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.

Aug 092011
 

You can only dodge the bullet so many times.

That’s the lesson that Potomac should have learned as the Salem Red Sox finally cashed in on the numerous chances the pitchers gave them for a 2-1 win.

Salem got its first run in the top of the 1st — another troubling trend that needs to stop if Potomac is to defend its Mills Cup title — but it could have been a lot worse. Two hit batsmen and a wild pitch then a walk loaded the bases. A swinging bunt drove in the run but starter Paul Demny escaped the jam with a flyout to right fielder Archie Gilbert (rehabbing from Harrisburg).

Demny would have baserunners in every inning he pitched. He walked two in the 2nd, giving up a single and double in the 3rd; got the trifecta in the 4th with another hit batsmen, a base hit, and a walk; and gave up walks in the 5th and 6th, the last chasing him in the 6th. To his credit, Demny kept the ball down and on the ground, getting two key double plays and allowing just four flyballs. For a pitcher that’s struggled with the longball, that’s bigger than Oprah.

Of course, what’s nearly always true is that good pitching gets scrutinized further when the offense is struggling, as the P-Nats have been over the past couple of weeks. It was sixth time in the past 10 games they’ve failed to score at least three runs.

It would be easy to chalk this up to the opposing pitcher, Chris Hernandez, who blanked them last week in Salem. But Hernandez was far from dominant, walking three and getting several long counts. During his five innings, it felt like he was one pitch away from getting smacked and having this game tied up.

Potomac would break through in the 7th as newly acquired Zach Walters drilled a grounder off the heel of Salem reliever Chris Martin to lead off the inning. A Steven Souza walk sandwiched between flyouts by Sandy Leon and Eury Perez (Walters taking third on the latter), brought up Francisco Soriano. The strong-armed infielder ripped a line drive into right to plate Walters and tie the game.

It would be the last Potomac baserunner.

Trevor Holder, Joe Testa and Rob Wort followed Demny on the mound. It was Holder’s first appearance in a Potomac uniform since June 24 and he tossed two solid innings of relief, allowing a hit and striking out three. Joe Testa pitched a scoreless 8th and appeared to be working around a leadoff bunt single but a two-out walk chased him from the game.

Wort gave up a single to right that Gilbert charged and threw a one-hop bullet to Leon, but on a night like this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the bounce was higher than usual and Leon couldn’t make the snap-tag that would have been a bang-bang play. A flyout ended the threat, but like I said at the beginning, you can only give a team so many chances before they cash one in.

The P-Nats went down in order and on strikes to end the game. The loss was a missed chance to gain ground on Frederick, which lost to Myrtle Beach. Lynchburg edged a game closer with a win over Kinston, trailing Potomac by five games while the Keys still lead the division by three.

Cameron Selik (4-7, 4.18) takes the hill this afternoon in the final midweek daygame (no gamer tomorrow), opposed by Salem’s Stolmy Pimentel (1-3, 4.96).

Jul 312011
 

Missed opportunities was the theme of the night in a 6-2 loss to Frederick.

Potomac had baserunners in eight of nine innings on offense, including a leadoff walk in the 1st by Eury Perez and a leadoff double in the 2nd. Both runners were erased or stranded.

Meanwhile, Adam Olbrychowski and the strike zone weren’t on friendly terms, with four walks issued during his three innings. Amazingly, none of them scored. But the net effect was that when he was around the plate, the 24-year-old got hit hard — a double and homer in the second and three singles in the 3rd, which chased him from the game.

Mitchell Clegg came on in relief and finally had what’s eluded him all season long: a strong appearance at home. In his eight previous appearances at the Pfitz, he’d given up 34 runs and 43 hits and walked nine over just 22⅔ innings. Instead, the lefty from UMass turned in three scoreless innngs with just two hits allowed, no walks, and four strikeouts.

Down 4-0 after three innings, Potomac broke up the shutout with a run in the bottom of the fourth, But it should have been more. Steve Souza was picked off first after drawing his team-leading 54th walk. Adrian Nieto singled, took second on on error, and scored on J.R. Higley’s ground-rule double to dead center.

Two innings later, Potomac’s night was summarized in the 6th. Destin Hood led off with a single to center, Bloxom ripped a liner to right to send him to 3rd and Steve Souza doubled to score Hood. With runners on second and third, and nobody out and down just two at 4-2, the P-Nats appeared poised to tie the game, if not take the lead.

Instead, Frederick went to the ‘pen and got precisely what they needed to stop the momentum from Chris Petrini — three straight strikeouts by Nieto, Higley, and Sean Nicol. The lefty would strike out five in his two innings of work for his 11th hold of the season.

If that wasn’t the kill-shot, then the two runs in the top of the 7th off Neil Holland put the proverbial bullet to the brain. As if they didn’t do enough damage on defense (with two double plays and seven assists for the night), the keystone combo of Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop led off the inning with a single and double respectively and came around to score on a sacrifice fly to right and an error by Jeff Kobernus that prompted the usual treatment from manager Matt LeCroy: A seat on the bench for the rest of the night.

Potomac stranded four more over the last three innings, with Bloxom striking out with runners on first and second in the 7th, Machado and Schoop turning a Sean Nicol grounder into a 6-4-3 DP to end the 8th, and Hood’s last-gasp flyout to deep right-center ending the 9th.

The loss extends the Keys’ lead over the P-Nats to four games and narrows the gap between Potomac and third-place Wilmington to seven games. Staff ace Danny Rosenbaum (5-5, 2.61) will be tasked with stopping the losing streak and salvaging the series this afternoon. Frederick’s Nathan Moreau (10-7, 3.92) will oppose him, with a shot to tie teammate Bobby Bundy for the Carolina League lead in pitching wins.

Jul 302011
 

The first inning is not the friend of Cameron Selik. Four runs by Frederick in the frame, plus another lull from the P-Nats bats, put another “L” in the books for both Potomac and Selik on Friday night.

It was the fifth time in 13 starts that Selik had been scored on in the first inning, the second in as many starts against the Frederick Keys. There wasn’t much doubt about it, either: a leadoff home run, single, single, ground-rule double to the first four batters (with a wild pitch just before the double) before the first batter was retired.

The problem is a fairly common one. Selik simply doesn’t have the stuff to live up in the zone, and that’s where the pitches were early on. To his credit, he made the adjustment and settled down. He would retire 10 in a row after the ground-rule double before giving up his sixth and final hit in the fourth (another double), and then the last 11 batters he faced.

Of course, none of this would be dissected in that kind of detail had the Potomac batters done more than just five hits and a walk on offense. Just two batters reached second: J.R. Higley via a double (the only extra-base hit) and Jeff Kobernus on a fielder’s choice. This was the second time in three starts against the P-Nats that Frederick’s Bobby Bundy had stifled them, and the smart money says that he’ll be skipped this time next month if the two teams are still in line to meet in the first round of the playoffs.

The loss drops Potomac three games behind Frederick in the Carolina League North division. Lynchburg and Wilmington both won to narrow the gap between second and third place to eight games.

The series continues tonight with Adam Oblrychowski (no word as to why he was bumped back one night) toeing the slab for Potomac against Frederick’s Jake Pettit.

Jul 192011
 

A two-base hit, a sacrifice bunt, and a “run-scoring flyball” gave Potomac a 1-0 win over the Lynchburg Hillcats.

The problem is that happened in the bottom of the first and it was never that certain that the P-Nats would prevail.

Cameron Selik, Marcos Frias, and Hector Nelo combined for a five-hit shutout, allowing just one runner to reach second base. The defense turned two double plays and gunned down a runner trying to stretch a single into a double. And the Potomac offense managed just two more hits from the second to the eighth innings.

It’s difficult to convey the excitement that a 1-0 game is supposed to elicit because, like the sign on Jimmie Dimmick’s lawn, it simply wasn’t there. After the first, it was two hours of wondering when the other shoe would drop: “We’re ahead, but it doesn’t feel like we’re winning.”

For three games now, the Potomac offense has been lifeless. They’ve managed to win two of those games… against a last-place team. To expect the pitching and defense to be that good that often is not realistic. Apologies for the short writeup today, but there’s not much else to say.

The win improves Potomac to 15-9 in the second half, still tied with Frederick for first place in the Carolina League North. Adam Oblrychowski (2-5, 5.36) is slated to start this afternoon, opposed by David Hale (1-3, 4.71).

Jul 182011
 

Two good innings of hitting weren’t enough to offset seven innings of bad as the Potomac Nationals saw their five-game win streak snapped with a 5-4 loss to the Lynchburg Hillcats.

Perhaps it was the hangover effect from facing a knuckleballer the night before. Journeyman Aaron Shafer simply wasn’t as good as his numbers might indicate, limiting the P-Nats to just four hits over the first seven innings. There seemed to be an unusual number of popups (5), particularly against a pitcher that wasn’t throwing especially hard.

The too-little, too-late effort made a loser out of Paul Demny, who pitched well enough to win: two runs on six hits (though one was home run #15 surrendered) and two walks against four strikeouts over six innings. On most nights, that would have been good enough to win.

Mitchell Clegg came on in the 7th and continues to be a decent pitcher on the road (3.58 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) and dreadful at home (7.94, 2.29). This despite showing an improved breaking pitch. He would go two innings, but one mistake (a three-run double) after a single, walk, and sacrifice-turned-hit loaded the bases and a near escape (strikeout, flyout to shallow center) would keep the trend going.

Curiously, the seventh also saw manager Matt LeCroy pull Destin Hood during the warmups and replace him with Cutter Dykstra, ostensibly a punishment for not running out the last out of the sixth, a high fly to left field. The last time such a thing happened (Eury Perez, July 1), the offender was benched for three games. Something to consider if Hood is out of the lineup tonight.

Potomac would rally for two runs in both the bottom of the 8th and 9th innings, pounding out five hits and drawing two walks but the five-run cushion built by Lynchburg would hold for the 5-4 win.

With the loss, Potomac drops into a first-place tie with Frederick at 14-9. Cameron Selik (2-6, 4.42) takes to the hill tonight, opposed by Lynchburg’s Chris Masters (5-4, 3.48).

Jul 172011
 

With a doubleheader sweep of the Kinston Indians, the Potomac Nationals have now won five straight games and five straight series.

Since the season’s lowpoint — 11 straight losses from May 22 to June 1 — the P-Nats have gone 26-14, a .650 winning percentage, and it’s a familiar story: The bats have begun to heat up, the bullpen has solidified, and the defense has tightened.

But even better, the tendency to play better on the road has subsided. With the 5-3 and 3-2 wins, Potomac has 15 of its last 20 home games. Quite a turnaround from the 5-16 mark in the first 21 games.

In game one, Sammy Solis worked around a lapse of concentration in the second — back-to-back moonshots by Jeremie Tice and Abner Abreu, the second coming on a flat fastball — to go six innings and strike out nine batters against two walks. Yes, he gave up eight hits but three were of the “dying quail” variety that spilled just over the infielders into the outfield.

Those two home runs gave the Indians a brief 2-1 lead until Francisco Soriano struck again for another two-RBI hit, this one a double down the left-field line with two outs. Soriano would collect six RBI for the series.

In the bottom of the sixth, Potomac would match the Kinston second with Destin Hood and Justin Bloxom clearing the fences on consecutive at-bats to break a 3-3 tie and go ahead 5-3. Neil Holland would pitch the final frame and set the Indians down in order for his first High-A save.

In game two, Potomac got the pleasure of facing Steven Wright, the pitcher, and now one of the latest pitchers in affiliated baseball to throw the dreaded/beloved knuckleball. The last one spotted here was John Barnes in 2006, pitching for Wilmington when it was a Boston Red Sox affiliate.

Unlike Barnes, Wright is not a position player seeking a new baseball life — he’s a reliever capable of throwing in the low 90s that is looking for an edge, as he’s stalled at AA for parts of the past four season and will be 27 at the end of next month. Acccording to an Indians prospect site, he worked with Tom Candiotti during spring training and has been starting this season to get a feel for the pitch.

He’ll also need to learn to hold runners on much better, as the P-Nats stole five bases and took advantage of an errors on throws to the bases to score. Otherwise, the Potomac nine looked helpless, and perhaps a bit sore from flails at 55 m.p.h. pitches.

Evan Bronson opposed Wright and much like Solis, the number of hits he gave up was not indicative of his stuff. The predominantly righthanded Kinston lineup (Chase Burnette is the sole lefty… on the roster) three of six hits were hit to short right field, in front of Destin Hood. Ironically, the one mistake Bronson made came against Burnette, as the first baseman smacked a two-run homer for Kinston’s only runs.

Like the first game, the P-Nats made it a “sportswriter’s win” — usually a game won in the bottom of the 8th, but here the bottom of the sixth — after J.P. Ramirez led off the inning with a clean single to center. J.R. Higley was called on to pinch-run, but hurt himself trying to get back to first on numerous pickoff attempts.

Jeff Kobernus replaced him and took second and third in the same way that Francisco Soriano had to tie the game at 2-2 in the previous inning: A steal of second and a scamper to third on an error.

A wild pitch scored the 2nd Potomac run, but the third came in a much more conventional way as Kinston changed pitchers after Wright issued his fourth walk and allowed the fifth steal. Cutter Dykstra pounded a grounder that bounced just high enough for Kobernus to score without a throw to the plate.

Joe Testa got the call to close out the game in the 7th, allowing a leadoff single to short on a slow roller but otherwise got the job done to preserve the 3-2 win.

Potomac now stands at 14-8, one full game ahead of Frederick and hosts the last-place Lynchburg Hillcats for the next four games.