Aug 152015

On a warm August night, the sunlight fading like the hopes of playing past Labor Day, the Potomac Nationals put it all together in all three phases of the game for a 4-0 win over the Wilmington Blue Rocks.

Three pitchers combined on the seven-hit shutout, led by starter Austen Williams. The 22-y.o. Texan was perfect through three and allowed three hits total through six innings. He walked one and struck out three to earn his fourth win for Potomac and 12th overall, which for what it’s worth, leads the Nationals minors.

He was followed by Derek Self, who was his usual self in turning in two scoreless but uneven innings with three hits allowed, no walks, and one whiff for the hold, his third for Potomac. Dupra closed out the ballgame in the 9th with one hit allowed and one strikeout.

Offensively, it wasn’t so much the bats as it was the legs of Rafael Bautista. The young Dominican drew a leadoff walk, then stole second and third rather easily, then scored on Grant DeBruin’s two-out single — the first of three RBI for the veteran minor-leaguer.

Two innings later, Bautista singled and stole second. In the 5th, he doubled, stole third (that’s four, if you’ve lost count) and stole home on a flyball to shallow center field, though technically it was sacrifice fly for Alex Keller.

In his final at-bat, he easily beat out a tapper to third but was picked off trying for his official fifth base. Final line: 3-for-3, 2R, 2B, BB, 4SB. In total, the P-Nats rapped out 11 hits, with DeBruin also getting three, and John Wooten going 2-for-4 with a double. They were 4-for-11 with RISP and left on just six.

With the win, Potomac improves to 22-25 in the second half but trails the Lynchburg Hillcats by five and a half games and just three games left between the two teams. Their elimination number stands at 18 with 23 games left to play.

The series continues tonight with a matchup of Brian Rauh (2-1, 2.21) for Potomac vs. Alec Mills (6-6, 2.73) for Wilmington.

Aug 012015

Potomac fell behind early, the offense couldn’t get it going, and the bullpen was uneven in a 5-1 loss to Salem.

It seems like a broken record for the P-Nats, who continue to lose games in bunches. Their current losing streak is four games, and they’ve lost three or more eight times thus far.

Reynaldo Lopez got the start last night and was both wild and uneven. Much has been made about his velocity, but it bears repeating because it is still misunderstood: it doesn’t matter how hard you throw if you’re not throwing strikes.

Lopez threw an inordinate amount of breaking pitches compared to previous starts. The good news is that he broke off some really nice ones, helping him to fan five. The bad news is that he had tremendous difficulty locating his fastball and was seemingly behind nearly every batter last night.

The result? Salem was able to sit on that mid-90s fastball and tee off for seven hits, including two doubles and moonshot HR over the left field wall. He would give up four runs and walk two over five innings and suffer his seventh loss.

Offensively, Potomac wasn’t up to snuff as they were able to get runners on early, but hit into three double plays in the first four innings. Were it not for Salem’s defensive struggles (two passed balls, a throwing error) and errant pitching (wild pitch, hit batsman), Potomac would have likely been shut out as they managed just five hits total.

The two teams continue the series tonight with a matchup of Ian Dickson (1-0, 2.50) versus Salem’s Daniel McGrath (1-4, 3.86)

Jul 252015

Down 3-0, the Potomac Nationals got back-to-back-to-back singles to load the bases in the bottom of the 7th.

Then the #8 hitter (Cody Dent) struck out swinging. So did the #9 hitter (Narciso Mesa), albeit on a check wwing. Then—if you;ve been playing along at home, you know what’s coming—the leadoff man flailed and failed for the third whiff and the end of the inning.

Frederick would tack on two in the top of the 8th, as Potomac inexplicably (well, maybe not — they’ve got seven starters and five relievers on the staff right now) sent an ineffective Justin Thomas out for a fourth inning of work, where he was predictably lit up for two more runs to put the game out of reach at 5-0.

The P-Nats would break up the shutout with a run in the bottom of the 8th, as Anthony Rendon drew a leadoff walk and scored on John Wooten’s subsequent double for the game’s eventual 5-1 outcome.

Phillips Valdez got the start but struggled with his command, walking three as he wobbled through four scoreless innings. Thomas came on in the 5th and worked around a leadoff walk to retire the side, but gave up the winning runs — with an “assist” from Drew Ward’s 21st error in 77 games — in the 6th to garner the loss.

The P-Nats matched the Key with eight hits, with Wooten and Grant DeBruin both going 2-for-4 with a double, but were an abysmal 1-for-14 with RISP and left on eight runners in the loss, which was their third straight and ninth in ten games to fall back into the Carolina League North cellar at 12-15 in the second half.

Potomac now hits the road for six games — three against Salem, three against Myrtle Beach — before they return to the Pfitz next Friday.

Jul 192015

A five-run 6th turned a slim 3-2 lead into a 7-3 deficit that Potomac could not overcome, as they dropped their fourth straight to Myrtle Beach by a 7-4 score.

Starter Phillips Valdez struggled with his command in the first inning, giving up two runs before retiring his first batter as a walk, single, and a steal put two runners in scoring position for Jacob Rogers’ double to the right-centerfield gap. He would issue two more walks but escaped further damage.

Unfortunately, much like the old saw that the prizefighter who lands the first solid punch wins the fight, such is the case with the P-Nats in 2015. Potomac’s record when that happens: 16-32 (vs. 28-15).

Valdez would recover to put in four scoreless innings before getting lifted after five innings. His final line: 5IP, 3H, 2R, 2ER, 5BB, 5K.

Meanwhile, rehabbers Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth joined the team and combined for three hits and two RBI, but only exerted enough energy to not get hurt. Werth, for example, watched a would-be double to the gap before settling for a single while pinch-runner Narciso Mesa scored all the way from first base.

The wheels came off the bus in 6th when Tyler Mapes was knocked for five runs on on five hits, including a three-run homer to put the game out of reach. Derek Self and Brian Dupra combined for three scoreless innings afterwards.

Potomac would score one last time in the 9th as Alec Keller singled and took second on an error with one out, then scored on Narciso Mesa’s single. Spencer Kieboom would lead the regulars with a 2-for-4 night, though he also struck out twice.

Despite the loss, Potomac remains in 1st place in the C.L. North by a ½ game as they make the short trip to Frederick for three against the Keys. Reynaldo Lopez (5-5, 4.30) gets the ball, opposed by Frederick’s Ariel Miranda (0-1, 5.63).

Jul 182015

Myrtle Beach scored in six of nine innings while Potomac struggled to score at all, as the Woodbridge nine fell for the third straight gane, 7-2.

Lucas Giolito got the start on Friday night, but struggled with his command. As is often the case with high-profile prospects, it’s diffiuclt to separate the talent from the results. Giolito had moments where his changeup was a thing of beauty, as the Pelicans were light years ahead of the pitch. Yet Giolito “only” struck out four in five innings. And walked three — his second-highest total in 12 starts (oh, the horror).

Giolito would finish with a crooked line of 5IP, 6H, 3R, 2ER, 3BB, 4K, WP — not great, but not horrid, either.

While it might not satisfy the fair-weather fans, it’s fair to say that the Nats’ #1 prospect, and the #1 overall prospect according to some midseason prospect rankings (or is that post-preseason rankings?) might not yet be ready for AA just yet. And that’s okay. We’re still talking about a player that turned 21 this week.

Ulitmately, as has been the case for the past three games, it’s about the Potomac offense and its inability to score consistently. In three games against the Pelicans, they’ve collected 14 hits and scored four runs. It should come as no surprise that that’s resulted in three losses.

Veteran Khayyan Norfork was 2-for-4 and scored both runs, but the rest of the lineup was an atrocious 3-for-29 with one walk. The P-Nats had just four chances with runners in scoring position, and the one hit was a bunt single that scored the first run.

The series concludes tonight with a matchup of Phillips Valdez (3-2, 4.66) versus Jeremy Null (0-1, 4.24).

Jun 202015

Baseball Rain For NPP 3
The Potomac Nationals rallied for four in the bottom of the 4th to erase an early 1-0 deficit and even the four-game series with the Carolina Mudcats with a rain-shortened 4-1 victory.

Carolina stuck for its run in the 1st on a leadoff walk, a steal, and an advance to third on a flyout to right field. Starter Phillips Valdez nearly squirmed out of the jam with a strikeout to the No. 3 batter before giving up an RBI single to cleanup man Carlo Franco and a subsequent safety to the #5 batter Jose Briceno.

He would then settle down to retire five straight before giving up a one-out single in the 3rd, four straight before surrendering a two-out double in the 4th, then six straight before play was halted.

Potomac stranded runners in each of the first three innings before Spencer Kieboom led off the 4th with a single, took third on a one-out single by John Wooten, and scored on a Brandon Miller double, which tied the game at 1-1.

Adrian Sanchez sent in the game-winner on a grounder to second, but the insurance runs came on what initially appeared to be an inside-the-park HR by Estarlin Martinez, but later (correctly) changed to a triple and an error as Martinez scampered home when Carolina right fielder Sean Godfrey booted the ball in right-center.

The rain, which began to spit in the bottom of the 4th, eventually forced the game’s end with two outs in the 6th. The win would go to Valdez, who allowed just the one run on four hits and one walk while striking six.

The series continues tonight with a matchup of Reynaldo Lopez (4-3, 4.85) vs. Andrew Waszak (4-4, 3.29) for Carolina.

Jun 142015

A five-run 7th turned a 4-1 ballgame into a rout, as the Frederick Keys evened the three-game series with a 9-3 win.

John Simms started and was ineffective early, giving up one run in the 1st and two in the 2nd on five hits, including a double to the right-center gap and a triple down the right field line. A long homer in the 5th accounted for the fourth and final run he gave up, as he went six innings and allowed seven hits with two walks and two strikeouts.

However, with an offense that’s basically league average in everything but runs scored, four runs allowed is too much. After answering Frederick’s run in the top of the first with a Christopher Bostick single, steal of second combined with a wild pitch, and a Stephen Perez sacrifice fly, the P-Nats bats fell silent until one out in the 5th, when Narciso Mesa laid down a magnificent bunt down the third base line.

While they would eventually score three runs, as aforementioned, the game was already over after Jake Johansen failed to retire any of the five batters in the top of the 7th. He walked three (two with the bases loaded) and allowed one hit on one of the handful that came in over the plate and in the strike zone.

Derek Self was unable to prevent further damage and let in all three of his inherited runners, but saved the rest of the ‘pen with three innings pitched.

The series concludes today with a matchup of Phillips Valdez (0-1, 5.02) vs. Chris Lee (1-2, 5.40).

May 312015

Myrtle Beach scored in four straight innings, including a five-run 7th that “featured” six straight walks, as they scored ten unanswered runs in an 11-1 demolition of Potomac.

Reynaldo Lopez was beaten in his previous start—also against the Pelicans—and did little to suggest that it was fluke or an aberration. The Carolina League’s best team looked every bit the part as they manhandled the 21-y.o. for a second straight start.

Lopez was charged with five runs on nine hits, five of which were for extra bases (three doubles, a triple, and a home run), and one walk. He did strike out six, but it was not enough to mitigate the damage from the cannonade of extra-base knocks.

Kevin Perez followed Lopez and was immediately greeted with a long HR to right field. While he managed to get the next three outs, he walked four straight to open the 7th before he was lifted for Cody Davis. The usually reliable reliever walked two more before getting a flyout to center to let in all three inherited runners.

Davis then wild-pitched in another run before getting the last two outs. He would close out the game, saving the bullpen from further taxation and finishing with one run charged to his record over three innings.

Meanwhile, the P-Nats had trouble getting solid contact against Myrtle Beach’s Paul Blackburn. They also helped him out — as they have quite a bit this season — with first-pitch swings that produced easy outs.

Potomac would manage just five hits total and draw three walks while striking out nine times. Even a MASN analyst can tell you that’s not enough to get it done on offense.

The series continues this afternoon with Nick Pivetta (3-3, 1.41) vs. Tyler Skulina (1-3, 4.25). Potomac’s elimination number is now 16 with 21 games left in the first half.

May 302015

It’s too late for Potomac to think about a run at the Carolina League North Division title. But after a 3-1 win on Friday following an 8-3 win on Thursday, the last-place P-Nats can serve notice to the first-place Blue Rocks that things might be different in the second half.

Of course, that’s easy to write when Potomac had things go right on both sides of the ball.

Phillips “Exxon” Valdez made his High-A debut and tossed six innings of one-run ball. He hit two Blue Rocks on the puss elbow pad in the first inning, with both players making little-to-no effort (think Don Baylor) to get out of the way of the pitch, as the rules require, but got out of the bases-loaded jam.

Then in the 3rd he gave up a leadoff triple that came in on a sacrifice fly, for the one run he let in. Otherwise, he dominated the weak Wilmington offense — just three hits allowed, one walk, and three strikeouts.

Alas, his counterpart Erik Skoglund was just as good. The slim (could hide behind a telephone pole) southpaw retired six straight to start the game before Khayyan Norfork doubled to lead off the 3rd, Estarlin Martinez singled to push him over, and Narciso Mesa flew out to CF for the sac fly that tied the game at 1-1.

The P-Nats got leadoff singles in the 4th and 5th, but Skoglund dialed up 6-4-3 DPs both times to erase the threat. He also worked around a pair of two-out singles in the 6th before Norfork made the last out of the 7th trying for a second double.

Perhaps the minors are primarily for development, but the decision to send out Skoglund for an 8th inning without a reliever at the ready is hard to explain, much less defend. As lineups often do, a fourth look was what it took to beat him.

In what seemed like a rerun of Norfork’s previous at-bat, Martinez singled to left to lead off the 8th and then turned it into a double on a play that might not have stood up on instant replay. Mesa sacrificed him to third and Christopher Bostick plated him with double to center for a 2-1 lead.

Stephen Perez got the insurance run with a single to center and Skoglund escaped further damage with a popup by Isaac Ballou, an intentional walk to Spencer Kieboom, and an “oops” check-swing tapper by Drew Ward.

Derek Self, who worked around a third hit batsman in the 7th, retired six straight before giving up a leadoff single to begin the 9th. Tripp Keister had Nick Lee ready and called him in shut the door. After a strikeout and a flyout, Wilmington got a second safety to put runners at first and third, but couldn’t get a third hit as Lee whiffed the No. 9 batter to wrap it up.

The win went to Self (his first for Potomac this season) while the save went to Lee, his fifth.

Another first-place team comes to town as Myrtle Beach makes its first trip to the Pfitz. Reynaldo Lopez (2-1, 2.75), who suffered his first loss to the Pelicans last Friday, gets a rematch tonight against fellow righthander Paul Blackburn (3-2, 4.64).

May 102015

Potomac’s losing streak was extended to three as they were shut out for the second time this season, 4-0 by the first-place Frederick Keys.

Perhaps the outcome was evident from the first inning, which began with such promise. Isaac Ballou led off with a line-drive single to right, followed by a ‘tweener that fell in to short right-center off the bat of Christopher Bostick. Stephen Perez then drew the first of two walks on the night to load the bases.

Then Spencer Kieboom was caught looking. Drew Ward swung and missed for another K. John Wooten worked the count full, which allowed the runners to take off and ensure that at least two runs would score on anything that got out of the infield.

Nope — Wooten whiffed. It was the first and best chance for Potomac to score.

The next-best chance came in the 5th when Ballou walked and took third on another Bostick single to short right-center, though an on-line throw would have got him. Bostick advanced on the throw, which missed third but was backed up by the pitcher.

Perez flew out to shallow center and Ballou ran the P-Nats out of the inning by getting thrown out at the plate.

John Simms, who had been hit hard in his first two starts, was the hard-luck loser as he turned in a quality start of two runs allowed on four hits and no walks over six innings.

Jake Johansen was the first man out the ‘pen and also had the misfortune of a one-out error followed by a double, which forced the Potomac infield to play in. Sure enough, Frederick’s John Ruettiger bounced one up the middle to double the Keys lead from 2-0 to 4-0.

It was mostly a moot point, though, since P-Nats went down in order in the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th as Keys reliever Dennis Torres was perfect while earning his first save of the season.

The loss dropped Potomac to 11-18 for the season, five and half behind Frederick and just a game and a half out of the Carolina League North cellar.

Today, it’s a matchup of southpaws Matthew Spann (0-4, 5.87) faces off against Jhonathan Ramos (0-0, 1.93).