By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — The cheers were loud, and for good reason, while Tucker Alch (Catholic) made his final walk to the dugout Friday night. He had done this six times already, after each of his six clean innings, and now exited after recording the final out in the seventh to a standing ovation from the DC Grays’ dugout and its fans scattered across the stands at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.
All 243 onlookers appreciated his effort — no runs in seven frames — but also recognized its continued significance for his team. When Alch pitches well, and for more than a few innings at a time, the Grays have another top-flight arm to lean on. That matters when a team that plays seven games in six days has just 13 arms that it can use.
The Grays knew that they were getting a quality pitcher when they landed Alch in the offseason. He threw 51 ⅓ innings with a 1.40 ERA for Catholic in 2021. And a 7-2 win over the Silver Spring T-Bolts provided further evidence of that.
Combine his performance with lefty Cooper Vest (BYU), who leads the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League in innings pitched and ranks third in ERA, and you just might have the best 1-2 pitching duo in the league.
It was Alch’s longest start since May 8 — he pitched Catholic to a 7-0 victory over Moravian — and home runs from CJ Mervilus (Grambling) and Jay Tarkenton (Old Dominion) helped turn it into a victory. It was his third straight summer league start — including three innings of a suspended game against the South County Braves — of throwing three-plus innings of shutout baseball. Had Alch’s start against the Braves counted, he would lead the league in innings pitched (14) and ERA (0.00).
As the bullpen figures its kinks out in the first few weeks of the season, the starting pitching knew it needed to step up. It responded at a crucial point early in the season and has a combined 1.83 ERA in its last 19 ⅔ innings.
Over the past week, DC received the major boost it needed from its starting pitching — Tim Jinks (Drew) threw three innings of three-run ball on Monday; Vest gave his all in five scoreless on Wednesday; Jake Davidson (Kenyon) chipped in on Thursday, allowing three runs (one earned) in 4 ⅔ innings; and on Friday, Alch didn’t yield a single base runner until the fifth inning and gave up his first hit with two outs in the sixth.
The Grays came into the season with questions surrounding their pitching, a shaky way to begin the season, but Alch’s consistency has given DC a major lift and made a case for him to become the team’s ace.
His outing started with a 12-pitch first inning that ended with a leaping grab for a high chopper that he fielded at the front of the mound. He took his time on the throw and pumped his fist when the ball nestled into first baseman Cal Rucker’s (Georgetown) glove. And then he was off.
Alch mixed his fastball and off-speed pitches — almost to perfection — all evening. He struck out nine, one of them being a red-hot Naighel Calderon (Hawaii) in the fourth inning, who entered play with the seventh-best average in the league (.385). His bid for a perfect game ended with an out in the fifth when third baseman Alex Rosen’s (Georgetown) took Rucker’s foot off the bag. And his no-hit bid ended with a hard line drive that was smacked five feet over Mervilus’ head at short with two outs in the sixth.
Alch lasted another four outs before exiting to high-fives and bear hugs in the Grays’ dugout. He kept his head high as he walked into the dugout. Dylan Siesky (Lafayette) worked around a two-out walk in the eighth inning to keep the game scoreless. Frank Craska (Lafayette) allowed two runs as he recorded the final three outs to give the Grays their first win since Sunday.
After Alch recorded the first out of the fifth inning, he had officially completed the longest start for any DC starter this season, and it only grew by night’s end.
He clicked for Catholic during its regular season in 2021, and continues to keep clicking for the Grays.
The DC Grays take on the Gaithersburg Giants in a doubleheader at Criswell Field on Saturday, and then go to Lorton to play the South County Braves on Sunday. DC returns home on Monday night to play the Alexandria Aces.