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.