Duke’s Stinson heads to Cuba with USA Baseball

Blue Devils pitcher is one of five N.C. collegiate players on the roster

Duke pitcher Graeme Stinson is playing with Team USA in the annual USA vs. Cuba International Friendship Series. (Shawn Krest / North State Journal)

DURHAM — Graeme Stinson was one of five players from North Carolina schools who made the cut for the USA Baseball Collegiate National team. The group played a series of games against Chinese Taipei and Japan before heading to Havana, where they are competing in the seventh annual USA vs. Cuba International Friendship Series.

Stinson likely secured his berth with a dominating performance against Chinese Taipei in his home stadium. Playing at the DBAP, the Blue Devil reliever struck out the first five batters he faced, on his way to seven strikeouts in 2⅓ innings of work.

Stinson was bothered by the one unearned run he surrendered, however.

“I’d grade it as pretty good,” he said of the outing. “If I were going to take something back, it would be that four-pitch walk, because that came up and bit me on the butt (eventually scoring due to a passed ball). I can’t be real mad about one run in there, though. I’ll live with it.”

The chance to kick-start his Team USA tenure in familiar surroundings made the experience all the sweeter for Stinson, who became the third Duke player to make the Team USA roster. Bailey Clark (2015) and Marcus Stroman (2011) are the others.

“It really couldn’t be better,” he said. “I’ve been pinching myself all week. This is awesome. It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s a great part of the country to play in, a wonderful city. There’s nothing better than Durham. The DBAP is awesome — they always have the best mound and the best surface.”

Stinson made another 2⅓-inning relief appearance, striking out two and not surrendering a run.

It continues a successful summer for Stinson, who was dominant out of the Duke bullpen this season. He went 5-1 with a 1.89 ERA this year and struck out 98 batters in just 62 innings while surrendering just 19 walks.

Stinson earned a start — one of just four this season — in Duke’s NCAA Tournament run, striking out six Texas Tech batters in six five-hit innings to keep Duke’s College World Series hopes alive for one more game.

Following the season, Stinson took part in the prestigious Cape Cod League, striking out 12 batters in a five-inning start before being pulled away for USA Baseball duty.

“I’ve had a lot of success the last month,” he said. “It’s really good.”

With a fastball that runs 94-96 mph and a devastating slider, Stinson put himself in position to be one of the top prospects in the 2019 MLB Draft class. Stinson, a rising junior, will be eligible to be selected next June.

Stinson will also continue the conversion to a starting pitcher next season, a natural next step for a pro prospect. He’s not looking ahead to any of that, however. Not while he has a country to represent.

“I’m just going to keep doing my job,” he said. “Keep executing my pitches. I can’t worry about what’s going on down the road.”

Stinson is joined on the USA Baseball squad by ECU lefthander Jake Agnos, Elon righthander Kyle Brnovich, NC State infielder Will Wilson and ECU outfielder Bryan Packard.

The AAC Player of the Year last season, Packard was a late addition to the USA Baseball roster. He’s made the most of it, however, hitting a team-high .429 in three games.

Wilson has appeared in nine games, starting five. He was one of a pair of Wolfpack position players named to the original roster, but catcher Patrick Bailey wasn’t chosen for the squad that traveled to Cuba.

Brnovich is 1-1 in three appearances for Team USA, and opponents are hitting just .150 off of him. Agnos has appeared in three games and boasts a 1.69 ERA.

In addition to the games at DBAP, the team has played a schedule that included games at the USA Baseball complex in Cary, BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte, Grayson Stadium in Savannah, Ga., Luther Williams Field in Macon, Ga., and Sun Trust Park in Atlanta — the home of the MLB Braves. A game scheduled for Riley Park in Charleston, S.C., was rained out.

The team beat Japan in three of the five games to clinch the 42nd annual U.S. vs. Japan Collegiate All-Star Series, the 24th time the U.S. has won the series, including a 21-1 record in the series that took place on home soil.

Now it’s on the road and across the Caribbean to play five games at historic Estadio Latinoamericano.

“It’s phenomenal,” Stinson said. “There’s a bunch of men and women that serve our country every day. To come out here and wear this uniform is the least I can do. It’s a lot of fun and an honor.”