May 182012
 

For the second straight night, it’s a walkoff in Woodbridge, with David Freitas driving in two with two down in the 9th for a 10-9 Potomac win over Frederick.

While the outcome was pretty, the game was ugly — ten walks, six unearned runs, four errors, two passed balls over nearly three and a half grueling hours. Never mind the loudmouth lout with a face made for radio heckling the umps and the Keys.

Potomac rallied three times for three runs, with the first two aided by three Frederick errors for five of the six unearned runs. Still, staked to a 6-2 lead, it should have been smooth sailing in the middle innings for Kyle Winters.

Instead, he labored to get through five innings and turned it over to Shane McCatty, who blew the save in the 7th with back-to-back walks, a single, and a would-be sacrifice bunt that he fielded then air-mailed over Justin Bloxom’s head and bounced into the stands. It was the fifth time in six appearances he had been scored upon.

The four-run seventh was the fourth straight inning in which the Keys scored, turning that 6-2 deficit into a 9-7 lead.

Potomac would go in order in the 7th and 8th innings, thus the few that gutted out the 9th were in for an unexpected treat. Randolph Oduber singled to lead off the inning and took second on Blake Kelso’s one-out single. Oduber took third on flyout to right. Bloxom singled for third time to drive in Oduber, sending Kelso to third.

Bloxom took second on defensive indifference, a critical move because despite having first base open, the Keys decided that they might get Freitas for a fourth time versus taking their chances with Michael Taylor (3-for-4, 2B, 3RBI). The big backstop lined one into left to send home Kelso with the tying run and Bloxom with the gamewinner.

With the win, Potomac took the series 3-1 and won their third straight. Tonight, LHP Matt Grace gets the start against Carolina, looking to improve over his last outing last Saturday night in Zebulon.

May 172012
 

After losing seven of eight, the Potomac Nationals took a pair of one-run contests from the Frederick Keys, taking the first game 5-4, and capped by a walkoff in “extra” innings, 4-3.

Robbie Ray took the hill in the first game, coming off a six-run smackdown in Salem in his previous start and a position-player’s ERA of 16.50. The rest-or-rust question was answered rather quickly as Ray set down the Keys in order three times with three quick innings — 20 pitches, 17 for strikes.

But the second time through the lineup is always a big test for any starter, and Frederick drew blood in the 4th — three straight singles, a sharp lineout, then a two-run double, and an RBI single. Ray got the second out on a sac fly and then got out of the inning with a grounder. But it took 24 pitches.

Prior to the big inning, the P-Nats had built a 3-0 lead on a two-run HR by Adrian Sanchez in the first and a two-out RBI double by David Freitas. After the big inning, three straight singles in the bottom of the 4th produced the tying run, with Kevin Keyes atoning for his ill-advised attempt to score from second on a single in the 2nd with an RBI single.

Ricky Hague homered in the bottom of the 5th to put Potomac up 5-4. Ray would bounce back from the four-run fourth with 1-2-3 fifth and worked around a single and a hit batsmen with a inning-ending DP. Cameron Selik flirted with disaster, giving up a pair of two-out singles but bore down to get the save (his 5th) and preserve the win for Ray (his 1st).

In the nightcap, Francisco Soriano produced twice in the clutch — tying the game with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the 7th, and doubling home the gamewinner with two down in the last of the 9th for a 4-3 win.

Wilson Eusebio was the pitcher of record and got the win, but the pitcher of the night was Rob Wort. After starter Matt Swynenberg tired in the 6th, giving up a single and a double to put runners on second and third, Wort came on and struck out the first batter for the first out, then got the second with a grounder to second that Frederick inexplicably decided to try to score on Soriano’s arm.

While it’s true that an RBI single followed, for which the casual fan may place blame, what’s lost in the quick glance at the box score is that Wort then dispatched the next six batters straight — that’s three innings with nine outs to nine batters faced.

Potomac would actually score all four runs with two out last night. Blake Kelso, who scored three of the four Potomac runs on a 3-for-5 game and a 4-for-8 night, scored the first on a Frederick throwing error. Justin Bloxom followed with an RBI double to tie the game at 2-2 in the 3rd. Kelso would double in the last of the 7th and score on Soriano’s single. Then (guess who?) after reaching base safely on a grounder in the 9th, Kelso came around from first on Soriano’s gamewinner, a double to down the RF line.

With the win, Potomac improves to 15-21, percentage points behind second-place Wilmington, but still 6½ back of first-place Lynchburg. Kyle Winters (1-5, 6.99) toes the slab tonight for the P-Nats, opposed by Scott Copeland (1-3, 5.91).

May 062012
 

Capped by a three-run shot, the Blue Rocks hung a four-spot on the P-Nats in the 9th to ice an 8-3 win and reclaim second place in the C.L. North.

Leading 4-3, Wilmington was content to play small ball to get the insurance run, sacrificing a leadoff walk off Shane McCatty to set up the Blue Rock’s top hitter (and sole switch hitter), Angel Franco.

With first base open, manager Brian Rupp elected not to bring in a lefthander to turn Franco around nor order an intentional walk. Franco delivered the insurance run with a double down the left-field line that Kevin Keyes boxed around but recovered in time to gun down Franco at third.

Thus, with two out and the bases empty, back-to-back singles set up Brett Eibner’s 4th HR of the season and put the game away.

The P-Nats actually led this game at one point, 2-0, after Zach Walters’ two-out, two-RBI single in the bottom of the first. Starting pitcher Kyle Winters coughed up the lead in the second with a three-run four-hit second. Winters would strike out a career-high 10 over six innings and finish with four runs allowed on seven hits.

The fourth run, however, was unearned — a cricket wicket by Ricky Hague in the third — and after Michael Taylor’s RBI double (#11, which leads the Carolina League) in the 4th, that was the difference in what was a 4-3 ballgame until the 9th. Twice Hague had a chance to redeem himself, with Adrian Sanchez (3-for-4 in his return from the DL) advancing from first to third both times on passed balls and wild pitched, but tapped out to short and struck out instead.

The loss halted a modest three-game win streak for Potomac, returning the P-Nats to third place in the Carolina League’s Northern Division. LHP Matt Grace (1-3, 7.36) faces off against Leondro Perez (2-1, 3.66) in rubber match of the series finale.

May 052012
 

On a night where hits were plenty but runs weren’t, Ricky Hague’s fourth single of the evening in the bottom of the 9th was the difference in a 5-4 Potomac win.

The two teams combined for 26 hits, but 23 of them were singles. Potomac turned four double plays, Wilmington one, but the difference was two-out hitting. The P-Nats got seven of their 14 hits and three of their five runs with two down; the Blue Rocks had just two-out hits and no runs.

This was Matt Swynenberg’s first start since his Sunday masterpiece, a three-hit, one-run complete game, but he was under the gun of the “GBI curse” — a little-known affliction that seems to affect players once they get recognition here in the weekly edition of “Good, Bad, and Interesting.”

With 11 hits given up over six innings, Swynenberg was not as sharp, but his penchant for the grounder saved him — twice he got the DP to end the inning, another to squelch a rally. Alas, the fourth DP came just one batter too late.

Wilmington opened the 6th with a single, double, and another single and had runners on second and third. The Potomac ‘pen got up, and appeared to be ready after Swynenberg issued a walk to load the bases.

But manager Brian Rupp was either slow on the trigger or was gambling that Swynenberg could get the batter, Jake Kuebler, to ground into another DP — just as he had done the inning before. Swynenberg got the DP, but one batter too late as Kuebler steered one to the 3/4 hole to drive in two and give the Blue Rocks a 4-3 lead.

Potomac would tie it in the 7th after threatening in the 6th as — you guessed it — Hague ripped a single to left to drive in Francisco Soriano.

Like the day before, stellar relief made the comeback possible Neil Holland needed just four pitches to get through his first inning and allowed just one hit over the final three frames. He also struck out three.

Soriano swung from his heels to open the 9th, but Randolph Oduber, who had homered to lead off the 3rd, used his eyes (walk on a 3-2 count) and his legs (stolen base) to get into scoring position for the Hague gamewinner.

The win was Potomac’s 11th of the season, but thanks to the league’s power clubs being clustered in the Southern Division, that 11-14 mark is just 2½ games behind the first-place Lynchburg Hillcats. Kyle Winters (1-3, 5.74) takes the hill tonight to try for the team’s fourth straight “W” with Greg Billo (1-3, 5.32) as his counterpart for Wilmington.

May 032012
 

With three and a 2/3rd scoreless innings of relief from Trevor Holder and three RBI from Justin Bloxom, the Potomac Nationals rallied from a 4-1 deficit to take a 6-5 win from the Winston-Salem Dash, splitting the four-game series.

The game also marked the 2012 debut for Robbie Ray, and early on, it looked like the reinforcement that the fans had been hoping more. Ray set down the first seven batters straight, including four strikeouts, before the Dash began to figure him out.

Bear in mind, this is a 21-y.o. pitching against the #1 offense in the Carolina League. Ray wasn’t wild in the sense that he was working long counts or issuing walks, but it’s something we see every year: High-A hitters have just that much more of an idea of the strike zone… and when a fastball is left up, they almost always do something with it.

Ray would give up a pair of runs in the 3rd on four straight hits, with Michael Taylor gunning down one runner on one of two throws to the plate during the inning. Both throws were strong, but neither were terribly accurate — both missing the cutoff man and the second making it all the way to the backstop.

The Dash would tack on two more in the 4th, with Dan Black singling to lead off the inning and Brady Shoemaker following with a two-run shot to left-center.

Ray would leave with one out in the 5th and runners on the corners. Holder would come in but couldn’t hold on to the throw on a would-be 3-6-1 double play. Still, the veteran righthander stranded one of the two and got 11 outs in 11 batters faced, giving Potomac the chance to come back.

With two out in the bottom of the 5th, Justin Bloxom delivered his second and third RBI, courtesy of a two-run shot to right field to tie the game at 5-5. It would be his seventh hit in the last seven games, improving his home splits to .268/.354/.463.

After threatening in the 6th and 7th innings, the P-Nats delivered the gamewinner in the 8th with a little help from the Dash. Zach Walters led off with a opposite-field flare to left-center and stole second. Blake Kelso sacrificed him to third to bring up the big man Kevin Keyes.

With one out, the Dash elected to draw in the infield to cut down a runner at the plate. Against most any other hitter, that would make sense. But Keyes grounds out about twice a week because soft contact isn’t part of his game. When he connects, it’s usually a moonshot, and if it happens to go on the ground, it usually gets to the outfield on the third hop.

Sure enough, Keyes was able to ground one just past the reach of the second baseman, who might have had a chance to snag it on the first hop if he’d played it halfway.

With Cameron Selik unavailable, Rob Wort got the call to close the game and worked around a one-out double by striking out the side for his second save of the season.

The ten-game homestand finishes over the weekend with a three-game series against the second-place Blue Rocks, one of two teams the P-Nats only play two series against in the first half (the other being the Carolina Mudcats). Matt Swynenberg (2-1, 3.24) gets the start, the first since his complete game on Sunday, opposed by Wilmington’s Yordano Ventura (0-2, 4.43).

May 032012
 

Three Potomac pitchers combined on six-hit shutout, beating Winston-Salem for the first time in seven games, 5-0. The loss also halted the Dash’s nine-game win streak.

For the second straight outing, Adam Olbrychowski pitched into the seventh inning — a just-as-welcome development, given the toll on the ‘pen over the previous two nights — but against a much more potent offense. The 25-year-old showed no fear, working the ball inside (three HBP) and keeping the Dash batters off balance with his slow curve.

Though he allowed a baserunner in every inning, Olbrychowski also kept the ball on the ground, letting his defense help him with double plays in 3rd, 4th, and fifth innings and getting 12 of 20 outs on the ground total. He would give up just one extra-base hit, a double to leadoff hitter Marcus Semien with two outs in the 7th.

Meanwhile, the Potomac offense put together an impressive string of hits in the 2nd inning: five in a row, with three runners going from first to third and three crossing home plate. Were it not for a baserunning blunder by Kevin Keyes, it might have been a bigger inning.

The P-Nats would tack on one more run in the 5th as Francisco Soriano doubled, took third on a botched sacrifice, and came around to score on a double-play ball. They would finish the scoring in the eighth as Kevin Keyes launched yet another bomb to deep CF that could only score one of the two runners on base because with one out, they had to hold up in case it were caught.

Ryan Demmin took the ball from Olbrychowski and got the last out of the 7th, then turned it over to Cameron Selik. Though it wasn’t a save sitation, Selik closed out the game with five straight K’s before issuing a walk with two out in the 9th and then retiring the last batter on a popup.

With the win, Potomac improves to 9-14 and back into a tie for third place with the Frederick Keys. It’s a day game today with all signs pointing to Robbie Ray making his 2012 debut against Steve McCray.

May 022012
 

It’s one thing to keep the ball in the yard, but quite another to keep it out of the gaps. With nine extra-base hits out of 17 total, the Winston-Salem Dash pummeled the Potomac Nationals by a 15-6 count, taking their ninth straight win — six against the P-Nats.

The start for Matt Grace was similar to his previous against the Dash in Winston-Salem: Hit hard early, then settling down. But it wasn’t until the fifth batter that Grace got an out and there wasn’t much doubt about either double.

The two-bagger has been problematic for Grace all year long — all ten surrendered have come in the last three games. Yes, they’ve been given up to the league’s #1 and #2 offenses, but the 17 other hits in just 18⅓ IP isn’t exactly stellar. Throw in nine walks, and you’ve got a WHIP that’s just a hair shy of 2.00 (1.964) — if anything it’s a testament to both him and the Potomac defense that his 7.36 ERA isn’t higher.

Despite the 15-6 beatdown, there were some bright spots…

…Rick Hague made his first start at SS and made his first throw with no signs of a bum shoulder, a strong and accurate throw from about 8 feet “northwest” of second base.

…Offensively, Hague ripped a double to left and steered a single to right and drove in the first Potomac run with a sacrifice fly

…David Freitas followed the Hague double with a two-run blast over the left-field wall as part of a three-run 6th in which Potomac pulled within two at 7-5

…Potomac scored three times on “run-scoring flyballs” — perhaps an aberration, maybe just luck, but it’s still better than a strikeout (nine more last night brought the season total to 201, which is 2nd worst in the C.L.)

As aforementioned, the P-Nats were as close as 7-5 after six full innings but a six-run seventh put the game away for Winston-Salem Dash, aided by the ignominy of three hit batsmen (two that “Homer Simpsoned” runs in) and a bases-loaded walk.

With the loss, Potomac takes sole possession of last place, 5½ games off the pace. The series continues tonight with Adam Olbrychowski (0-3, 7.29) scheduled to pitch against Jake Petricka (2-2, 5.50).

Apr 292012
 

Kyle Winters, Living The Dream

A three-run fourth following four rehab innings from Chien-Ming Wang helped the Potomac Nationals snap a six-game skid with a 4-3 win on a rainy Saturday night.

Wang threw 49 pitches and gave up a run on four hits, as the Pelicans were keying on his sinker and were able to make the most of the ones that didn’t sink. Wang, however, was clearly working on his breaking pitches, and those they couldn’t touch with the last of this three Ks coming on a caught-looking bender. He cleanly fielded both chances he got — a leadoff bunt in the first and a 1-6-3 double play in the second.

Unlike the night before, the P-Nats had hits in six of eight innings and pounded out 11 total. Zach Walters led the lineup with a 3-for-3 night, while Randolph Oduber, Michael Taylor and Justin Bloxom each went 2-for-4.

Taylor and Bloxom keyed the three-run fourth with back-to-back singles before big man Kevin Keyes smacked a 398′ flyball off the 400′ CF wall to drive in the first run. Wade Moore drove in the second with a sac fly to left and Oduber completed the rally with an opposite-field single to right.

Matt Swynenberg was not the first man out of the ‘pen, as Trevor Holder took the ball to start the fifth (as the pic above shows, this was the plan all along, as it’s custom for the starter for two nights ahead to track pitches) — a move no doubt also influenced by the forecast, as it looked like the game might be halted at any moment from the 5th to the 7th.

Holder kept the ball in the yard, retiring eight straight before giving a double, a single, and a walk with two outs. He escaped the jam with a little help from Walters, as the shortstop combined with Blake Kelso on a close play at second to end the threat.

Cameron Selik was brought on in the 8th to close out the game but the Pelicans would not go gently in to the chill of the night, leading off both the 8th and the 9th with doubles. Selik stranded the first two-bagger with a grounder and two whiffs, but let in the second with an RBI single. Myrtle Beach would get the tying run to third on the next two outs, but couldn’t bring him in as Selik struck out his third batter to end the game.

The two teams will play the rubber game this afternoon, with Swynenberg (1-1, 4.50) expected to start for Potomac against the Pelicans’ Roman Mendez (1-2, 7.23)

Apr 282012
 

The first five runs in the game were earned, the last four weren’t. The Pelicans got three of those four on three P-Nats errors to overcome a 3-2 deficit and hold on for a 5-4 win on a cold Friday night.

The miscues also masked a gutsy outing by Adam Olbrychowski, who got hit (again) early with two runs in the 2nd inning but then settled in and settled down. After an RBI groundout for the second inning’s second out, the 25-year-old retired 13 of 15 batters.

The two that he didn’t get were walks, and were erased on two nifty double plays by Zach Walters and Franciso Soriano. A single to left followed, ending Olbrychowski’s night with just four hits and three walks allowed. More importantly, by pitching into the 7th he gave the bullpen the task of getting just seven outs, a little relief for the ‘pen that had worked three or more innings the past four games.

Before describing what happened next, it’s important to note that while Olbrychowski was setting them down in order inning after inning, so were the Pelican pitchers. Starter Wilmer Font gave up the first three runs, including a two-run shot to right-center by Wade Moore, but struck out six in his three innings of work. Middle reliever Randol Rojas was easily the true star of the game with five no-hit innings of relief, with just a walk in the sixth.

So while it’s natural to think “those three errors killed us,” the real culprit was the lack of hitting.

Back to the top of the 7th… runner on 1st, two outs, Rob Wort pitching. Josh Richmond lifts a flyball to medium right-center. Michael Taylor and Randolph Oduber converge but neither can get to it. And neither could pick it up cleanly, the error charged to Oduber as the runner came around all the way to score. Game is tied, 3-3.

In the 8th, an errant pickoff by Wort throw sets up a sacrifice fly. Myrtle Beach goes up 4-3.

In the 9th, Wilson Eusebio butchers a grounder with one out. Walters makes a sensational throw after going deep into the 5/6 hole, but the runner moves up and Richmond strikes again with an RBI single. The Pelicans now lead 5-3.

David Freitas, who singled in the first Potomac run way back in the first, strikes out to lead off the ninth. Michael Taylor follows suit. For those without a scorecard, that’s 22 of 25 batters retired since Moore’s homer in the 2nd.

Myrtle Beach commits its sole error as Justin Bloxom reaches on his counterpart’s mistake. After taking second on defensive indifference, Moore collects his third RBI of the night to pull the P-Nats within one at 5-4.

Despite the offensive drought, Potomac had a chance to win or tie. Brian Rupp rolled the dice by sending up big man Kevin Keyes, an all-or-nothing hitter, and giving Wade Moore the green light to steal second.

Moore succeeded, but Keyes didn’t, striking out to end the game.

The loss extends Potomac’s losing streak to six games. Chien-Mien Wang is slated to pitch tonight in a rehab start, with a pitch count of approximately 65 pitches. Matt Swynenberg is likely to be the first man out of the ‘pen as it’s his turn in the rotation. They’ll be opposed by 19-year-old Cody Buckel, the Rangers’ 2nd-round pick of the 2010 draft.

Apr 212012
 

“This one was over early.”

That’s what the brain said, after giving up six runs to the first eight batters Adam Olbrychowski faced, punctuated by a two-run HR by Salem’s Drew Hedman.

But then Oblrychowski settled down, retiring eight straight batters while the offense chipped away at the 6-0 deficit with a solo HR by Justin Bloxom in the 2nd and an RBI groundout by Michael Taylor in the 3rd.

So the heart said, “Well, maybe if Olby can give us five innings, we can make this a ballgame.”

After back-to-back walks in the 4th, then a nifty 8-6-4 double play when Salem tried to hit-and-run with leadoff hitter Jackie Bradley Jr., the heart started to flutter. Then a two-run shot deep to left field reminded us that the brain was right all along, putting the Red Sox up 8-2 after three and a 1/2 innings.

A five-run 5th put the game away for Salem, as the Red Sox prospects battered Trevor Holder for a triple, two doubles and a single to take a commanding 13-2 lead.

Randolph Oduber struck back with a two-run shot in the bottom of the 5th, but it was too little, too late.

Wilson Eusebio, Neil Holland and Cameron Selik combined for four and 1/3rd scoreless innings of relief, but their Salem counterparts matched them zero for zero, with Blake Kelso’s two-out single to left in the 7th the last gasp over the final four innings.

With the loss, Potomac falls to 6-7 on the season, tied for second place with the Frederick Keys in the Carolina League’s Northern Division, two and a 1/2 games behind the Lynchburg Hillcats. Matt Grace (1-1, 7.00) is slated to take the hill tonight against Salem’s Keith Couch (2-1, 3.38) in Game Three of the four-game series.