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.

Sep 102011
 

With just three balls hit out of the infield, the Potomac Nationals were manhandled by the Keys pitchers and outclassed by their two teenage prospects tonight in Woodbridge.

It’s been fashionable to complain about the veteran-laden Frederick lineup, but 19-year-olds Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado were simply awesome… and nearly beat the P-Nats all by themselves. In 10 plate appearances, P-Nats pitchers were able to get them out just twice — a grounder to short (Schoop) in the first inning, a foul popup to catcher (Machado) in the eighth inning. In between, they scored four runs, singled twice, walked twice, doubled three times, and drove in two runs.

Oh, it gets worse. The two also combined on defense for 10 assists, two putouts, and turned a nifty 6-4-3 DP in the bottom of the seventh to erase the fourth and final Potomac baserunner. I can only imagine that this must have been what it was like for fans of the 1977 Montgomery Rebels, watching Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker become of one of the all-time great middle infield combos.

Getting back to Potomac, if you’re thinking three balls out of the infield means three hits, well, yes… but not exactly. That’s two flyouts and a Destin Hood home run to lead off the fourth, the only ball Potomac hit solidly all night long. There were indeed three hits collected, but the other two were a one-out tapper to third base that Steve Souza beat out in the second inning and bunt to the shortstop Machado with two outs in the third inning. Souza would be hit by a pitch in the seventh and be erase, as aforementioned.

Evan Bronson took the loss with three runs given up over four and 2/3rds innings on seven hits and two walks. He was followed Marcos Frias, who went an inning and a 1/3rd, giving up the last two (unearned runs), Trevor Holder, who tossed a two scoreless innings, and Josh Smoker, who worked around a leadoff walk to keep the Keys off the board in the ninth.

Frederick’s Scott Copeland got the win with just the three hits allowed, no walks, and five strikeouts. Ryan Berry retired all six batters he faced to finish out the game.

With a 2-1 lead, the Keys have a chance to take the Divisional Series tomorrow, sending Ryohei Tanaka to the hill while the P-Nats’ Adam Olbrychowski gets the task of forcing a Game Five, which would be held in Frederick on Monday night.

Aug 182011
 

If the Winston-Salem Dash miss the postseason by one game, they’re gonna point to this contest… and they’re gonna be pissed.

The Potomac Nationals will be listed as the 4-3 winners, but got the benefit of a controversial call. With one out in the 9th, the Dash’s Nick Ciolli doubled to left-center and took third on a Hector Nelo wild pitch that was errant enough to bounce into the stands behind home plate. The next batter struck out for the second out of the inning.

Winston-Salem sent up a left-handed pinch-hitter to face Nelo and he tapped a slow roller to shortstop that Francisco Soriano had to charge and curl towards third base to get a throw off. From my perch, it looked like the runner was safe. But the only opinion that mattered, the guy with the best view of play, disagreed and he called the runner out.

With the game over, it was the surreal scene of 20-something white jerseys celebrating the win and 20-something grey jerseys strolling out from the dugout in disgust and/or fascination as the Winston-Salem manager Julio Vinas escorted the umpires off the field with what one can only imagine was a string of expletives, quite possibly in multiple languages.

It was a fitting ending to a game that didn’t look like it was going to get played at all. Dark clouds and streaks of lightning were visible for much of the night as the thunderstorms passed just north and east of the Pfitz all night long.

Six Potomac pitchers were called to duty by manager Matt LeCroy. With the first two it appeared to be by design, as Sammy Solis was coming off the DL for his first appearance since July 27 with Cameron Selik, who had been lifted early on Sunday, called upon to put in a couple of innings in relief.

Solis worked around a leadoff double in fine fashion in the first inning, striking out two batters after Winston-Salem bunted the runner over to third, but gave two hits in each of the next two innings. Two double plays minimized the damage to just one run on five hits, but Solis looked vulnerable.

Unfortunately, so did Selik, who also got a groundball double play to minimize two hits given up in the 4th. In the bottom of the inning, Potomac strung together four hits to score three runs and put him in a position to perhaps get a win in relief.

But Selik was chased after just three batters in the 5th after Destin Hood misplayed a flyball into an RBI triple following a one-out single. Mitchell Clegg, who seems to have found a fit as a long reliever, stranded the runner at third with a lineout to second and a flyout to center to keep Potomac ahead by a 3-2 count.

A two-out double by Soriano in the 6th extended the Potomac lead to 4-2, driving in Sean Nicol from first base with a little help from a muff by the Winston-Salem catcher on the tag.

The Dash would cut the lead down to 4-3 in the next half-inning, a solo shot to left off Clegg, who ended up the winning pitcher with two and 2/3rds innings pitched with the one run allowed on two hits and no walks, finishing the frame with second of his two strikeouts.

Joe Testa and Marcos Frias would strike out the side in the 8th, handing the ball over to Nelo in the 9th despite Frias having faced just one batter in the 8th.

With the win, Potomac gets a game back on Frederick, which lost to third-place Lynchburg. The Keys lead the P-Nats by five games, which is the same margin the P-Nats have over the Hillcats.

Potomac and Winston-Salem continue their series on Friday with Paul Demny (8-10, 4.76) and Jake Petricka (3-6, 4.04) the expected starting pitchers.

Aug 142011
 

The Potomac Nationals got just enough offense to not waste Paul Demny’s best outing of the year for a 3-2 win over the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Demny went eight innings, dominating seven of them, and gave up just two runs on five hits with no walks and four strikeouts. He only allowed two leadoff hits — a single in the 3rd, which he promptly erased with a 1-6-3 double play, and a double in the 8th. That double was followed by a triple to plate the first Pelican run, then a grounder to second to send in the final Myrtle Beach run.

After a disastrous stretch of road starts in July and early August (7R in Lynchburg over 1⅔ IP, 9R in Winston-Salem over 4IP, 5R in Salem over 4⅓ IP), the past two home starts have been just what Demny needs to regain some confidence. Even with a rainout today, he’ll likely start his next two games at the Pfitz, and can build on this run as the P-Nats slouch towards head for the playoffs.

Offensively, there’s still reason to worry. Like the night before, getting runners on was not a problem: Leadoff doubles in the 1st and 7th, one-out singles in the 2nd and 3rd, a leadoff walk in the 4th. But when you subtract leadoff hitter Archie Gilbert from the equation, that’s three less hits, one less run, and the only hit with a runner in scoring position.

Potomac would strand 10 runners, including runners on second and third in the bottom of the 7th, as neither Brian Peacock nor Steve Souza could deliver the killshot to turn a 3-0 game into a 5-0 game.

With Nelo and Smoker used the night before, Marcos Frias was called upon to close out the 9th and delivered the win and earned the save, working around a leadoff single and finishing strong with two strikeouts.

The win keeps pace with Frederick, which won its 30th game of the second half and its fourth straight, keeping the division deficit at four games. A loss by Lynchburg extended Potomac’s lead to six, lowering the magic number to clinch a playoff spot to 17.

Should the rain hold off, Cameron Selik (4-8, 4.33) is scheduled to start this afternoon against Justin Grimm (3-2, 3.55).

Aug 132011
 

Click this bad boy to see the video

Believe the hype.

It’s not often that I can say a rehab start isn’t overrated. Usually, they’re a disappointment. Not this time. This was everything anyone could have possibly hoped for, perhaps even more.

In thirty-three pitches over three innings, Stephen Strasburg gave nine Myrtle Beach Pelicans batters a story to tell their children and grandchildren about the time they faced him. I know that because I had the pleasure of hearing a former minor-leaguer tell me about what it was like to face Dwight Gooden, a should-have-been Hall-of-Famer.

Two of them will boast that they got a hit, conveniently leaving out the part that the ball never left the infield, a byproduct of how hard Strasburg throws as they drove the ball into the dirt in front of home plate to produce a 30-foot hop that gave them time enough to beat the throw.

Four of them might be honest enough to say “Strasburg struck me out and I never had a chance,” like Vince DiFazio (pictured above) and maybe Leury Garcia will tell them “He got me twice.”

Strasburg threw mostly fastballs, hitting 96 to 99 m.p.h. on the scoreboard gun that was actually only juiced one or two m.p.h. This was the first time that was done this season, and of course, it was only done for Strasburg. Same goes for the four armed guards (I believe they were PWC officers) that were stationed along the home dugout, the first-base field boxes, and the bullpen.

But he also tossed a couple of curves and changeups that batters at this level just simply can’t adjust to on the fly, much like the guys three levels up in the National League. Twenty-six of the 33 pitches went for strikes and no batted ball left the infield in fair territory.

The announced attendance of 8,619 was the largest non-firework crowd at the Pfitz, according to Mark Zuckerman, who was stationed in the “press row” of the backless reserved seats below the press box, which rarely has more reporters than radio guys, never mind last night’s contingent. (If you’re reading, Mark, I was the guy wearing a red Nats cap in the field boxes below you ;-)

To their credit, the crowd didn’t disperse en masse when Strasburg left. And those that stayed got to see a pretty good ballgame, which, now I’ll tell you about quickly…

Evan Bronson followed Strasburg on the mound and despite throwing a wee bit softer, got similar results. He threw four scoreless innings and allowed three hits, but walked none and struck out two.

Meanwhile, the Myrtle Beach pitchers were up to the task of keeping their hitters in the game by keeping Potomac off the board. The P-Nats had baserunners in seven of the eight innings they came to bat, but were denied until the 6th.

With one out, Destin Hood tapped a grounder to deep short for an infield hit and took second when the throw went into the Potomac dugout. After a grounder to short, Archie Gilbert delivered the lone run of the game with an RBI single to left that sent in Hood.

Josh Smoker took the ball from Bronson in the 8th and retired the two- and three-hole hitters before giving up a single. Matt LeCroy called on Hector Nelo to face the next batter, the 25-year-old veteran catcher DiFazio. Nelo stranded Smoker’s runner with an infield popup.

Hood led off the bottom of the 8th with a single to right (his third in a 3-for-4 night) and Brian Peacock followed suit with a single to left. But like any 1-0 game, the Pelican defense got the key DP that it needed to prevent the insurance run, getting Gilbert on a sharp 6-4-3 sequence and popping up Steve Souza to end the 8th.

Nelo, who throws two kinds of fastballs (hard and hit-the-bull), nailed down the game with a little panache. He struck out the first batter looking, gave up an infield single that he might have fielded but followed the coaching that says let the infielders get it, then induced a liner to Souza who applied the tag on the runner for the game-ending double play.

Bronson got the win (#4), Smoker the hold (#5), and Nelo the save (#15) as Potomac kept pace with Frederick in the Carolina League north and got game back as Lynchburg lost to fall to five games behind Potomac, reducing the magic number to 19.

Paul Demny (7-10, 4.94) gets the start tonight in game three of the four-game series, opposed by Kennil Gomez (2-2, 3.65).

Aug 122011
 

Last week, Myrtle Beach’s Miguel De Los Santos and Erik Davis squared off in a 3-0 near no-hitter, looking like two AA pitchers pitching against High-A hitters.

Last night, they looked like two Low-A pitchers making their High-A debuts as the Myrtle Beach Pelicans flew past the Potomac Nationals 12-5 to take the first game of the four-game series.

Maybe that’s a little cruel, because both men showed flashes of what had gotten them past this level — through four innings, the two combined for 15 strikeouts — but games like last week are what you should expect when veteran pitchers throw against less experienced lineups.

Instead, both men walked three batters and got into deep counts on seemingly every batter. De Los Santos was a little better, giving up no extra-base hits — Davis gave up a long double and a longer triple despite the speedy Eury Perez and Archie Gilbert in center and right to chase them down — but was so slow to the plate that he gave up six stolen bases.

Davis did himself no favors with two hit batsman and a bases-loaded walk, his third, and was victimized by Zach Walters’s first error as a P-Nat when Neil Holland came in to relieve Davis with the bases loaded and one out. Instead of an inning-ending double play and a manageable 5-3 deficit going into the bottom of the 5th, it was 7-3 and the momentum shifted.

The Pelicans put the game away with a five-run seventh, as Rob Wort’s struggles continued with three walks and two extra-base hits. Joe Testa would also give up a hit before settling down to finish the game with two scoreless innings, working around leadoff triple in the 9th. If you’ve lost count, that’s three triples and three doubles for Myrtle Beach.

Offensively, the P-Nats were led by Destin Hood and Brian Peacock, who each went 2-for-4. Hood was one of the six base thieves, even taking third base on the stolen-base attempt. While his knee may be aching from a scrape suffered last week in Myrtle Beach, it appears to be healing — a problem that P-Nats media man Will Flemming said via Twitter is getting better every day.

The loss knocks Potomac back to four games behind Frederick, four ahead of Lynchburg in the Carolina League’s Northern Division.

Tonight’s game is a sellout, with Stephen Strasburg set to make a rehab outing of 50 pitches or three innings. Evan Bronson (3-3, 3.67) gets the unenviable task of trying to follow that act, while Wilfredo Boscan (4-9, 4.15) will toe the slab for Myrtle Beach.

Aug 112011
 

Destin Hood’s RBI single in the bottom of the 9th gave Potomac a 6-5 win, salvaging the series (and regular-season) finale between the Salem Red Sox and Potomac Nationals.

Like Monday night, as Salem learned that you can’t give your opponent chance after chance and expect to win. With eight walks and three hit batsmen, the P-Nats got 11 “extra” baserunners.

To Potomac’s credit, aside from the patience necessary to draw those walks, they made their four (4) hits count. All of them came with an RBI attached, with Zach Walters hitting a sac fly and Jose Lozada hitting a too-slow grounder for the other two RBIs.

Still, the bipolar (well, seemingly more polar, as in ice-cold) nature of the team’s offense leaves much to be desired. Tonight they got a gift, but absent the long ball and/or some luck, this should have been something like a 7-2 loss.

Adam Olbrychowski got the start and lasted into the sixth, giving up 11 hits and a walk, and leaving with two runners on and one out. Marcos Frias stranded them both with a strikeout and a baserunning blunder as former National farmhand Alex Valdez tried to score from third with two outs after a ball skipped about 20 feet past Sandy Leon, who threw to Frias for the 2-1 play at the plate to end the inning.

Frias, however, would surrender a solo shot to right in the 7th while Trevor Holder would give up the game-tying run on a blast to left in the 8th. Josh Smoker would pitch the 9th and work around two walks, getting credit for the efforts of the P-Nat bats in the ninth.

Lozada led off with a walk, two pitches after pulling a 400-foot foul down the RF line. Eury Perez popped up his sacrifice attempt for the first out. Francisco Soriano drew the 8th and final walk to push Lozada to second base. Jeff Kobernus made the second out on a deep fly ball to right-center, Lozada playing it safe by drifting about a third of the way down the basepath and retreating when it was caught.

Hood got the two-out walkoff when he scorched a grounder off the glove of Salem third-baseman Valdez into shallow left as Lozada scampered home with the gamewinner, well ahead of the too-late throw.

The win kept pace with Frederick and improves Potomac to 24-21, five games ahead of third-place Lynchburg and lowering their magic number to 21 with 24 games left to play in the second half.

Tonight, Erik Davis (0-1, 3.38) and Miguel De Los Santos (3-3, 2.95) take the hill in a rematch of last week’s near no-hitter in Myrtle Beach.