.
“I’m Cooper. My friend Scottie and I are here to teach you to become a better baseball player,” the former No. 1 outfield recruit in Utah responded. The player looked down and then back up at the Grays’ outfielder. At last, he shrugged and took a knee in the freshly-cut outfield grass, ready to listen to what Cooper Vest (BYU), one of the Grays’ best pitchers, and Scott Bandura (Princeton), arguably the Grays’ best hitter, had to say next.
The same question was repeated more than a handful of times at the four different stations during the DC Grays clinic with young baseball players that belong to the Mamie Johnson Little League, a youth baseball organization that serves families in Ward 7, where Division 1 baseball players Kyle Chmielewski (Lafayette), Evan Smith (West Virginia), Joey Craska (New Jersey Institute of Technology), Frank Craska (Lafayette) and Teddy Blumenauer (Towson) and softball player Mo’ne Davis (Hampton), worked with its young players to improve their skills.
“[My favorite part] had to be learning about all the different skill levels, as well as approaches to life, not even just baseball,” Vest said. “I’m from [Utah], and coming [to D.C.], I love it. I absolutely loved seeing the pure smiles on these kids' faces.”
Most of the players wore the jerseys and hats given out by the Mamie Johnson Little League — mainly Washington Nationals-related gear. Mamie Johnson Little League is a strong supporter of DC Grays RBI - the MLB RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program, run by the DC Grays in Washington, DC. The Grays are the only summer college baseball team in the US that also runs an RBI chapter for MLB. The Grays have run Washington D.C.’s RBI program since they partnered with Major League Baseball in 2016 and offer the most economically disadvantaged kids with the chance to play baseball for free. Many Mamie Johnson LL kids participate in the DC Grays RBI Junior Travel Baseball and Junior Softball programs in the summer and fall.
Chmielewski and Smith ran through a few different infield drills with the players. Davis, who plays second base for the softball team at Hampton University, and Joey Craska taught hitting lessons. Blumenauer and the elder Craska worked with the pitchers behind the first base dugout. And Vest and Bandura were, of course, beyond second base and in the outfield grass, helping out with the outfielders and cracking jokes with the kids.
"The clinic was great," said Keith Barnes, the founder and President of Mamie Johnson Little League (and also a coach with DC Grays RBI). "The Grays players were great, and our kids really got a lot out of it. This is just another example of the terrific partnership between our league and the Grays."
The clinic took place at Jackie Robinson Field, where the Grays and Mamie Johnson are working with the DC Department of Parks and Rec on a plan for several new upgrades to both the baseball and softball fields. A Memorandum of Agreement is being drafted between DC Grays Baseball and DPR which will initiate a series of improvements to the fields - including new dugouts, new bullpens, the installation of stands and scoreboards at both fields.
For more information on the DC Grays RBI initiative click here.
Evan Smith (left, West Virginia) and Kyle Chmielewski (right, Lafayette) explain an infield drill.
Kyle Chmielewski (Lafayette) demonstrates a ground ball drill.
The DC Grays and members of the Mamie Johnson Little League post for a group photo.
Joey Craska (New Jersey Institute of Technology) works with a player on his batting skills.
Mo'ne Davis (Hampton) teaches a player the correct way to hold a baseball bat.
Teddy Blumenauer (Towson) awaits a pitch from a Mamie Johnson Little League player as Frank Craska (far right) teaches the player to come set.
Scott Bandura (Princeton) poses for a photo with two Mamie Johnson Little League players.
By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — There wasn’t much doubt, no drama, no wondering if the gap was wide enough to pull starter Michael Eggert (Wofford) from the mound and dig into the bullpen.
There was, thanks to the torrential downpour from the sky that ended the game in the top of the sixth inning, a quiet win for the DC Grays at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.
They beat the South County Braves, 6-0 in what officially goes into the record book as a five-inning win, behind another hitless start by Eggert and some timely offense. Eggert, who was working a nine-strikeout perfect game when he was pulled at the end of the fifth against the Silver Spring T-Bolts on June 24, worked his second consecutive dominant outing, where he struck out two, walked one and (by technicality) pitched a no-hitter. He picked up his first win and hasn’t allowed a run in his past 10 innings. He has struck out 15 batters in 13 innings and walked just a single hitter. On June 13, his ERA jumped to six, but since he’s shaved it down to 1.39.
And his teammates rewarded his effort on the bump, a habit that the offense still looks to get into on a nightly basis, by burying the Braves before the rain moved over Southeast Washington. Cal Rucker (Georgetown), Jay Tarkenton (Old Dominion) and Scott Bandura (Princeton) all chipped in with hits and a run scored in the Grays’ five-run third inning. Cam Bufford (Grambling) provided the big hit with a lead-off home run in the fifth.
DC improved to 7-13, and with the Gaithersburg Giants losing to the Alexandria Aces, moved five games back of second place with 15 games left to play in the regular season.
Here’s how the week of ups and downs went for the Grays: They began the week 6-10, hoping to gain some ground on second place, which was just three-and-a-half games out of their reach. They had their ace on the bump, Tucker Alch (Catholic), who delivered 4 ⅔ innings of six-run (three earned) ball against the league’s best offense in the Big Train before turning it over to the bullpen. The Grays led 7-6 heading into the bottom of the eighth, only to lose by two runs by the time they walked off the field in the ninth inning.
They bounced back the next night with a convincing 15-10 win over South County, before a rain delay on Wednesday killed their momentum in a 12-4 loss to the Aces. Then on Friday night, nothing went right for the Grays in a 14-1 mercy rule loss to the T-Bolts.
But they saved one of their biggest surprises to emerge out of the rotation this summer for Saturday night. Eggert was somewhat of a wildcard for the Grays, the freshman didn’t pitch during his freshman year at Wofford, and began the season by making his first two appearances out of the bullpen.
And on somewhat of a whim, Eggert started against Silver Spring and rewarded the coaching staff with five perfect innings and earned himself another start. In a crowded rotation surrounded by top-flight talent in Cooper Vest (BYU), Jake Davidson (Kenyon) and Alch, Eggert has seemed to have gotten somewhat lost in the mix when talking about the Grays’ best starters.
But there Eggert was on Saturday night, struggling with his curveball, making use of his fastball and the location of it. He located it well, forcing 15 of the 16 hitters he faced into weak contact.
“My fastball and the location carried me through my start,” Eggert said. “I didn’t have my curveball at all, I might have thrown three of them in the third inning. I had a good change-up as well, and they played off really well together.”
He threw 57 pitches as the game dragged through the rain and into the top of the sixth before it was called. The lack of high-leverage situations allowed manager Reggie Terry to watch his pitcher pitch and not have to worry about having to look down towards the bullpen, which has had its struggles this season.
Aside from a walk in the second and a hit-by-pitch in the fourth, those were the only base runners Eggert would allow. He didn’t panic at all after the two runners reached base and forced soft ground balls to the infielders or lazy fly balls to the outfielders.
He strutted off the mound with oozing confidence at the end of every inning and walked back out to the mound more eager than he was the inning before.
There was no lapse at any point from Eggert — he shoved. And he shoved all night long.
The DC Grays will receive a quick two-day break but return to action on Tuesday, July 5 as they travel to Bethesda to take on the Big Train at 7:00 p.m.
By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — Jake Davidson (Kenyon) stood on the back of the mound, a few feet off the rubber, running his hands through his hair and staring blankly at the turf at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.
An infield pop fly — that was hit about 100 feet in the sky, but only traveled to the right of the pitcher's mound — landed in the middle of four DC Grays defenders. All four infielders crashed towards the ball, third baseman Alex Rosen (Georgetown) called off everyone else, but the ball didn’t fall near where Rosen was standing.
Instead, first baseman Jared Sprague-Lott (Richmond) and second baseman Jahli Hendricks (Southern) were the ones closest to the baseball once it hit the turf. It was just the beginning of Davidson’s worst start of the season, the first start in which he failed to complete four innings.
Once the Silver Spring T-Bolts’ first hitter of the night reached on the misjudged popfly, it was a sign for things to come for Davidson and the Grays in their 14-1, seven-inning loss on Friday night.
Davidson entered as one of the Grays’ best pitchers this season, the right-hander who tossed seven innings of one-hit, three-run (none earned) ball last week against the second-place Gaithersburg Giants. Davidson, who led the team in innings pitched and ranked third on the team in ERA coming into his start on Friday, allowed four runs in the first inning and three more in the second, and was hooked before he was able to complete the second inning. DC’s offense, aside from a solo home run from Evan Smith (West Virginia) in the bottom of the sixth, was silent.
And so the Grays (6-14) again showed that good things have a habit of vanishing — and vanishing quickly — in a season they haven’t been able to turn around quite yet. The loss dropped them into last place in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League.
The Grays hinted that, with a close two-run loss to the unstoppable Bethesda Big Train on Sunday and a 15-10 win over the South County Braves on Monday, a down season might be on the upswing. That was until two consecutive blowout losses — a 12-4 loss to the Alexandria Aces on Wednesday and Friday's misfortune — forced DC to go back to the drawing board.
The Grays are in a hole because, among other reasons, they haven’t been able to put together a complete performance for more than a game or two at a time. On days the offense and starting pitching seems just about unstoppable, the bullpen is there to cough up a lead. And on days where the starting pitching and bullpen match each other pitch for pitch, the offense can’t buy a timely hit. And then you have days like Friday, where nothing DC tried worked.
And Davidson, an unusual suspect, continued the trend.
Davidson’s success, like any pitcher, revolves around his ability to locate his fastball and to throw it for strikes. But Silver Spring, unlike the other teams Davidson has faced in previous starts, took more pitches and forced him to throw the ball in the zone. In Davidson’s best appearances, his strike percentage typically hovers around anywhere from 60-to-67%. On Friday, out of the 67 pitches he threw, only 56.7% of them crossed the plate for strikes.
Davidson, too, was unable to establish the lower half of the strike zone. He couldn’t get hitters to hit the ball on the ground like he usually does. The damage, once 16 hitters had come to the plate against him, was seven runs on eight hits, three walks and a hit batsman. The sophomore hadn’t allowed more than seven hits in any of five appearances this season.
Cody Bozak (Catholic) came in with two outs in the second and worked 3 ⅓ innings of mop-up duty in his Grays debut. Smith, making his first appearance since last Saturday’s win over the Braves, inched the Grays closer with his first home run of the season, but the deficit was already too steep.
Pitching coach Andre Rabouin told a few players that Friday’s loss was a wake-up call that the team needed. Will it be answered? We’ll find out when the Grays host the South County Braves Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.
By Chris Hirons
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Joseph O’Connell (Harvard) was two outs — just a ground ball double play — away from finishing his third inning of work after he was called on to relieve DC Grays’ starter Joey Craska (NJIT) following a lengthy rain delay in the top of the fourth. O’Connell already tossed two scoreless innings before giving up a game-tying homer in the sixth.
After surrendering the two-run home run, O’Connell walked the next batter before recording the first out of the inning on a ground ball to first base. He could have chosen to work around the Alexandria Aces’ next hitter, Connor Offshack (Elon), to set up a potential inning-ending double play, but instead O’Connell chose to go after him. It almost worked out as he pumped two pitches by — two swings and misses — before leaving a curveball up in the zone, a mistake O’Connell later told DC pitching coach Andre Rabouin he’d like to have back. Offshack made O’Connell pay by singling up the middle to drive in the runner on second to give the Aces a 5-4 lead.
The single and the misplaced pitch gave the Aces all the life they needed in a 10-run sixth inning on the way to a 12-4 seven-inning victory over the Grays at Frank Mann Field. O’Connell lasted 2 ⅓ innings and was dominant in the two scoreless innings he tossed, striking out four of the six batters he faced.
He was left out on the bump for an inning too long, though. Hasan Aquil (Lincoln) and Vince DiLeonardo (Elon), the latter playing in his last game with DC before heading to school early, combined to pitch the final 1 ⅔ innings for the Grays on Wednesday night. Over the final four innings, the Grays’ offense registered just five base runners and a run. It was a sharp contrast to DC’s 15-10 win over the South County Braves on Monday night, in which the offense scored 12 runs and picked up 15 hits in the final six innings.
And then, after throwing 35 pitches on Sunday against Bethesda and 23 pitches combined in the fourth and fifth innings Wednesday, fatigue caught up to him. O’Connell hasn’t thrown a collegiate pitch after the Ivy League canceled its 2020 and 2021 seasons due to Covid concerns. His command slipped, mixed with a few unfavorable calls, as his fastball and his off-speed pitches flattened out.
Nick Brown (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) was making his fourth start of the season for Alexandria, and has had his fair share of control issues, issuing 12 free passes in 9 ⅓ innings. The Grays capitalized on it and walked five times and scored three runs against Brown. Brown was pulled and a plethora of arms in the Aces’ bullpen allowed just a single run in the 6 ⅓ innings it was responsible for.
Craska, who was making his first start of the summer for the Grays, also struggled with his command in the first inning. He issued three free passes and allowed two runs to score before settling in during the second and third innings. He was sent out to toss the fourth inning before a mixture of lightning and rain sent the game into a delay. He left the game with a 3-2 advantage on the scoreboard.
When O’Connell came in for his first inning of work, he was playing with a one-run lead, and as he began his second inning, the Grays had increased his margin for error after scoring a run on a sacrifice fly in the top of the fifth. Burke Camper (Towson) and Sam Kaplan (Cornell) reached on back-to-back singles with one out. Peter Costigan (Charleston) was able to score Camper on the sacrifice fly, but the Grays left Kaplan stranded at third. The timely hits, and baserunners in general, seemed to have stopped falling once the game resumed from the delay.
Coming out of the delay, the Grays were forced to turn to their bullpen, which along with timely hitting, have seemed to be their achilles heel(s) all season long. And, on Wednesday, it felt as if both of their achilles heels sank them again.
The Grays travel to Gaithersburg on Thursday to face the Giants at Criswell Automotive Field at Kelly Park. First pitch is 7:00pm.