Suc­cess has Squir­rels re­liever f lip­ping out

Ac­ro­batic Knight is hav­ing his best sea­son in mi­nors

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - BASEBALL - BY WAYNE EPPS JR.

Af­ter a Fly­ing Squir­rels win ear­lier this sum­mer that re­liever Dusten Knight punc­tu­ated with a save, the right-han­der cel­e­brated with a back­flip in front of the mound.

He wasn’t try­ing to show any­one up or any­thing like that — it’s just some­thing he likes to do. He’ll even do back­flips and front­flips while in the out­field to shag fly balls dur­ing bat­ting prac­tice.

“It’s just me, my way of show­ing that I love this game, I love to have fun, I love to come out here and just joke around,” Knight said.

Be­sides, Knight has had rea­son to flip this year. The 27-year-old, who is in his sixth year of mi­nor league base­ball, has com­piled a 1.29 ERA over 22 games and 35 in­nings pitched this sea­son. He’s also struck out 37.

Knight, who has pitched five games in rookie ball this year, four games in Triple-A and 13 with the Squir­rels, be­lieves this is the best year he’s had in the mi­nors.

“Be­cause I’ve been smarter as a pitcher,” he said. “I’ve been more ag­gres­sive as a pitcher.”

On Sat­ur­day at The Di­a­mond, Knight pitched 1⅓ in­nings, with one un­earned run al­lowed in the Fly­ing Squir­rels’ 5-2 win over the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Rich­mond erased a 1-0 deficit in the sixth in­ning on RBI sin­gles by John Polo­nius and John Ri­ley.

Luigi Ro­driguez, Dy­lan Davis and Matt Lipka had an RBI apiece as well.

Knight, a Tahle­quah, Okla., na­tive, pitched against Bal­ti­more Ori­ole Dy­lan Bundy once in high school. And it was then that he re­al­ized that he might have a fu­ture in the game.

“Me and him had a good pitch­ers’ duel, and I re­mem­ber the Texas Rangers scout comes up to me af­ter the game and was like, ‘Hey man, you can re­ally pitch. You got some good abil­i­ties. We’d like you to fill out a ques­tion­naire, see how it goes from there,’ ” Knight said.

Knight be­gan his col­le­giate ca­reer at Con­nors State, a ju­nior col­lege. He fin­ished at the Univer­sity of Texas-Pan Amer­i­can, be­fore the Gi­ants picked him in the 28th round of the 2013 draft.

At Texas-Pan Amer­i­can, Knight mostly started and had a 3.58 ERA and 96 strike­outs in 78 in­nings as a se­nior. The Gi­ants moved him to the bullpen.

This year, Knight has seen his av­er­age ve­loc­ity rise about 4 mph to a tad over 92 mph. He at­tributes that to more ef­fec­tive use of his legs.

“Be­cause I’ve al­ways been an arm thrower,” Knight said.

“Get­ting my legs in­volved, I think that’s been able to help me not only com­mand wise, but [also] ve­loc­ity.”

Knight said that some of the new staff the Gi­ants have brought in this year, like re­hab pitch­ing co­or­di­na­tor Justin Lehr, have re­ally helped him. Fly­ing Squir­rels pitch­ing coach Glenn Dish­man said Knight is great at self­coach­ing as well.

“You bring up some stuff, and it clicks with him,” Dish­man said. “He has a re­ally good feel for what his body’s do­ing.”

As for the flip­ping, Dish­man said, laugh­ing, they try to dis­cour­age it. But he called Knight a “crazy good ath­lete.”

Whether he does it or not, Knight would like to have plenty more to flip for as the sea­son winds down.

“I’m try­ing to fin­ish stronger than I’ve ever fin­ished in my life,” Knight said. “Be­cause I’ve al­ways had one or two games in Au­gust or in July where I was like, ‘I let that go.’ I don’t want that.”

ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Re­liever Dusten Knight of the Fly­ing Squir­rels has put to­gether a strong sea­son, com­pil­ing a 1.29 ERA over 22 games and 35 in­nings. He’s also struck out 37.

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