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.

Apr 202012
 

Don’t look now, but the Potomac Nationals have just won three in a row, beating the Salem Red Sox, 10-4.

With five runs in the 6th and three more in the 7th, the P-Nats bats feasted on the Salem bullpen for eight of their 10 hits. Like most big innings, it started slowly: a walk to David Freitas, the team’s leader in OBP (.419), and singles by Justin Bloxom and Kevin Keyes to clog the bases.

After a strikeout by Wade Moore, one of 13 on the night, the thought of an inning-ending DP was the fear for the home crowd and the hope for the beleaguered reliever.

For an instant, it looked like that might happen, but the grounder off the bat of Adrian Sanchez took a 15-foot hop that the speedy infielder beat out for a hit and an RBI, giving Potomac a 3-2 lead with the bases still juiced.

The No. 9 batter Francisco Soriano had been hitless at the Pfitz last weekend, but connected for a triple down the right field line to empty the bases and the rout was on.

Early on, though, this was a pitcher’s duel of sorts. Both pitchers had their moments of wildness (4BB for Salem’s Miguel Celestino, 3BB for Potomac’s Bobby Hansen Jr.) and their flashes of brilliance — Hansen catching Sox prospects Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts looking in the first, Celestino retiring the last seven batters he faced.

Hansen still struggled some with leaving fastballs up and over the plate, but with three of his five K’s written backwards in the scorebook, he’s also showing some skill at working the corners. But most important: he got seven of his 10 other outs on the ground, something that everybody ought to appreciate.

Paul Applebee got the win with two scoreless innings of relief, while Shane McCatty made his first appearance since joining the club yesterday. McCatty was charged with two runs in the 9th thanks to another error-called-a-hit as Soriano misplayed what should have been an inning-ending popup, which was instead recorded as two-run double. On a ball hit to shallow left field. Really.

The win improves Potomac to 6-6, their first day at .500 in the 2012 season. The series continues tonight with Adam Olbrychowski (0-2, 6.97) taking the hill against Brandon Workman, making his first start of the season.

Apr 152012
 

Sometimes you need to be reminded that this is still just A-ball.

Don’t get me wrong: There are flashes of brilliance, like Kevin Keyes turning on a 95+ mph first-pitch fastball and knocking over the light tower in left field, or Randolph Oduber ripping a double to left with two outs in the 9th.

Then are moments like the top of the 6th. It started innocently enough with a leadoff walk. Then a stolen base, the third of the night without a runner being caught. A tapper back to the mound, it’s now one out. Then a high popup to shallow right field.

Second baseman Adrian Sanchez, first baseman Justin Bloxom and the right fielder (Oduber) all converged, but the ball fell fair. It could have been scored an error, probably should have been. But that’s not the point.

Lynchburg took advantage of the extra out to score their fifth run with a mere sacrifice fly that should have been the third out of the inning.

With a final score of 6-4, that extra run probably didn’t cost the Potomac Nationals the win — 12 strikeouts is a much better culprit — but on another night, it might have.

Lynchburg’s J.R. Graham should also get some credit. Aside from the big boys, the 3-4-5 batters Bloxom, David Freitas and Keyes, who combined to go 4-for-8 with a walk, a home run, two doubles, and a strikeout against him, the 5’11” fireballer handled the rest of the lineup with ease (0-for-12, 5Ks).

Adam Oblrychowski took the loss, pitching 5⅓ innings and giving up five runs on six hits and two walks while striking out four. Paul Applebee followed, giving a solo shot in the top of the 7th for a run over 1⅔ innings while Neil Holland tossed two scoreless to finish the game, retiring all six batters he faced.

The loss denied the P-Nats a chance to even their season record, instead, the Potomac Nine are 3-5 — three games behind the 6-2 Hillcats in the Carolina League’s Northern Division.

Matt Grace (1-0, 1.80) gets the start this afternoon with 21-year-old Aaron Northcraft (1-0, 1.59) taking the hill for Lynchburg.

Apr 142012
 

With four walks and five runs in the first inning, Potomac took advantage of Lynchburg’s wildness to score five runs and built a 7-0 lead as the P-Nats cruised to an 11-4 win in the home opener.

The worry, of course, is that when a pitcher struggles like Ronan Pacheco did at the start is that a lucky break will enable him to survive. Walks to Michael Taylor, Blake Kelso, and Justin Bloxom loaded the bases with one out for Kevin Keyes. One sharp ground ball could end the threat.

Instead, a 10-foot swinging bunt that Pacheco couldn’t field cleanly, as the catcher had to leave home plate and throw out Keyes for the second out and the first Potomac run. But there were still two out and the big inning could be stopped.

No such luck for Pacheco on this Friday the 13th.

The “Groovin’ Aruban” (Randolph Oduber) followed with a single up the middle to score two more. SS Nick Ahmed got to it but couldn’t knock it down. After another walk to doorstop catcher James Skelton, Adrian Sanchez doubled in Oduber and Skelton to extend the lead to 5-0. Francisco Soriano grounded out to end the inning: nine batters up, four walks, two hits, one left on.

Meanwhile, P-Nats starter Bobby Hansen worked around his miscues in the early going. A one-out double in the first. A hit batsmen and a walk with two out in the second.

Veteran catcher Evan Gattis worked a walk from Hansen in the first but hammered him for a solo shot in the third. Evan Salcedo blasted a double over Michael Taylor’s head. On another night, one that wasn’t in the low-to-mid-50s after sundown, it might have went out. If there’s one troubling aspect to this start, it’s that five of the eight hits he gave up were for extra bases.

Still, after getting knocked from the box after two in his first outing by these Hillcats, Hansen lasted six innings and gave up three runs on the eight hits and three walks and struck out three for his first win of the season. The defense came up big in his final inning with Skelton scampering up the line to swipe a tag on throw from Taylor for the second out of the inning and Soriano ranging deep in the hole to gun down a runner at second to end the inning.

Until the seventh inning, Lynchburg was still outhitting Potomac. The lead was still comfortable, but Kevin Keyes made the outcome all but certain with a three-run shot off the top tier of billboards in right-centerfield. An impressive shot on its own, never mind on a cold night.

Wilson Eusebio pitched the seventh and eighth innings, retiring six batters but walking three. Josh Smoker worked the ninth, but fell victim to his own wildness, uncorking a wild pitch on a strikeout to the leadoff batter then hitting a batter after erasing that mistake with double play ball. Salcedo struck for another double for the fourth and final Hillcat run.

The three-game series continues tonight with Adam Olbrychowski slated to pitch for Potomac against Lynchburg’s J.R. Graham.