DURHAM, N.C. - When the 2008 season started, Jeremy Cummings was in Taiwan, pitching for the Sinon Bulls of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. Last night, he was in Durham, holding one of baseball's top home run hitting teams scoreless through six innings of two-hit ball.
Toledo couldn't solve Cummings early, and a late-inning rally fell short as the Durham Bulls downed the Mud Hens 5-3 in front of a crowd of 4,982.
In his first start for the Bulls, Cummings (1-0) used an array of off-speed pitches to deny the Mud Hens run-scoring opportunities. Only three Toledo runners advanced past first base while he was on the mound.
Entering the night, the Mud Hens had scored 210 runs this season, more than any other team in the International League.
"He just threw a lot of slow stuff up there, and we didn't handle it very well tonight," Toledo manager Larry Parrish said. "I don't know he got us out for six, to tell you the truth."
Cummings benefited from working with an early lead. After Mud Hens starter Jeremy Johnson (4-1) allowed Durham's first two batters to reach base, Justin Ruggiano hit his fourth home run of the season to stake the home team to a 3-0 lead.
Johnson gave up a single to the next batter but settled down from there. He would finish the night allowing eight hits over five innings but did not surrender a run after the first.
"He threw 40 pitches in that first inning and he was running his pitch count up pretty high after five," Parrish said. "He's a guy that tries to make pitches early and then when he doesn't, he's just like, 'Alright, here it is, hit it.' He has to get away from that. He's at a level now where you can't just go, 'Here it is, hit it.'•"
The Bulls extended their lead in the seventh with a little help from the Mud Hens. Fernando Perez led off the inning attempting to reach base on a bunt, and he made it all the way to second after Toledo third baseman Mike Hessman's throw was wide of first. Perez would eventually score on a double by Dan Johnson, who went 4-for-4.
Later in the inning, with runners on second and third, Mud Hens reliever Ian Ostlund induced Hector Gimenez to hit a grounder to second baseman Michael Hollimon. Hollimon threw home attempting to prevent Ruggiano from scoring, and Ruggiano broke back to third.
But Mud Hens catcher Dane Sardinha was unable to cleanly handle the throw and was charged with an error that loaded the bases. Joel Guzman followed with a sacrifice fly that upped the Bulls lead to 5-0.
"It wasn't a good inning altogether," Parrish said. "We didn't make some pitches, and then when we made a pitch, we couldn't get an out."
Those seventh-inning runs would prove important as the Mud Hens bats awoke in the eighth. Hollimon led off the inning with a home run on the first pitch he saw from Kurt Birkins, and two singles, two wild pitches and a walk would later result in two more Toledo runs.
"They brought some guys in late in the ballgame that started throwing the ball, and we started swinging better," Parrish said.
Hollimon's two-out single in the ninth brought the tying run to the plate, but Bulls reliever Grant Balfour struck out Clete Thomas. Balfour pitched the final two innings of the game to record his sixth save of the season.