Jul 192014
 

Rockslide
For eight innings, there was a Star Trek convention on the Pfitzner stadium scoreboard — nothing but zeroes.

Austin Voth, who actually looked a little shaky early, did nothing to discourage the folks who want to Rhinehart him to Harrisburg with another seven scoreless innings. After giving up a 1st-inning single to Raul Mondesi and walking Jared Schlehuber in the 2nd, all he did is mow down the next 16 batters — striking out the side in the 4th.

The problem was, Wilmington’s Jonathan Dziedzic was nearly as good. Not as dominant, with four hits and a walk, but matched Voth zero for zero (Trekker for Trekkie?) until this became a battle of the bullpens.

Ian Dickson came on in the 8th and extended the retired batters streak to 19. Wilmington countered with veteran Blake Wood, who retired Randolph Oduber on a tapper back to the mound, then gave up a wall-scraping double to Khayyan Norfork.

Except Norfork missed first base, which Wilmington appealed so successfully that it didn’t even show up in the official box score play-by-play*.
* Not sure who to blame for that, but I haven’t seen something that egregious since the ’90s when an entire homestand was “rained out” during a drought in southern New Hampshire.

As you’ve no doubt inferred from the picture above, things fell apart rapidly thereafter. Estarlin Martinez tapped out to end the 8th. Wilmington led off the 9th with a single, got a sacrifice turned into a single, then a walk to load the bases. A sacrifice fly and a double brought ‘em all in for the 3-0 lead and eventual final score.

Potomac went in order in the 9th to lose for the fourth time in five games and fall out of 1st place, a 1/2 game behind Wilmington. The next six are on the road against the Salems, three in Virginia, three in North Carolina before the P-Nats return next Friday for six against the Mudcats and Pelicans.

Jul 172014
 

wheelscameoffthebus
As much as we like our boys to win, sometimes we’re reminded that they’re also here to learn.

At least that’s what the rational fan should be thinking after Wilmington rocked Pedro Encarnacion for five runs in the 5th to hand the P-Nats a 6-1 loss in the opener of the doubleheader last night in Woodbridge.

Encarnacion, who made four appearances — one abbreviated by rain — in the GCL over the last two weeks, looked good in his first inning of work, setting down the 2-3-4 batters 1-2-3 in the 4th on a pair of groundouts and strikeout.

But after a leadoff single in the 5th and a walk followed by a wild pitch, he looked rattled and pitched like, well, he was still in the GCL. A tapper to second was hit just slowly enough to score the go-ahead run. A triple down the right-field line sent in another. A swinging bunt scored the third Wilmington run.

Another single, this one also to right, plated the fourth run. After an aborted double-steal — Severino sniffed out, but couldn’t catch the runner at 3rd — Encarnacion rocked back and forth on the rubber for balk and another Wilmington run.

Raul Mondesi doubled to finish the binge, and Encarnacion finally got a popout. With a positive to lean on, manager Tripp Keister pulled the plug but the damage was done.

Of course, as the “1″ in the linescore suggests, the Potomac bats were largely dormant — just five hits total and one walk, with the shutout avoided only when a wild pitch plated the tying run in the third.

The loss broke a modest four-game win streak, and another in the nightcap cut the P-Nats lead in the Carolina League North to just a 1/2 game over the Blue Rocks. Tonight, they’ll pick up where things left off last Thursday and then play a nine-inning game afterwards.

Jul 072014
 

The good news is that if this series is indeed a preview of the 2014 Mills Cup, we’re in for some good baseball. The bad news is that that it wasn’t as close as the 2-0 win by Myrtle Beach would otherwise suggest.

This, of course, is not discredit the effort that Matthew Spann did in escaping multiple jams in his five innings of work as the southpaw stranded eight runners through four innings before the Pelicans broke through in the 5th for the first of their two runs.

But the reality is that on most nights, you’re not going to be able to put that many baserunners on and get out of it unscathed. Not at this level.

Four of ‘em were definitely Spann’s doing — or the umpire’s, if you were privy to the bellowing from Myrtle Beach batting coach Josue Perez prior to being ejected in the 8th — as he walked four, including two in the first inning.

Twice Spann loaded the bases with two outs, with three singles in the 2nd and a walk and two singled in the 4th. Spann’s fourth walk followed by a double set up second and third with no out. Tripp Keister did not elect to pull in the infield against power-hitting lefty Preston Beck, who indeed hit one sharply to second for the RBI groundout.

He did pull ‘em in for Royce Bolinger and Tony Renda, playing shortstop, threw out the runner at the plate for the second out then leapt high to catch line drive 7′ off the ground to end the inning. But the damage was done.

Potomac, who got three doubles out of its five hits, saw all three extra-base hits go for naught.

Stephen Perez led off the second with a ground-rule double that bounced a foot inside the foul line in right and over the fence but only got as far as third.

Pleffner led off the 4th with double to left-center but was called out for interfering with a grounder to third as he dodged the ball but got in front of the fielder for the inning’s second, rally-killing out.

Renda got to second with two outs on an opposite-field drive to right, prompting the Pelicans to go “old-school” and call for their closer, Jose Leclerc, before the 9th inning to face Pleffner instead of issuing an intentional pass to put the go-ahead run on base and let Justin Spenger, who had already retired Oscar Tejeda easily, do it again.

Leclerc fanned Pleffner and struck out two more in 9th for the un-Soriano save that secured the 2-0 win.

Potomac remains in 1st place with an 8-8 mark as they host second-place Wilmington for the next four. It’ll be Ian Dickson (1-6, 6.11) scheduled to face off against Luis Santos (1-1, 7.06).

Jul 062014
 

After pummeling the Pelicans for eight runs in the completion, the second game of the de facto doubleheader proved to be a pitcher’s duel that ended in the first “extra inning” as Steve Perez’s two-out single in the bottom of the 8th drove in Tony Renda for a 1-0 win.

Starter Austin Voth can’t quite catch a break as he pitched brilliantly for a third straight start but has just one win to show for it. He allowed just three hits over six shutout innings with no walks and seven strikeouts, which puts him to the Washington minors-leading total of 94 in 88⅔ innings.

In part, that’s because Potomac had not one but two runners thrown out at the plate in the 3rd. Estarlin Martinez was the first, making an ill-advised decision to score from third base on a ball hit to the third baseman while Perez was unable to score from first one batter later when Shawn Pleffner doubled into the left-field corner (though he made it close).

The P-Nats managed just two singles from the 4th to the 7th before the game-winning rally in the 8th. After a weak flyout by Martinez (who was quite busy on defense, catching six flyballs in right field over eight inning), Renda beat out an infield single and took second on a wild pitch. Perez delivered the game-winner with a single to right that was hit fast enough to get past the infielders but too slow for the outfielder to pick up and fire in to beat Renda.

The win went to Chris Manno, who struck out four over the 7th and 8th innings while walking one. Combined with a Lynchburg loss, Potomac returned to first place by a half-game over Wilmington, who will be in town next for four games tomorrow through Thursday.

Matt Spann (5-3, 4.45) gets the ball tonight against Andrew Faulkner (6-1, 2.35) in the series finale.

Jul 052014
 

The first-half winners of the Carolina League matched up on the 4th of July — a possible preview of the 2014 Mills Cup? — with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans besting the hometown Potomac Nationals, 4-2 before a reported crowd of 7,993.

The Pelicans boast the league’s second-best pitching staff, in large part because they don’t have to face the league’s best lineup (Myrtle Beach, natch). The P-Nats, however, are second as measured by the only stat that matters: runs scored (though they are second in strikeouts and third in HRs hit).

But as the old saw goes, good pitching beats good hitting. For three innings and a 1/3rd, burly lefthander Chad Bell was perfect against Potomac, setting down the first 10 batters he faced before Stephen Perez sliced a line drive down the left-field line for a clean double to break up the perfect game.

Alas, the one-out double wouldn’t equalize the 1-0 score that Myrtle established on the second pitch of the game by Dakota Bacus as leadoff man Chris Garia cleared the right field fence for his second HR of the season. Bacus, who had struggled with his command in his previous outing, righted the ship and found his groove to shut down the Pelicans through four innings.

But this is the best offense in the league, and in the 5th they got to Bacus for three runs, leading off with a double and closing out with a double and making him pay for a walk and a hit batsman with one out. At the midpoint, the Pelicans led 4-0.

Bell left after five innings and Potomac jumped on his replacement in the 7th, with Oscar Tejeda, Shawn Pleffner, and Randolph Oduber going back-to-back-to-back with singles to break up the shutout. Myrtle Beach left fielder threw strike to the press box but the netting blocked the throw and enabled Oduber to take second on the throw.

Khayyan Norfork plated the second and final run on a sacrifice fly that required Myrtle Beach centerfielder Garia to make what may have been the game-saving catch as he leapt while running back towards the warning track to snag a liner that if not caught was a definite triple and a possible inside-the-park job.

Instead, it went in the scorebook as an SF-8 with an RBI. After a scare when Will Piwnica-Worms was dropped and bloodied by a pitch that ricocheted off his helmet (he walked off the field under his own power, but left the game) Justin Miller struck out to the end the inning.

Potomac would go in order in the 8th and 9th innings to suffer their fourth straight loss and fall into third place in the C.L. North.

It’s faux doubleheader tonight, with a completion of the game suspended last Friday night scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. and a seven-inning game to follow. Blake Schwartz (1-0, 6.43) will get the ball when the Pelicans come to bat in the 5th. Austin Voth (1-0, 0.69) is scheduled to pitch the second game, which will reportedly start 30 minutes after the first game is done.

Jun 242014
 

Rehabbing major-leaguer Wilson Ramos sliced a three-run home run to cap off a four-run 3rd as Potomac defeated Salem, 5-2 before a reported crowd of 7,804 last night in Woodbridge.

Ramos, who was joined in the lineup by some kid named Bryce Harper (single in 1st, walk in the 3rd, made a putout in LF), also doubled and went 3-for-4 on the night. Nursing a hamstring strain, the 26-y.o. Venezuelan ran like Mark DeRosa, but faster gingerly but obviously didn’t need to run very much as he hit the ball hard.

The DC backstop also had an influence with the pitching of Dakota Bacus, whose start was somewhat obscured by all the hype and hullabaloo. The 23-y.o. went seven innings and scattered eight hits, with no walks and two strikeouts to win his third game of the season.

Also not likely to be found outside this space: a terrific night by Will Piwinica-Worms, who made diving catch to end the 2nd, doubled to start the four-run rally in the 3rd and singled in the 4th for an RBI.

Despite the score, defense factored in the outcome as both teams turned three double plays and Potomac narrowly missed a fourth to offset the 20 hits between the two teams. Take away the Ramos HR and you’re looking at a very close ballgame that Potomac may have only won by a 2-1 count, assuming the usual outfield alignment and not Oscar Tejeda playing left field after Harper left, which led to an unearned run in the 8th off Travis Henke.

Gilberto Mendez, persumably the closer with the promotion of Robert Benincasa, worked around a pair of hits in the 9th to close it out and earn his fourth save.

The win improves Potomac to 3-1 in the second half and was their third straight. Tonight, Austin Voth is scheduled to make his High-A debut, opposed by Pat Light (1-3, 6.06) for Salem. Both Ramos and Harper are expected to play again, with Harper reportedly in center field for five innings while Ramos catches again for nine innings.

Jun 232014
 

There’s not much question about this when it comes to the P-Nats: These guys can hit.

Sure, they took a couple of innings to get going last night as the first six men went down in order with just one well-struck ball, an opposite-field liner by Shawn Pleffner. But in the 3rd, Will Piwnica-Worms homered to lead off the inning and struck out to end it.

In between, the Woodbridge nine had seven runners make it to first base and five of them came around to score for six-run inning that propelled the P-Nats to an 11-4 win over the Salem Red Sox.

Eight of the nine batters hit safely, and the one who didn’t — Oscar Tejeda — still drove in two runs with a fielder’s choice that might have been a hit but for a brilliant stop and toss by Salem’s Ryan Dent to get the runner trying to advance from second to third.

Randolph Oduber also went deep while Khayyan Norfork went 3-for-4 with a two-run double. Cobmined with Piwinica-Worms, the #7 batter, the veteran trio went 7-for-13 with five runs scored and five runs driven in.

On the pitching side, John Simms started and turned in five innings that on many nights wouldn’t be good enough to win as he did for the second time. He was charged with all four Salem runs on six hits and two walks and struck out four.

Two relievers followed, both coming off long stints on the DL.

Brian Rauh made his first appearance in nearly two months and did pitch well: three no-hit, no-run innings with two walks and three strikeouts and three groundouts.

He was followed by Richie Mirowski — out since May 6th, and essentially down from AA on an unofficial rehab assignment, much like Rafael Martin and Paul Demny before him — who was charged with a hit when Oduber lost the ball in the twilight and had it fall behind him in LF for a double. Mirowski was unfazed by the gaffe and retired the next two batters to finish out the game.

The two teams resume the series tonight, which could be a sellout with both Wilson Ramos and Bryce Harper expected to play on rehab assignments from DC. Dakota Bacus (2-2, 3.63) will get the ball for Potomac, opposed by Salem’s Justin Haley (5-2, 2.05).

Jun 142014
 

With the first half wrapped up on Thursday night, the P-Nats were scheduled to have a doubleheader on Friday night. Instead, they only got in one game, losing 4-2 to Winston-Salem.

This was also the first start for John Simms after he struck out a career-high of 14 last Saturday. Simply put, he was bound to do worse because it would have been very difficult to do better.

His teammates gave him runs in the first two innings. Jeff Kobernus beat out an infield hit to third and was balked to second when the pitcher slipped as the game was begun with a light but steady rain*. He would score on two-out single by Shawn Pleffner.
* It should be noted that in years past, the deluge that struck earlier in the day would have been enough to postpone both games.

In the 2nd, Mike McQuillan, Justin Miller, and Estarlin Martinez went back-to-back-to-back with singles to left-center, left field, and a seeing five-hopper between 1B and 2B that gave Potomac a 2-1 lead.

Winston-Salem took the lead back for good in the 3rd with a pair of doubles sandwiched around a walk. Simms struck out two in the inning — five in the game — but couldn’t get Keenyn Walker a second time, as the 24-y.o. drove one to left, spinning Kobernus around for a two-run knock.

Simms would set down the side in order in the 5th (and his final inning) on three groundouts. He was charged with three runs on five hits with three walks. He would suffer the loss to fall to 1-4 for the season.

Potomac put the lead runner on with a walk in the 4th and an infield single in the 5th but neither man reached second. Cole Leonida singled off the pitcher’s mitt and took third on a McQuillan double but Miller and Martinez both grounded out to end the threat.

The Dash got their final run in the 6th as Wander Suero let up a leadoff single and a one-out double to put runners on second and third. Walker singled to right to get one run in but Martinez gunned down the trail runner for the second out and keep the P-Nats within striking distance.

Kobernus drew a leadoff walk in the 7th and stole second but watched the next two batters strike out and ran in while Pleffner flew out to CF to end it.

Rain postponed the second game, forcing a doubleheader tonight. Potomac has not announced who will start tonight while Winston-Salem will send out Brad Goldberg (2-4, 5.17) to pitch the opener and RHP Frank Montas (3-0, 1.23) to throw in the nightcap.

Jun 082014
 

Velocity matters, but there’s a difference between throwing and pitching.

John Simms reminded us of that with a masterful 14-strikeout game in a 6-1 Potomac win over Wilmington. The 22-year-old Texan topped out at 91 mph and mostly threw in the high-80s. But as the old saw goes, hitting is timing and pitching is upsetting that timing.

The Blue Rocks batters were helpless against Simms’s changeup, which came in as slow as 73 mph. Not quite the Bugs Bunny slowball, but enough to induce 10 swinging strikeouts in which the batter was usually waaaaay ahead of the pitch.

Perhaps more impressive — Simms did this in just seven innings and walked only one. He did not hit a batter nor did he throw a wild pitch, for which catcher Cole Leonida, as all backstops should, deserves both mention and credit.

Thankfully, the masterful pitching was accompanied by more than enough offense, helped a little by some sloppy defense.

With one out in the 3rd, Randolph Oduber shot a bull past the Blue Rock matador playing third base to start the rally. Stephen Perez walked and the twosome pulled off a double steal to set up the No. 3 batter, Tony Renda.

Renda flared an opposite field single to deep right field to plate Oduber and Renda. Cleanup man Oscar Tejeda did just that by hitting his team-leading 9th HR with a blast to LF to complete the four-run binge and turn an early 1-0 deficit into a 4-1 advantage.

In the 6th, Will Piwnica-Worms and Cole Leonida led off with back-to-back singles to right and left, respectively. After Justin Miller tapped one to short, too slow to get more than one out, Wilmington relieve Aroni Nina threw one past the first baseman, sending in Piwnica-Worms and Miller all the way to third.

Estarlin Martinez waved at pitch up and out of the zone for a dribbler in front of the plate, but Blue Rocks catcher Cam Gallagher lost his grip and Martinez got the hometown scoring decision of a single. Oduber skied one to right to drive in Miller and complete the two-run binge that extended the lead to 6-1.

Simms, who had a streak of six straight K’s from the 3rd to the 5th, struck out the side in the 7th, with the last two looking (hoping) for his first win of 2014. Ian Dickson, who was the originally announced starter, came on in relief of Simms in the 8th and spun two scoreless innings to close out the game, striking out two.

With the win and a Lynchburg loss, Potomac’s magic number to clinch the first-half Northern Division title was reduced to six with one week left before the All-Star break. The two teams finish the series and their sixth game over the last six days with a matchup of Matthew Spann (4-0, 2.08) against Glenn Sparkman (2-1, 1.45) this afternoon.

Jun 032014
 

Let the drumbeat from the MASN commenters for Tony Renda begin…

With his fourth hit of the night, the 5’8″ (in his helmet and cleats) Potomac second baseman completed a three-run rally in the 9th for a 5-4 win and a four-game sweep of the defending Carolina League champions.

Combined with a walkoff loss by the Lynchburg Hillcats, the P-Nats returned to first place since falling out of a first-place tie on Memorial Day with a 13-4 loss to the Red Sox.

The comeback was heavily aided by Salem, thanks to three critical mistakes. The first came with one out and Shawn Pleffner on first base as Salem’s Reed Gragnani booted a Khayyan Norfork grounder to put runners on 1st and second. The second was a balk that took away the double play.

Still leading 4-2, Salem opted not to walk Will Piwnica-Worms, who had been 0-for-3 up to that point. A single to center made him 1-for-4 with two RBI as both Pleffner and Norfork came in to score.

The third mistake was a grounder to third off the bat of Pedro Severino that Sox third baseman Ryan Dent misfired to second for the second error and second missed chance at a double play. Renda then delivered the gamewinner to plate Piwinica-Worms for the 5-4 win.

The 4-for-4 effort, which also included a double and a single and a two-base-error ruled as a triple, extended Renda’s current hit streak to six games, over which he’s gone 12-for-30 with seven runs, five walks drawn, and five RBI.

The win went to Travis Henke, who got the last two outs of the 7th and blanked Salem in 8th and 9th innings with one hit allowed and three strikeouts. John Simms made the start, giving up the first two Salem runs on seven hits, including a solo shot in the 5th, over four and 2/3rd innings.

Bryan Harper followed Simms, striking out the last batter of the 5th to strand two runner. He worked around a single and a walk in the 6th, but couldn’t do likewise in the 7th, literally throwing away a sacrifice attempt that led to the second two Salem runs (both unearned).

Potomac now hits the road for three against the third-place (but still in contention, two games behind) Wilmington Blue Rocks then the two teams switch venues for another three-game series this weekend. Like last season, the two teams play just six games in the first half but 14 times in the second.