It wasn’t pretty, but the Potomac Nationals completed the sweep of the Carolina Mudcats with a 7-5 win on Sunday evening.
Kevin Keyes’s three-run blast in the bottom of the fifth broke open a 4-4 game and made a winner out Robbie Ray despite his pitching poorly for the second time in as many starts.
Ray walked a season-high five batters and could have easily walked more, as the southpaw rarely got to two strikes without two balls in the count as his pitches drifted up or nosedived. He got the leadoff batter just once in five frames and put runners on in every inning.
In short, Ray looked more like the 2012 edition than the 2013 All-Star, particularly as he surrendered a long home run in the 3rd. Five of the seven he’s given up this season have come in his last three starts. Perhaps it’s just an anomaly, but it’s something worth noting, as these two trends combined — walks and homers — cannot continue if he’s going to make it Harrisburg this summer (yes, there have been whispers).
Perhaps more curious is the resurgence of the bullpen. For the second straight night they were asked to pitch four or more innings, and for the second straight night they got the job done. Brian Dupra, David Fischer, and Rob Wort combined to give up five hits and three walks, but just one run — the first in 10⅓ innings the bullpen logged for the series.
It’s something to hope for because if there’s one thing that’s been constant this season, it’s the offense. The 15 runs scored in the series to open the second half has brought Potomac to within eight of the league lead, held by the Winston-Salem Dash. The team has been scoring 5-6 runs a game for quite some time now, without hitting a lot of extra-base hits (7th in doubles, 4th in HRs) and is middle-of-the-pack when it comes to strikeouts and walks (4th on both)
Next up, a better chance to see how they measure up as they play four against Myrtle Beach Pelicans, which feature the league’s best pitching and were the Southern Division’s first-half champs. A.J. Cole (4-2, 4.16) gets the opening-game assignment, opposed by Nick Martinez (5-4, 2.84).