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Patience Helps Cummings Get Back to Major Leagues : Baseball: After meteoric start to his career in Seattle, former Canyon pitcher is taking his time to enjoy his days with the Dodgers.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Through five innings, pitcher John Cummings had the world at his feet. He was wicked the moment he took the mound that night in 1993.

It had to be a heady moment: Major League baseball, huh? Send up the next piece of meat .

No doubt about it, if this was The Show, Cummings was going to be a headliner. He was a 23-year-old left-hander who was chewing up big league hitters like chocolate-covered cherries. It was that easy--through five innings.

“I remember thinking, ‘This isn’t that difficult,’ ” said Cummings, who attended Canyon High and USC. “I was just pitching like I always did and I breezed through those first five innings. I don’t really remember much else.”

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Call it therapeutic amnesia.

Through 16 innings this season, Cummings--now 26--has the world off his shoulders.

He doesn’t top the bill, but the chorus line will do just fine. His job is to get left-handed batters out and provide middle relief for the Dodgers.

Some days, it’s easy. Some days, it’s not.

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“I just want to keep doing what I’m doing,” Cummings said. “Hopefully, I’ll keep having good results.”

More therapy.

Cummings was still soaked behind the ears when he made his major league debut with the Seattle Mariners in April, 1993. He had made a light-year leap from Class A to the majors. He pitched as he always did and it was good enough to blank the Baltimore Orioles--through five innings.

The Orioles began the sixth with five consecutive hits.

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It’s quite a tumble from boy wonder to “Boy, what happened to him?” But Cummings has landed on his feet.

His days in Seattle were filled with promise, which he could never quite keep. Cummings was rocketed to the major leagues by an organization that was desperate for pitchers but didn’t understand this one’s mechanics. It was a shortcut that led to a dead end.

Now Cummings is with a team loaded with quality arms--from as far away as the Far East. A comfortable place for a local boy. The pace, this time, is right.

“You can’t compare the two organizations,” Cummings said. “Everything here is first class. The Dodgers just told me to work on what I needed to work on and not worry about the results right away.”

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Patience has paid off.

Cummings is 1-0 with a 1.69 earned-run average. He pitched 4 2/3 shutout innings July 27 to get a victory over Atlanta. He had been with the Dodgers less than a month. It had taken Cummings a year to get his first victory in Seattle.

“I’m ready to put that all behind me,” Cummings said. “This is a fresh start for me, big time.”

Before beating Atlanta, Cummings had been more or less a mop-up guy. In eight appearances, he had not worked in a game the Dodgers won.

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But in recent weeks, his role has been elevated. He got a key out in the Dodgers’ 9-6 victory over Colorado last week, which pulled them to within 2 1/2 games of the Rockies.

There was even talk of using him as a starter before the team acquired Kevin Tapani from the Minnesota Twins. Heady stuff for a guy taken off the scrap heap.

“John has been a great pickup for us,” pitching coach Dave Wallace said. “The guy throws strikes and is tough on left-handers. He can give us a lot of good innings.”

That Cummings is in the heat of the pennant race instead of cooling his heels around the Pacific Coast League was a matter of procedure.

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Given another chance to succeed with the Mariners, he was 0-0 with a 11.81 ERA in four games before being shipped to Tacoma, the organization’s triple-A team. He pitched one game, giving up four runs in 2 1/3 innings, when the Mariners decided to move him off the 40-man major league roster.

To do so, Cummings had to clear waivers in both leagues. No problem. Who wanted a pitcher--left-handed or not--who was 2-10 lifetime?

“I spend more time talking to scouts about ability than I do looking at records,” Dodger Vice President Fred Claire said.

Said Cummings: “It seemed kind of stupid at the time. I’m 26 years old and left-handed. I’m told the Dodgers took me within two minutes.”

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It would have been hard to imagine the Mariners dangling Cummings on the waiver wire three seasons ago. He was as hot a pitching prospect as they had.

Cummings was an eighth-round pick from USC in 1990. Two years later, he was 16-6 with a 2.57 ERA for Peninsula and was named the Carolina League’s pitcher of the year.

A light bulb clicked in Seattle. The next season, he was pitching for the Mariners after only 68 minor league games--all on the Class-A level.

“I don’t think it helps any young player to be rushed to the majors,” Seattle Manager Lou Piniella said. “It was necessity for us. We needed the pitching.”

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In a game of demand and supply, Cummings seemed ready to pony up.

He went 3-0, with a 0.90 ERA in five spring training games to win a spot in the rotation. Piniella trotted him out against Baltimore and Cummings gave up only one hit in five innings before the crash came.

Cummings followed that with a strong showing in a 3-1 loss to Toronto, but the seams were beginning to show.

“I needed to get off to a good start,” Cummings said. “I needed runs and I didn’t get many. Things only got worse. “

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Cummings went 0-6 in eight starts, then was demoted to triple A.

“We rushed a lot of pitchers back then,” Piniella said. “But we needed the pitching. We’ve now slowed that process down. When we sent John out, he got some triple-A experience.”

Cummings did improve some last season. He finished 2-4 with a 5.63 ERA. His fastball, which had been clocked in the 88-92 m.p.h. range, had lost its pop. His problems carried over to this spring.

“I still expected John to be one of our starters this year,” Piniella said. “But he just didn’t throw the ball well in spring.”

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The reason was finally discovered.

Cummings was throwing on the sideline this spring when first-year pitching coach Bobby Cuellar stopped him.

“He said, ‘Do you cut every pitch?’ ” Cummings said. “I didn’t even know I was cutting pitches at all. Until Bobby got there, everyone just had assumed that was how I pitched.”

By cutting his pitches, Cummings had lost power and movement. His changeup, which once dropped away from right-handed batters, was sitting nice and fat.

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“We sent John to triple A with specific instructions on what he was to work on,” Piniella said. “I thought he’d be back and we’d have a pretty good pitcher.”

He may become one yet, but not for the Mariners.

“At the time he was sent to Tacoma, it was hard to imagine anyone claiming John on waivers,” Tacoma pitching coach Jeff Andrews said. “When we corrected his motion, he got his velocity back. Obviously someone else was watching. The Dodgers got a good one.”

Cummings didn’t give up a run in the first seven innings after being called up by the Dodgers July 1.

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He hasn’t been wicked and it certainly hasn’t been easy. But, to Cummings, it means the world.

“They expected a lot of me in Seattle and I tried to give it to them,” Cummings said. “Here, they said, ‘We know what you can do, just take your time.’ ”


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