May 202012
 

It’s tempting to write this as a valiant ninth-inning comeback, the third during this homestand. But the reality is that the Potomac Nationals had numerous opportunities to win this game sooner and took advantage of a very, very critical mistake.

Going into the 9th, the P-Nats had drawn four walks, stolen five bases, and left on 10 baserunners. They got off to a good start as Mudcats closer Jesus Flores committed the one of the cardinal pitching sins by walking the leadoff batter, Ricky Hague.

Hague stole second to reduce the odds of another double play, as the Woodbridge nine had done in the 7th and 8th innings. But David Freitas struck out for the inning’s first out. Zach Walters worked another base on balls, Potomac’s sixth, to set up 1st and 2nd with one down.

Michael Taylor drove in the tying run with a single to left while Carolina’s LF Anthony Gallas airmailed it past the catcher to allow Walters to take third, Taylor to take second.

Here’s where the critical mistake took place.

With first base open, the Mudcats decided to take their chances with Kevin Keyes, rather than issue the intentional pass and see if they can get another twin-killing with Adrian Sanchez, who had already hit two infield grounders.

The big man from Texas does indeed strike out quite often. And after getting ahead 1-2, the gamble appeared to be on the verge of paying off.

But Keyes also hits a fair amount of flyballs and that’s all that the P-Nats would need as he connected for a drive to medium center to send in Walters with a sacrifice fly with the gamewinner and a 6-5 final.

Keyes’ 23rd RBI (and yes, he does have 23 hits) made a winner out of Cameron Selik, the last of three relief pitchers that combined for six and 2/3rds innings of stellar relief.

Early on, this game had the feel of three of the previous four Carolina-Potomac matchups: A big inning in the 3rd that should have been much smaller that turned a 1-0 lead into a 5-1 deficit.

Spot starter Trevor Holder gave up a leadoff double to left-center followed by a single to left and a stolen base. Holder got the first out on grounder to second with the IF drawn in halfway, and should have had the second out on another grounder, but Freitas was late with the tag on a ball that beat the runner by 10 feet for the first Mudcat run. Another single and an error plated two more runs and another double followed for a fourth, and Holder was out — his scoreless inning streak snapped at 11.

Paul Applebee gave up the fifth Carolina run on a two-out double, but sporting a funky new motion, retired nine of the next 10 for a line of three and 2/3rds with one walk and one strikeout.

Meanwhile, Potomac answered the five-run Mudcat rally with back-to-back RBI singles from Freitas and Walters in the 3rd and a nifty double steal in the 4th that enabled Francisco Soriano to ease Potomac to within one at 5-4 with a grounder to 2nd. Potomac would leave on two in the 5th, one in the 6th, and as previously mentioned, hit into DPs in the 7th and 8th innings.

Rob Wort followed Applebee and worked around a one-out triple by striking out the #3 and #4 batters before turning in a 1-2-3 eighth for his sixth straight appearance without allowing a run of his own, all of them with three or more Ks. Selik worked around his own error (plunking the baserunner on a tapper back to the mound) with a pair of strikeouts in the ninth.

With the win, Potomac improves to 17-22, percentage points behind second-place Wilmington but still 4½ games behind division-leading Lynchburg. Ryan Demmin (0-1, 4.67) gets another turn in the rotation as the P-Nats shoot for the series win and attempt to close out the homestand with a 5-2 mark.

May 202012
 
Team Yesterday Today Probable Pitchers
Syracuse Won, 8-5 @ Toledo,
2:00 p.m.
Maya (3-4, 2.76) vs.
Crosby (4-2, 4.79)
Harrisburg Lost, 2-1 vs. Bowie,
2:00 p.m.
Demny (2-2, 4.91) vs.
B. Bundy (2-6, 5.27)
Potomac Won, 6-5 vs. Carolina,
1:05 p.m.
Ryan Demmin (0-1, 4.67) vs.
TBD
Hagerstown Lost, 9-1 vs. Delmarva,
1:05 p.m.
Turnbull (1-2, 5.27) vs.
D. Bundy (0-0, 0.00)

Syracuse 8 Toledo 5
• Wang (ND) 5⅔ IP, 7H, 4R, 4ER, 3BB, 6K, HR
• Wilkie (SV, 3) 1IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, K
• Hoffpauir 3-5, 2R, 2RBI
• Bynum 2-5, R, 2B, RBI

A four-run 8th turned a 5-4 deficit into an 8-5 lead as Syracuse defeated Toledo. Chien-Ming Wang, making what appears to be his final start before heading to DC, was touched for four runs on seven hits and three walks over five and 2/3rds innings. Atahualpa Severino, who stranded both runners he inherited from Wang but gave up the go-ahead Toledo run in the 7th, got the win while Pat Lehman and Josh Wilkie each turned in a scoreless inning for the hold and save, respectively. Jarrett Hoffpauir led the 10-hit Chiefs’ attack with a 3-for-5, 2RBI night.

Bowie 2 Harrisburg 1
• Ballard (L, 1-3) 7IP, 5H, 2R, 2ER, 0BB, 6K, HR
• Davis 2IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, K
• Hood 2-4, R
• Rahl 1-4, RBI, SB

“Missed opportunities” were the two key words to describe the Sens’ 2-1 loss to the Baysox. Harrisburg went 0-for-10 with RISP and did not take full advantage of the four Bowie errors. Mike Ballard was the hard-luck loser, giving up both runs on a two-run shot in the 4th and just five hits total over seven innings with no walks and six K’s. Destin Hood had two of the five Harrisburg hits while Chris Rahl drove in the lone Senator run and stole a base.

Potomac 6 Carolina 5
• Holder 2⅓ IP, 5H, 5R, 5ER, BB, 2K
• Applebee 3⅔ IP, 1H, 0R, BB, K, 2-1 IR-S
• Freitas 2-4, BB, 2RBI
• Taylor 2-5, RBI

Kevin Keyes’ sac fly in the 9th cashed in the last of several opportunities to win Last Night In Woodbridge.

Delmarva 9 Hagerstown 1
• Hill (L, 3-3) 6IP, 9H, 4R, 4ER, BB, 2K
• Encarnacion 3IP, 4IP, 5R, 4ER, 3BB, K, 2HR
• Dykstra 2-4
• Ramsey 1-2, R, BB, OF assist at HP

Pedro Encarnacion, assigned from the GCL Nationals on Friday night, got a rude welcome to the Sally League on Saturday night with a pair of HRs in the 7th as the Shorebirds eclipsed the Suns, 9-1. Starter Taylor Hill took the loss with four runs given up on nine hits and a walk over the first six innings. Cutter Dykstra was the sole Hagerstown batter to get multiple hits as the Suns were held to five hits and five walks and had their six-game win streak snapped. Brian Goodwin had an RBI double in his second game back from the disabled list. J.P. Ramirez went back and forth to “Auburn” as he was assigned to the SS-A roster on Friday to make room for Encarnacion and returned to the Low-A roster on Saturday with Chris Curran taking his place (but likely not leaving town, either).

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)