Sept. 29, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Pitchers usually don’t like the idea of being associated with 2-for-2.
Of course, there are exceptions. Former Georgia Tech right-hander Brandon Cumpton is living one of them.
Cumpton is 2-for-2 in participating in champagne celebrations at the end of a Major League season.
While he’s not the first Major Leaguer who can make that claim, the fact that he’s riding such a streak with the Pittsburgh Pirates is special.
These are the Pittsburgh Pirates that hadn’t been to postseason since 1992, when Brandon was three years old.
“It’s awesome to be a part of this two years in a row,” said Cumpton from the visitors’ clubhouse at Turner Field, where the Pirates had celebrated clinching a National League Wild Card berth two nights earlier. “I’m happy the organization has let me be a part of it the last two years.”
The celebration held extra-special meaning, as not only is he an Augusta, Ga., native but he was making his first professional trip to Turner Field.
“It was really cool!” he said. “We got to celebrate it here in the clubhouse with everybody and then I got to celebrate it a little bit with some friends and family afterwards. Just coming back to Atlanta is pretty cool, coming back to the South, where I’m from, it just kind of makes me feel at home.”
Cumpton hopes he’ll have the opportunity to pitch at PNC Park on Wednesday night, when the Pirates play the San Francisco Giants.
That opportunity, should he be put on the team’s playoff roster, culminates a four-year rocket ride through the Bucs’ minor league system.
The Pirates selected Brandon on the ninth round of the 2010 June Draft, following a three-year career at Georgia Tech, in which he went 15-7, with a 5.66 ERA. He was 9-3 with a 5.50 as a junior. The nine wins tied with Deck McGuire and Jed Bradley, who also are working their way up, McGuire with the Toronto Blue Jays, Bradley with the Milwaukee Brewers (the Pirates’ N.L. Central rival).
Cumpton put himself in the position of being a contributor to the playoff run by being a versatile piece of the Bucs’ staff. He went 3-4 with a 4.89 ERA in 16 games but 10 of those games were starts. He also proved an innings-eater out of the bullpen. setting a team-high by pitching five innings of relief on Aug. 19 against Atlanta, allowing four hits and two runs, (including one home run), while striking out five in the Pirates 11-3 loss.
“Whenever they need me, whenever they call my name, I just go in there,” he said. “If they need three or four innings go in there and get that. If they need one out or maybe put the ball on the ground, whatever they need, I’m happy to be here and help out and get the call.”
Answering the call has been a theme throughout his trek to Pittsburgh. Primarily a starter coming out of Georgia Tech, he quickly proved he could adapt to coming out of the `pen, retiring the first six batters he faced in his New York-Penn League (Rookie) debut on Aug. 21. Four days later, in his first start he threw three scoreless frames.
In his first full minor league season he went a combined 10-7 with a 3.98 ERA at West Virginia (Low-A) and Bradenton (High-A) in 2011.
The 2012 season saw Brandon make a successful jump to Double-A. Pitching for the Altoona Curve, Cumpton was an Eastern League mid-season All-Star and finished the season with a 12-11 record. The 12 wins ranked second among all Pirates minor league pitchers, and included a four-start winning streak.
He climbed another wrung on the ladder in 2013, pitching most of the year at Triple-A Indianapolis, and even getting a taste of the big leagues as a September call-up. He went 6-8 with a 3.62 ERA in 23 games (21 starts), with the Indians, striking out a career-high 97 hitters and posting a career-low 3.62 ERA.
His work got the attention of the Major League club, which called him up to pitch on June 15th against the Los Angeles Dodgers. As if making his Major League debut wasn’t big enough, Cumpton had to go pitch-for-pitch with eventual Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw.
“I still get the chills thinking about it,” he said of his debut. “I’m still in shock from it.”
Not as in shock as the Dodgers were that day, as the pitch-to-contact Cumpton whiffed the first four batters he faced — Skip Schumaker, Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez.
“I don’t know what was going on with that. I think they were kind of helping me out there a little bit,” he said, with a laugh. “I don’t think I’ve ever done that in any game I’ve ever played, strike out the first four, let alone my debut. That’s something I’ll never forget.”
He’d last five-plus innings, allowing three earned runs and seven hits but left trailing 3-1. The Bucs scored single runs in the eighth and ninth to tie the game and get him off the hook before falling in 11 innings, 5-3.
He’d make three more starts, earning his first win on July 30th, shutting out St. Louis on three hits over seven innings in a 6-0 whitewash, and completed the year making two September starts, earning a second win on Sept. 29. He finished 2-1 with a sparkling 2.05 ERA (7 earned runs in 30 2/3 innings.
That set the stage for 2014 where he’d overcome an early minor setback.
Despite pitching well in Spring Training, Brandon started the season at Indianapolis. On April 23rd, he got called up to replace injured lefty Wandy Rodriguez and on the 24th he started against Cincinnati, going seven innings, allowing two runs and four hits.
He’d absorb a hard-luck 2-1 loss but would never go back to the minors and he hopes on his way to postseason.
Regardless of whether or not he pitches Wednesday night, Cumpton is really enjoying his journey in the Majors, a journey that has included playing with and against several former Georgia Tech teammates and alumni.
“I played against [Baltimore Orioles catcher] Matt Wieters this year, I played with [Philadelphia Phillies outfielder] Marlon Byrd last year,” he said. “Coming up through the minor leagues I also got to play with a few guys. I got to play against Deck McGuire, who was one of my teammates for three years.”
He hopes to play against New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira as well as Colorado Rockies All-Star outfielder and Yellow Jackets teammate Charlie Blackmon in the years to come.
His plan to stay in the bigs is simple.
“Just stay healthy and go about my business,” he said. “Whether I’ve got a shot next year of being a starter or long guy in the bullpen, I’m just looking forward to having a good year and just doing what I know I can do.”
Based on his first two years that will include popping champagne.
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