Jul 022011
 

A five-run sixth, bookended by solo shots in the first and ninth, was the undoing of the Potomac Nationals in a 7-2 loss on Friday night.

This was the beatdown I was fearing in yesterday’s gamer, but for five innings the pessimism was unfounded as middle infielders Francisco Soriano and Jeff Kobernus were sensational on defense, combining for one double play and Soriano turning a cross-the-bag 6-B-3 beauty to keep the P-Nats in the game.

The wheels came off in the sixth for Potomac, the reversion that was mean as Winston-Salem sent 10 men up and had the first six reach base — the first four against starter Cameron Selik, who was charged with five runs in five-plus innings. Marcos Frias let in both runs he inherited with a long triple to rightcenter, misplayed momentarily by rightfielder J.R. Higley, a matter that only affected whether it would be a double or a triple as both runners easily crossed the plate.

Unfortunately, the Dash’s Joe Serafin had the P-Nats offbalance for most of the night with his bender and just-accurate-enough heater. The southpaw had seven K’s in earning his first win of the year, going seven-plus innings with the bullpen coughing up both runs.

To recap the scoring in the bottom of the eighth: Cutter Dykstra drew a leadoff walk, Brian Peacock, who had inexplicably replaced Eury Perez (Higley went to CF, Peacock to RF) in the top of the seventh, got a Texas-league bloop to short right field to put runners on first and second. Soriano chopped a single that bounded over the third baseman into short left to send in Dykstra. After a strikeout and flyout, Justin Bloxom capped the inning with an RBI single, the throw home getting past the catcher to set up Steve Souza with runners on second and third, but after battling for several pitches, he, too struck out to end the inning.

Winston-Salem’s Andy Wilkins completed the game’s scoring with a LONG home run to right field, easily clearing the multiple levels of signage and probably landing deep into the parking lot.

The loss dropped Potomac to 4-5 for the second half, a game off the pace currently set by Frederick. Chien-Mien Wang takes the hill tonight in a rehab start, with Mitchell Clegg (not Danny Rosenbaum) the first man out of the ‘pen, an indication perhaps that Wang will have a higher pitch count than the 50 he was allotted in Hagerstown.

Jul 012011
 

Don’t look now, but Potomac is starting to play some pretty good baseball.

Of course, now, I may have just guaranteed a beatdown for tonight, and maybe it’s just two games against a lesser team, but things seem better.

Start with Paul Demny, who went seven full innings for the second time this season, didn’t walk a batter (also second time) and struck out a season-high eight batters. The first two innings were a high-wire act — an error, a hit batsman in the first, a two-out double by Austin Yount (son of Larry, not Robin) in the second. That’s nine batters faced, and a conservative estimate of at least 40 pitches.

But reading over the scorebook — no secret: that’s my Calgon — Demny both settled down and settled in. He retired the leadoff batter in four of the next five innings. Yes, he gave up two more doubles, but followed each with strikeout, and then retired the last nine in a row.

Much like Cameron Selik has been having success with an inside slider underneath the right-handed batter’s hands, Demny has begun to master the backdoor breaking ball to lefties. These are the little adjustments that make following the minors so much fun.

Flipping over the book, we’re seeing the offense hit double digits in the hit column for the fourth straight game. They’ve won three of those games. For this team, scoring first is a good sign. A better sign: putting up a goose egg in the top half of the next inning. Wednesday night, they failed twice to do that. Last night, they failed just once.

Two-out scoring is also nice, and two of the four runs came with two outs: Justin Bloxom’s RBI single in the first. Francisco Soriano’s RBI single in the 6th. But there’s still room for improvement, with a 3-for-13 night with RISP and nine runners left on.

Steve Souza led the attack with a 2-for-3 night, including a long double in the 6th that might have been out of some parks (but not Yellowstone), while J.P. Ramirez was close behind with a 2-for-4 effort, driving in Souza with an opposite-field double, as was Soriano (2-for-4, RBI).

Josh Smoker was greeted with a home run to start the eighth, but struck out the next two batters before issuing a walk that ended his night. Hector Nelo got out of the eighth with a groundout and nailed down the win with three outs in the ninth for his sixth save.

Selik is on the bump tonight as the P-Nats go for their second sweep of the season, opposed by the Dash lefty Joe Serafin. Tomorrow night, Chien-Mien Wang makes his second rehab start, with Danny Rosenbaum the first man out of the ‘pen.

Jun 302011
 

In a see-saw battle, Destin Hood delivered the walkoff hit with a single to left to give Potomac a 4-3 win in 10 innings to kick off the first homestand of the second half.

Batting ninth, Eury Perez drew a leadoff walk in the tenth and went to third on a Francisco Soriano double to set up the gamewinner. Winston-Salem elected not to walk Jeff Kobernus, pulling the infield in instead. Kobernus grounded to second, the ball ricocheting off the Dash infielder’s chest momentarily but he recovered to throw out his Potomac counterpart. Hood, the team leader in OBP, worked the count to 2-1 before pulling the ball into left to send Perez home for the gamewinner.

Evan Bronson took the hill in place of the expected Trevor Holder on three days’ rest from his last outing, a relief appearance on Saturday in Kinston in which he surrendered six hits over two innings and faced 14 batters. It was his sixth start in 13 games, as Bronson has pinballed between long relief starting since making three consecutive starts in early May.

Suffice it to say, it was a bit of a surprise to see him take the mound in the top of the seventh after Potomac had taken the lead in the bottom of the sixth. It was not a surprise to see a tired pitcher give back a 3-2 lead with a leadoff home run. Perhaps Potomac had just played back-to-back extra-inning games, but with a fresh arm in the bullpen, the expected move was for a reliever to come in and start building the bridge to the ninth.

Bronson would recover from the circle clout to get the next three out (hey, that rhymes) but would miss the chance to get the win.

Offensively, Potomac would grind out 11 hits, with Justin Bloxom, Sandy Leon, and J.P. Ramirez each going 2-for-4 while Steve Souza and Justino Cuevas both rapped RBI doubles. Souza’s shot to the warning track in left-center would open up the scoring in the second while Cuevas’s tomahawked shot down the left field line gave the P-Nats the aforementioned 3-2 lead.

The whispers were true: Neil Holland came on in the top of the 8th and announced his presence with authority. Not with a 95-mph heater, but by striking out the first three batters he faced with his unusual, not-quite-sidearm delivery that had Winston-Salem batters baffled. He would go two innings and retire all six batters he faced.

Rob Wort pitched the 10th and got the win, aided by a spectacular catch from Perez in deep left-center to open the frame and running dash to the LF line by Ramirez before Kobernus got a routine grounder to end it.

The win puts Potomac at 3-4 for the second half, tied for first place with Frederick and Wilmington, with Paul Demny set to take the hill against Jacob Petricka, who’s making his High-A debut.

Jun 192011
 

If ever there was a game that might sum up a team’s half-season in seven innings, the first game of this doubleheader just might be it.

A pool-cue single opened the game, as the ball spun just over Trevor Holder’s reach and spun into the infield grass to give the runner that split second he needed to beat it out. A single to right followed, then a three-run homer that cleared the centerfield wall to put Potomac in an early 3-0 hole — and there was still nobody out.

Holder escaped further damage with back-to-back K’s and a flyout

The P-Nats got two runners on with one out in the bottom of the first. And left them on.

Holder gave up what was later changed to leadoff single in the second, then retired five straight before issuing a two-out walk in the third.

The P-Nats got a two-out double in the second, then left ‘em loaded in third, only scoring when a wild pitch sent Eury Perez home from third. A one-out walk was stranded at second in the fourth.

Holder put up goose eggs in the fourth and fifth, allowing two baserunners via an error and a single, both with two outs.

Justin Bloxom ripped a single to right-center with one out in the fifth, took second on a wild pitch, and went to third went the Salem rightfielder dropped a Souza flyball. J.P. Ramirez, who has suddenly become a walk machine (11BB in 14G in June; he had six in May, two in April), drew a walk to load the bases.

After grounding out the last time he saw the sacks full, Sandy Leon delivered the clutch hit to shallow center to drive in Bloxom. Souza ran through the stop sign and was gunned down, though the play was close and the CF had shown a weak arm previously. That hit would be the only one in 13 opportunities with runners in scoring position.

Holder issued his second walk to lead off the sixth inning to Salem’s David Mailman. The next batter singled to center, but Perez made him a dead letter with a special delivery to Bloxom, who deftly applied the tag at the very last moment.

There’s a reason why coaches call that baserunning blunder the cardinal sin, because another single followed to put runners on first and second, one that might have scored Mailman. Given a chance to work out of the jam, Holder got the double-play ball he needed, leading it himself for a 1-6-3 DP to end the inning.

Two more runners were left on in the bottom of the sixth. Holder would leave with one out in the top of the seventh, but Hector Nelo’s wildness and another error led to the last two Salem runs.

Potomac would get the tying run to the plate twice in the bottom of the seventh, but a strikeout and a popup ended it, the two runners left were nos. 12 and 13 for the game.

Jun 172011
 

The Potomac and Salem played for fourth time in seven days with the Red Sox finally getting a win at 10-3.

The game’s beginning was delayed for 39 minutes, but got finished in a welcome two hours and 30 minutes. Evan Bronson got the start and cruised through the first two innings, retiring six of seven batters with four flyouts and two strikeouts.

Despite showing some nice movement on his breaking pitches, the lack of groundballs early was an indicator that the evening would not go well for 24-year-old lefty. The third inning began with Salem rapping a single, a double, then a blast to dead center to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead.

He would escape that jam by getting two popups and a groundout, and a bases-loaded-one-out situation in the fourth inning before having a more “normal” fifth with two grounders, a single, and strikeout.

Bronson would pitch into the sixth, but was let down to start the frame when J.R. Higley badly misplayed a line drive off the bat of Salem’s Wilfredo Pichardo for triple-by-rule (i.e. he never touched the ball). His fifth and final strikeout gave brief hope for stranding a fifth runner since the three-run homer, but a single to left chased him. His line would finish at four runs allowed on 11 hits and a walk over five and a 1/3rd innings.

As has been the case for most of this homestand, the Potomac offense has been uneven, which is easy to miss when the pitching is stellar, but hard to ignore when it’s not. Three runs on seven hits simply isn’t going to be good enough on very many nights.

Jeff Kobernus was the leading hitter for the game, homering in the first inning to give Potomac a first-inning lead, and going 3-for-4 with a stolen base (no. 26). He’s batted .342 over his last 10 games (all at home) to raise his season batting average to .266 and make a case for a GBI mention.

As the 10-3 final score suggests, the bullpen had a rough go of it for this one. Dean Weaver and Mitchell Clegg gave up the last six runs on five hits and a walk, though two throwing errors by out-of-position-at-third Justin Bloxom made four of the six runs unearned.

With the loss, Potomac falls to 28-39 for the first half, which ends on Sunday. Trevor Holder (3-7, 6.31) is expected to make the start tonight against Salem’s Ryan Pressly (4-6, 4.58).

Jun 152011
 

After a preventable, unscheduled day off on Monday, the Potomac Nationals took to the field on Tuesday to take on the Myrtle Beach Pelicans for pair of seven-inning games, and as the pic suggests, it was split.

Potomac won the first game 5-1 to extend its winning streak to five games, the longest of season — home or away — as Cameron Selik tossed a complete game for the victory, his second win of the season (third complete game) for the P-Nats.

Selik went all seven innings, allowing the one run on four hits, one walk, and four strikeouts. He threw 54 of his 78 pitches for strikes, and retired the side four times, though he labored through the seventh by loading the bases and giving up a warning-track flyball to right.

Since getting tattooed for 10 runs in four and a 1/3rd innings on May 13, Selik has given up just 11 runs (seven earned) over his past five starts. Though he’s won two and lost two, he’s posted a WHIP of 0.95, an ERA of 1.99 and an FIP of 3.42 — all great numbers when you compare them to the league averages of 1.27, 3.76, and 3.29.

But more importantly, Selik has shown significant improvement from that first home outing. The pitches are down in he zone, he’s getting that slider underneath the forearms of the right-handed batters (slipping in the backdoor to the lefties) and mixing in his breaking pitches with some flair (no, that flair; more like this flair) to fluster batters.

Offensively, the first game was a showcase for Jeff Kobernus, who went 3-for-3 with a walk, a double, a run scored, two RBI, and a stolen base — his league-leading 24th (No. 25 would come in the nightcap). Destin Hood and Eury Perez would drive in the other three runs as the 1-2-3 batters combined to go 5-for-11 with two doubles.

The second game was what the stat folks might call a reversion to the mean, with Potomac losing 2-0 on just two hits on offense.

Adam Olbrychowski got the spot start in the second game of the double-dip, but took the loss. The middle reliever went four innings and gave up both Pelican runs on six hits but also struck out five while walking just one, aided by two double plays but hindered by two errors, too. Josh Smoker and Joe Testa followed him out of the ‘pen, combining for three scoreless innings on two hits, a walk, and four K’s.

As the summary suggests, the pitching wasn’t the problem in the second game; the lack of offense was. Potomac loaded the bases in the first on three walks but couldn’t get the two-out hit when it needed it. Kobernus got his fourth hit of the night in the third with a infield single to short but 11 of the next 12 batters would be retired before J.P. Ramirez drew a one-out walk in the bottom of the seventh.

Brian Peacock ripped a double to left, hard enough for Ramirez to make it to third, to put two runners in scoring position for J.R. Higley, who struck out for the third time. Destin Hood pinch-hit for Justino Cuevas but the Carolina League All-Star grounded to second to end the game.

The split puts Potomac at 27-38 for the first half, two games behind third-place Lynchburg and 14 games behind first-place (and playoff-bound) Frederick. With no team release written since Sunday, and the MiLB.com listing “TBD,” today’s starter is unknown. Sources do report, however, that last night’s expected starter (Danny Rosenbaum) is not injured.

Jun 112011
 

With back-to-back-to-back singles in the bottom of the ninth, the P-Nats put an end to an ugly night of baseball for a 9-8 win and (*gasp*) consecutive home wins.

Eury Perez and Jeff Kobernus bunted their way on to lead off the inning to bring up Potomac’s all-star representative, Destin Hood. After two swings and a miss and foul-off, Salem’s Dennis Neuman went with a breaking ball for pitch number but Hood put a coat on the hanger, sending it to the wall for the game-winner.

The walkoff, which was Potomac’s third of the year and seventh home win overall, made a winner out of newly sidearming Joe Testa, the only P-Nat pitcher to go untouched with an inning and a third pitched over the 8th and 9th innings.

Early on, it was the same. old. very. tired. story of a starter struggling and getting hit hard and the defense not up to snuff (though in fairness, there does come a point when you can no longer blame the player for his fielding but the manager or the organization for playing him out of position; that point was passed a long, long time ago) as Clegg was charged with four runs on five hits over an inning and 2/3rds while the defense committed two errors.

Salem also took full advantage of Clegg’s slow motion to steal five bases in the first inning.

If there’s any positive to the situation, it’s that Evan Bronson was seen warming up at the first sign of trouble in the first inning and was ready to go when the hook finally came. He would throw four and 1/3rd innings of much-needed relief, surrendering only a no-doubt-about-it home run to dead center and he did it on just three days rest after a similar performance against Frederick on Monday.

The P-Nats would put up a big inning in the bottom of the fourth, with five runs on four hits, highlighted by doubles from Justin Bloxom and Jose Lozada and finishing with Eury Perez guiding a groundball single to righth for the go-ahead run at 6-5.

Two innings later, Potomac would extend the lead to 8-5 with a Peacock single and another Lozada RBI, with another run coming in on an error (the two teams would combine for five on the night).

Josh Smoker was the third straight lefty to take the hill in the 7th and turned in a Nuke LaLoosh-as-a-reliever outing with three walks and three strikeouts over an inning and 2/3rds, giving up an unearned run in his first inning and charged with an earned run the second inning when Marcos Frias gave up a two-out double.

Frias would let in the game-tying run in ignominious fashion, uncorking two wild pitches, the second coming on a walk. Joe Testa was the last man on the mound, getting the final out of the eighth and setting down the side in order in the ninth.

With the win, Potomac has won two in a row at home for the second time this season. Trevor Holder is set to toe the slab against rehabbing Junichi Tazawa in game two of the three-game series tonight.

Jun 102011
 

When you’re trying to scatter a whole bunch of hits, it sure helps to have a major-leaguer defender behind you. Just ask Danny Rosenbaum, who gave up hits in six of his seven innings pitched (nine total), but just one run as the Potomac Nationals ended a 10-game home losing streak with 3-1 victory.

Unlike the two nights he had previously started, Ryan Zimmerman was busy at the hot corner, racking up six assists and getting a glove on three more balls that were ruled hits. A major-league scorekeeper might have given an error on one of those, but most minor-league third basemen wouldn’t have gotten a glove on more than one, either.

As the nine hits in seven innings suggests, there were some double plays involved and ironically, Zimmerman was not involved in any of them. Journeyman shortstop Jose Lozada started up all three that the P-Nats turned last night, combining twice with Jeff Kobernus to help Rosenbaum out of jams in the first and third innings.

This is not to say that Rosenbaum was “rescued” by his defense last night, a common refrain when a pitcher gives up more hits than innings pitched. Folks have to look more closely at their scorecards or boxscores before making that observation. Last Saturday, Rosenbaum got 13 groundballs that led to outs, four flyouts, and six strikeouts in nine innings. Last night, those numbers were 10-3-5 in seven.

In other words, last night was pretty damn similar to Saturday night, even if it wasn’t a shutout. But for the first time this year, Rosenbaum didn’t issue a walk, which has been a troubling factor for him all season long. This may be in part to his increased velocity (90-92 vs. 87-89) and also attributable to his stubborn refusal to throw the get-me-over fastball.

In any case, in a first half that has been sorely lacking for bright spots, we may just have seen something to hang our hats on for the second half.

Offensively, Potomac did not break out last night: just eight hits and and eight men left on base. Zimmerman’s RBI double in the 4th was the offensive highlight while Lozada’s “single” to right field in the 5th, a grounder to second that was clearly misplayed but ruled a hit because it apparently went untouched, gave Potomac the go-ahead run (a runner who had reached on an error) while the game appeared to be under the threat of being halted, if not called, by the encircling dark skies and streaks of lightning spotted in the distance.

Potomac would get an insurance run in the seventh on another error-aided rally while Hector Nelo pitched the final two frames for his third save.

Mitchell Clegg (2-3, 5.70) is expected to get the start tonight against Salem’s Drake Britton (1-6, 6.75) as the P-Nats shoot for their seventh home win in 23 games.

Jun 092011
 

With three runs and four hits in the first inning — and the lead, too! — the P-Nats looked like they just might snap out of the funk they’ve been in at home. With Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup and manning third base, things looked promising.

Unfortunately, when it comes to losing in baseball, it’s not only contagious, it’s confounding in its creativity. Potomac would outhit Frederick 12-7, but two costly errors on defense and two costly baserunning blunders would be the difference in a 6-4 loss, the 10th straight at home.

To give Frederick some credit, three of the six runs were scored solidly: a fifth inning double after a hit batsmen and a two-run HR in the sixth off Dean Weaver, who took the loss in the game.

But to dole out some blame, baserunning errors in the fourth and fifth by Potomac didn’t help. Sandy Leon tried to advance to third base from first on an overthrown grounder to third base. Eury Perez got a little greedy and tried to take an extra base after leading off the fifth with a single to center. Maybe you can write off one of these as just plain bad luck, but not both.

The metaphorical buzzards kept circling for the third straight inning in the sixth when Destin Hood, who went 3-for-4 with an RBI double on the night and J.P. Ramirez led off with back-to-back singles. Leon sacrificed them to second and third, but a strikeout to Justino Cuevas and a “Hey there Z-man, I can do that, too” play by Key third baseman Dale Mollenhauer charged in and got Cutter Dykstra’s tapper down the line, tossing across the diamond to end the inning.

Speaking of Zimmerman, he batted third but went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout, making two plays in the field — one for an error, that a more accomplished first baseman might have saved, the other a cut-across-the-infield scoop and throw on the run that was, well, like a Gold Glover might make.

As of this writing, the pitching line for Pat Lehman is missing from the boxscore, but he followed Weaver for an inning, allowing Zimmerman’s error to score on a sacrifice fly but also getting two ground balls in his first appearance in three-plus weeks. Marcos Frias finished with two strong innings, allowing just a single and striking out one.

Danny Rosenbaum, who threw a three-hit shutout in his last outing, gets the call tonight against Frederick to stop the streak and prevent a four-game sweep. Oliver Drake is the opposing moundsman for Frederick as the Keys go for their ninth straight win overall and continue the march towards the first-half division title.

Jun 082011
 

It would be too easy to reduce this game to a close call that didn’t go their way — except for how the Potomac Nationals reacted to it.

To set the scene… the P-Nats had put two runners on for the first time in five innings in the bottom of the 7th, down 4-2. After a called third strike to J.R. Higley for the first out of the inning, Sandy Leon hit a long flyball down the right field line. It was called foul.

Potomac hitting coach Mark Harris stormed down the line from his spot in the first base coaching box to dispute the call made by the home plate umpire. With the base umpire in the field between second and third, an appeal was not going to happen. After a brief tirade, Harris was ejected.

But the P-Nats were clearly dejected. Only one more runner would reach base in that inning, the final seven batters would go down in order, four by a swinging strikeout.

Frederick would score three more runs in the final two innings, as Potomac fell 7-2 and was officially eliminated from the Carolina League North division first-half title.

It was also the ninth straight home loss.

Not coincidentally, for the sixth time in those nine games, the P-Nats fell behind early by letting the visitor score in the first inning. For a team that’s struggling on offense (pretty much 6th in every team offensive stat), it’s a psychological impediment to go up swinging (or bunting) to even the score right away.

Last night, though, they did even it at 1-1 by loading the bases with nobody out with bunt singles by Eury Perez and Jeff Kobernus, a walk to Destin Hood, and a sacrifice fly by Justin Bloxom. Manager Matt LeCroy tried to push the envelope, ordering Kobernus to steal third, but the team’s stolen-base leader was easily thrown out to effectively kill the inning.

Starter Paul Demny did settle down after the first and threw well enough to win for most other teams on most other nights, giving up three runs on nine hits (one a home run), no walks and seven strikeouts. But the bats were silent from the second inning to the sixth, with only Brian Peacock reaching base by a fourth-inning walk, charging Demny with his 7th loss of the season.

Cameron Selik gets the ball tonight and Ryan Zimmerman is scheduled to rehab again in the third game of four against Frederick, which is on a seven-game win streak and on pace to win the first half in back-to-back seasons, and the fourth time in the past six seasons.