By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — Kai Cummings (Mount St. Mary’s) had been solid — not great — in his 16 ⅔ innings of relief out of the bullpen for the DC Grays this summer before entering in the second inning on Friday night. Manager Reggie Terry has used Cummings in long relief, mainly when the Grays are in the midst of playing five, six or seven consecutive games without an off-day in sight.
On Friday night, he was called into long relief once again. He took over on the bump for Joey Craska (New Jersey Institute of Technology) after Craska’s fastball had run a bit wild. The Grays were down 5-1 to the third-place Gaithersburg Giants, and with no outs and a runner on second, Terry was hoping for Cummings to eat some innings before the Grays’ doubleheader against the Bethesda Big Train Saturday afternoon.
Terry received his wish and more as Cummings rewarded DC with five shutout innings, striking out seven hitters and only allowing three base runners in the Grays’ 13-7 win over the Giants at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. And, because of an offensive explosion for the second game in a row, DC was able to run away with the victory on the back of a seven-run eighth inning.
“The key tonight was just throwing strikes,” Cummings said. “The Giants are a good team and the win puts us in a good position for tomorrow against the Big Train.”
Because of the flurry of runs, the Grays moved to within a game of third place and, if they can keep the hot bats going, should host a playoff game when the Cal Ripken Collegiate League begins postseason play in two weeks.
Two days after scoring nine runs in a loss to the Alexandria Aces, the Grays made sure that this offensive outburst didn’t go to waste. Jared Sprague-Lott (Richmond) picked up three hits in five at-bats, scoring four runs. Evan Smith (West Virginia) added to his recent offensive tear with a four-hit day and extended his hitting streak to four games. And the victory, like any in a 36-game season sprint, was a small step for Cummings and the rest of his team, who believe that it can compete with anyone on a nightly basis.
“Tonight’s win can go a long way in determining our playoff position,” Cummings continued. “Hopefully we win a few more and can host a playoff game.”
And even though the Grays sit in last place in the league, they believe that they can make some noise once the playoffs roll around. It’s not like they’re less talented than other teams, nine of their 16 losses have come by two runs or fewer. And on Friday, they seemed to have finally seemed to have put a complete game together.
Outside of Craska’s five-run start, the bullpen was just about as flawless as it has been all year. Cummings worked his five shutout innings, Justin Melton (Emory) pitched around two base runners for a scoreless seventh in his first appearance as a member of the Grays. Donavon Freyer (Shorter), who hasn’t allowed a run in three of his four games this season, threw 10 pitches to shut down the Giants in the eighth.
Not only was the bullpen improved on Friday night, but the defense also was too. It didn’t commit a mistake outside of Craska’s error in the second inning and Tanner Sagouspe (Cal Poly) gunned down two runners trying to score on a sacrifice fly at the plate in the first and second inning. Burke Camper (Towson) threw out two would-be base stealers and has nabbed a ridiculous 37.2% of runners this season.
“All I was thinking about was getting rid of the ball as quickly as possible,” Sagouspe said of his double play. “You always have to be ready when the ball is hit in your direction.”
“Those were two perfect throws [from Sagouspe],” Smith added, who was the cut-off man had either of Sagouspe’s throws gone awry. “I just saw the ball go by my face. He has an absolute cannon.”
When Cummings entered in the second, it became a momentum shift as he worked deeper and deeper into his outing. In the third, the Grays had cut the Gaithersburg lead to 5-2 and added another run in the following frame. They chipped away until Sagouspe tied the game with a single up the middle that scored Scott Bandura (Princeton) and Sprague-Lott in the fifth.
Two innings later, DC’s earlier four-run deficit turned into a one-run lead when Smith scored on a wild pitch. And then the offensive floodgates opened in the eighth. Nehemiah Wright (Grambling) scored on a Sprague-Lott single. Sprague-Lott worked his way around the bases and scored on a Sagouspe fielder’s choice. Two more runs scored on a wild pitch. And finally, Jahli Hendricks (Southern) and Bandura capped off the inning with two-out RBI-singles.
The Grays didn’t have to worry about much when their closer Frank Craska (Lafayette) entered the game, protecting an eight-run lead. Even though he surrendered a two-run homer, DC finished out the victory with relative ease. That was a welcomed change.
The DC Grays return to action against the Bethesda Big Train on Saturday afternoon with a doubleheader. First pitch is set for 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.