Jul 072014
 

The good news is that if this series is indeed a preview of the 2014 Mills Cup, we’re in for some good baseball. The bad news is that that it wasn’t as close as the 2-0 win by Myrtle Beach would otherwise suggest.

This, of course, is not discredit the effort that Matthew Spann did in escaping multiple jams in his five innings of work as the southpaw stranded eight runners through four innings before the Pelicans broke through in the 5th for the first of their two runs.

But the reality is that on most nights, you’re not going to be able to put that many baserunners on and get out of it unscathed. Not at this level.

Four of ‘em were definitely Spann’s doing — or the umpire’s, if you were privy to the bellowing from Myrtle Beach batting coach Josue Perez prior to being ejected in the 8th — as he walked four, including two in the first inning.

Twice Spann loaded the bases with two outs, with three singles in the 2nd and a walk and two singled in the 4th. Spann’s fourth walk followed by a double set up second and third with no out. Tripp Keister did not elect to pull in the infield against power-hitting lefty Preston Beck, who indeed hit one sharply to second for the RBI groundout.

He did pull ‘em in for Royce Bolinger and Tony Renda, playing shortstop, threw out the runner at the plate for the second out then leapt high to catch line drive 7′ off the ground to end the inning. But the damage was done.

Potomac, who got three doubles out of its five hits, saw all three extra-base hits go for naught.

Stephen Perez led off the second with a ground-rule double that bounced a foot inside the foul line in right and over the fence but only got as far as third.

Pleffner led off the 4th with double to left-center but was called out for interfering with a grounder to third as he dodged the ball but got in front of the fielder for the inning’s second, rally-killing out.

Renda got to second with two outs on an opposite-field drive to right, prompting the Pelicans to go “old-school” and call for their closer, Jose Leclerc, before the 9th inning to face Pleffner instead of issuing an intentional pass to put the go-ahead run on base and let Justin Spenger, who had already retired Oscar Tejeda easily, do it again.

Leclerc fanned Pleffner and struck out two more in 9th for the un-Soriano save that secured the 2-0 win.

Potomac remains in 1st place with an 8-8 mark as they host second-place Wilmington for the next four. It’ll be Ian Dickson (1-6, 6.11) scheduled to face off against Luis Santos (1-1, 7.06).

Jul 062014
 

After pummeling the Pelicans for eight runs in the completion, the second game of the de facto doubleheader proved to be a pitcher’s duel that ended in the first “extra inning” as Steve Perez’s two-out single in the bottom of the 8th drove in Tony Renda for a 1-0 win.

Starter Austin Voth can’t quite catch a break as he pitched brilliantly for a third straight start but has just one win to show for it. He allowed just three hits over six shutout innings with no walks and seven strikeouts, which puts him to the Washington minors-leading total of 94 in 88⅔ innings.

In part, that’s because Potomac had not one but two runners thrown out at the plate in the 3rd. Estarlin Martinez was the first, making an ill-advised decision to score from third base on a ball hit to the third baseman while Perez was unable to score from first one batter later when Shawn Pleffner doubled into the left-field corner (though he made it close).

The P-Nats managed just two singles from the 4th to the 7th before the game-winning rally in the 8th. After a weak flyout by Martinez (who was quite busy on defense, catching six flyballs in right field over eight inning), Renda beat out an infield single and took second on a wild pitch. Perez delivered the game-winner with a single to right that was hit fast enough to get past the infielders but too slow for the outfielder to pick up and fire in to beat Renda.

The win went to Chris Manno, who struck out four over the 7th and 8th innings while walking one. Combined with a Lynchburg loss, Potomac returned to first place by a half-game over Wilmington, who will be in town next for four games tomorrow through Thursday.

Matt Spann (5-3, 4.45) gets the ball tonight against Andrew Faulkner (6-1, 2.35) in the series finale.

Jul 052014
 

The first-half winners of the Carolina League matched up on the 4th of July — a possible preview of the 2014 Mills Cup? — with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans besting the hometown Potomac Nationals, 4-2 before a reported crowd of 7,993.

The Pelicans boast the league’s second-best pitching staff, in large part because they don’t have to face the league’s best lineup (Myrtle Beach, natch). The P-Nats, however, are second as measured by the only stat that matters: runs scored (though they are second in strikeouts and third in HRs hit).

But as the old saw goes, good pitching beats good hitting. For three innings and a 1/3rd, burly lefthander Chad Bell was perfect against Potomac, setting down the first 10 batters he faced before Stephen Perez sliced a line drive down the left-field line for a clean double to break up the perfect game.

Alas, the one-out double wouldn’t equalize the 1-0 score that Myrtle established on the second pitch of the game by Dakota Bacus as leadoff man Chris Garia cleared the right field fence for his second HR of the season. Bacus, who had struggled with his command in his previous outing, righted the ship and found his groove to shut down the Pelicans through four innings.

But this is the best offense in the league, and in the 5th they got to Bacus for three runs, leading off with a double and closing out with a double and making him pay for a walk and a hit batsman with one out. At the midpoint, the Pelicans led 4-0.

Bell left after five innings and Potomac jumped on his replacement in the 7th, with Oscar Tejeda, Shawn Pleffner, and Randolph Oduber going back-to-back-to-back with singles to break up the shutout. Myrtle Beach left fielder threw strike to the press box but the netting blocked the throw and enabled Oduber to take second on the throw.

Khayyan Norfork plated the second and final run on a sacrifice fly that required Myrtle Beach centerfielder Garia to make what may have been the game-saving catch as he leapt while running back towards the warning track to snag a liner that if not caught was a definite triple and a possible inside-the-park job.

Instead, it went in the scorebook as an SF-8 with an RBI. After a scare when Will Piwnica-Worms was dropped and bloodied by a pitch that ricocheted off his helmet (he walked off the field under his own power, but left the game) Justin Miller struck out to the end the inning.

Potomac would go in order in the 8th and 9th innings to suffer their fourth straight loss and fall into third place in the C.L. North.

It’s faux doubleheader tonight, with a completion of the game suspended last Friday night scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. and a seven-inning game to follow. Blake Schwartz (1-0, 6.43) will get the ball when the Pelicans come to bat in the 5th. Austin Voth (1-0, 0.69) is scheduled to pitch the second game, which will reportedly start 30 minutes after the first game is done.

Jun 242014
 

Rehabbing major-leaguer Wilson Ramos sliced a three-run home run to cap off a four-run 3rd as Potomac defeated Salem, 5-2 before a reported crowd of 7,804 last night in Woodbridge.

Ramos, who was joined in the lineup by some kid named Bryce Harper (single in 1st, walk in the 3rd, made a putout in LF), also doubled and went 3-for-4 on the night. Nursing a hamstring strain, the 26-y.o. Venezuelan ran like Mark DeRosa, but faster gingerly but obviously didn’t need to run very much as he hit the ball hard.

The DC backstop also had an influence with the pitching of Dakota Bacus, whose start was somewhat obscured by all the hype and hullabaloo. The 23-y.o. went seven innings and scattered eight hits, with no walks and two strikeouts to win his third game of the season.

Also not likely to be found outside this space: a terrific night by Will Piwinica-Worms, who made diving catch to end the 2nd, doubled to start the four-run rally in the 3rd and singled in the 4th for an RBI.

Despite the score, defense factored in the outcome as both teams turned three double plays and Potomac narrowly missed a fourth to offset the 20 hits between the two teams. Take away the Ramos HR and you’re looking at a very close ballgame that Potomac may have only won by a 2-1 count, assuming the usual outfield alignment and not Oscar Tejeda playing left field after Harper left, which led to an unearned run in the 8th off Travis Henke.

Gilberto Mendez, persumably the closer with the promotion of Robert Benincasa, worked around a pair of hits in the 9th to close it out and earn his fourth save.

The win improves Potomac to 3-1 in the second half and was their third straight. Tonight, Austin Voth is scheduled to make his High-A debut, opposed by Pat Light (1-3, 6.06) for Salem. Both Ramos and Harper are expected to play again, with Harper reportedly in center field for five innings while Ramos catches again for nine innings.

Jun 232014
 

There’s not much question about this when it comes to the P-Nats: These guys can hit.

Sure, they took a couple of innings to get going last night as the first six men went down in order with just one well-struck ball, an opposite-field liner by Shawn Pleffner. But in the 3rd, Will Piwnica-Worms homered to lead off the inning and struck out to end it.

In between, the Woodbridge nine had seven runners make it to first base and five of them came around to score for six-run inning that propelled the P-Nats to an 11-4 win over the Salem Red Sox.

Eight of the nine batters hit safely, and the one who didn’t — Oscar Tejeda — still drove in two runs with a fielder’s choice that might have been a hit but for a brilliant stop and toss by Salem’s Ryan Dent to get the runner trying to advance from second to third.

Randolph Oduber also went deep while Khayyan Norfork went 3-for-4 with a two-run double. Cobmined with Piwinica-Worms, the #7 batter, the veteran trio went 7-for-13 with five runs scored and five runs driven in.

On the pitching side, John Simms started and turned in five innings that on many nights wouldn’t be good enough to win as he did for the second time. He was charged with all four Salem runs on six hits and two walks and struck out four.

Two relievers followed, both coming off long stints on the DL.

Brian Rauh made his first appearance in nearly two months and did pitch well: three no-hit, no-run innings with two walks and three strikeouts and three groundouts.

He was followed by Richie Mirowski — out since May 6th, and essentially down from AA on an unofficial rehab assignment, much like Rafael Martin and Paul Demny before him — who was charged with a hit when Oduber lost the ball in the twilight and had it fall behind him in LF for a double. Mirowski was unfazed by the gaffe and retired the next two batters to finish out the game.

The two teams resume the series tonight, which could be a sellout with both Wilson Ramos and Bryce Harper expected to play on rehab assignments from DC. Dakota Bacus (2-2, 3.63) will get the ball for Potomac, opposed by Salem’s Justin Haley (5-2, 2.05).

Jun 142014
 

With the first half wrapped up on Thursday night, the P-Nats were scheduled to have a doubleheader on Friday night. Instead, they only got in one game, losing 4-2 to Winston-Salem.

This was also the first start for John Simms after he struck out a career-high of 14 last Saturday. Simply put, he was bound to do worse because it would have been very difficult to do better.

His teammates gave him runs in the first two innings. Jeff Kobernus beat out an infield hit to third and was balked to second when the pitcher slipped as the game was begun with a light but steady rain*. He would score on two-out single by Shawn Pleffner.
* It should be noted that in years past, the deluge that struck earlier in the day would have been enough to postpone both games.

In the 2nd, Mike McQuillan, Justin Miller, and Estarlin Martinez went back-to-back-to-back with singles to left-center, left field, and a seeing five-hopper between 1B and 2B that gave Potomac a 2-1 lead.

Winston-Salem took the lead back for good in the 3rd with a pair of doubles sandwiched around a walk. Simms struck out two in the inning — five in the game — but couldn’t get Keenyn Walker a second time, as the 24-y.o. drove one to left, spinning Kobernus around for a two-run knock.

Simms would set down the side in order in the 5th (and his final inning) on three groundouts. He was charged with three runs on five hits with three walks. He would suffer the loss to fall to 1-4 for the season.

Potomac put the lead runner on with a walk in the 4th and an infield single in the 5th but neither man reached second. Cole Leonida singled off the pitcher’s mitt and took third on a McQuillan double but Miller and Martinez both grounded out to end the threat.

The Dash got their final run in the 6th as Wander Suero let up a leadoff single and a one-out double to put runners on second and third. Walker singled to right to get one run in but Martinez gunned down the trail runner for the second out and keep the P-Nats within striking distance.

Kobernus drew a leadoff walk in the 7th and stole second but watched the next two batters strike out and ran in while Pleffner flew out to CF to end it.

Rain postponed the second game, forcing a doubleheader tonight. Potomac has not announced who will start tonight while Winston-Salem will send out Brad Goldberg (2-4, 5.17) to pitch the opener and RHP Frank Montas (3-0, 1.23) to throw in the nightcap.

Jun 082014
 

Velocity matters, but there’s a difference between throwing and pitching.

John Simms reminded us of that with a masterful 14-strikeout game in a 6-1 Potomac win over Wilmington. The 22-year-old Texan topped out at 91 mph and mostly threw in the high-80s. But as the old saw goes, hitting is timing and pitching is upsetting that timing.

The Blue Rocks batters were helpless against Simms’s changeup, which came in as slow as 73 mph. Not quite the Bugs Bunny slowball, but enough to induce 10 swinging strikeouts in which the batter was usually waaaaay ahead of the pitch.

Perhaps more impressive — Simms did this in just seven innings and walked only one. He did not hit a batter nor did he throw a wild pitch, for which catcher Cole Leonida, as all backstops should, deserves both mention and credit.

Thankfully, the masterful pitching was accompanied by more than enough offense, helped a little by some sloppy defense.

With one out in the 3rd, Randolph Oduber shot a bull past the Blue Rock matador playing third base to start the rally. Stephen Perez walked and the twosome pulled off a double steal to set up the No. 3 batter, Tony Renda.

Renda flared an opposite field single to deep right field to plate Oduber and Renda. Cleanup man Oscar Tejeda did just that by hitting his team-leading 9th HR with a blast to LF to complete the four-run binge and turn an early 1-0 deficit into a 4-1 advantage.

In the 6th, Will Piwnica-Worms and Cole Leonida led off with back-to-back singles to right and left, respectively. After Justin Miller tapped one to short, too slow to get more than one out, Wilmington relieve Aroni Nina threw one past the first baseman, sending in Piwnica-Worms and Miller all the way to third.

Estarlin Martinez waved at pitch up and out of the zone for a dribbler in front of the plate, but Blue Rocks catcher Cam Gallagher lost his grip and Martinez got the hometown scoring decision of a single. Oduber skied one to right to drive in Miller and complete the two-run binge that extended the lead to 6-1.

Simms, who had a streak of six straight K’s from the 3rd to the 5th, struck out the side in the 7th, with the last two looking (hoping) for his first win of 2014. Ian Dickson, who was the originally announced starter, came on in relief of Simms in the 8th and spun two scoreless innings to close out the game, striking out two.

With the win and a Lynchburg loss, Potomac’s magic number to clinch the first-half Northern Division title was reduced to six with one week left before the All-Star break. The two teams finish the series and their sixth game over the last six days with a matchup of Matthew Spann (4-0, 2.08) against Glenn Sparkman (2-1, 1.45) this afternoon.

Jun 032014
 

Let the drumbeat from the MASN commenters for Tony Renda begin…

With his fourth hit of the night, the 5’8″ (in his helmet and cleats) Potomac second baseman completed a three-run rally in the 9th for a 5-4 win and a four-game sweep of the defending Carolina League champions.

Combined with a walkoff loss by the Lynchburg Hillcats, the P-Nats returned to first place since falling out of a first-place tie on Memorial Day with a 13-4 loss to the Red Sox.

The comeback was heavily aided by Salem, thanks to three critical mistakes. The first came with one out and Shawn Pleffner on first base as Salem’s Reed Gragnani booted a Khayyan Norfork grounder to put runners on 1st and second. The second was a balk that took away the double play.

Still leading 4-2, Salem opted not to walk Will Piwnica-Worms, who had been 0-for-3 up to that point. A single to center made him 1-for-4 with two RBI as both Pleffner and Norfork came in to score.

The third mistake was a grounder to third off the bat of Pedro Severino that Sox third baseman Ryan Dent misfired to second for the second error and second missed chance at a double play. Renda then delivered the gamewinner to plate Piwinica-Worms for the 5-4 win.

The 4-for-4 effort, which also included a double and a single and a two-base-error ruled as a triple, extended Renda’s current hit streak to six games, over which he’s gone 12-for-30 with seven runs, five walks drawn, and five RBI.

The win went to Travis Henke, who got the last two outs of the 7th and blanked Salem in 8th and 9th innings with one hit allowed and three strikeouts. John Simms made the start, giving up the first two Salem runs on seven hits, including a solo shot in the 5th, over four and 2/3rd innings.

Bryan Harper followed Simms, striking out the last batter of the 5th to strand two runner. He worked around a single and a walk in the 6th, but couldn’t do likewise in the 7th, literally throwing away a sacrifice attempt that led to the second two Salem runs (both unearned).

Potomac now hits the road for three against the third-place (but still in contention, two games behind) Wilmington Blue Rocks then the two teams switch venues for another three-game series this weekend. Like last season, the two teams play just six games in the first half but 14 times in the second.

Jun 012014
 

A seven-run 7th which featured five hits, three Salem errors, and multiple Red Sox misplays turned a 1-1 game into an 8-1 goat rodeo as the Potomac Nationals won their third straight and pulled within a 1/2 game of first place in the Carolina League North.

Ryan Zimmerman continued his rehab assignment and appeared in left field for the first time in his professional career. And it showed. Just one ball was hit his way in the five innings he played — a routine line drive to the left-center gap that was not hit particularly hard.

However, the “face of the franchise” broke the opposite way, turning a single into a double as the ball rolled past him towards the warning track. A strong throw — and that it was the leadoff batter in the inning — minimized the misplay, but it’s pretty clear that the specious Robin Yount comparisons ought to stop immediately.

Offensively, Zimmerman went 1-for-3 with a strikeout.

Dakota Bacus got the start and continues to show an ineffable knack for getting himself in and out of trouble. Four times in six innings, the leadoff batter reached — twice by way of double (*ahem*) — but only once did he score.

That was when Stephen Perez did his best imitation of Ian Desmond, ranging behind second base to make the scoop, only to boot it on the transfer for his 15th error in 49 games. To be clear, most other shortstops wouldn’t have gotten to it. Fewer still would have been on their feet and in a position to make a throw. Perez was rated the best defensive IF in the organization by Baseball America, and as much as I rag on BA, they’re not wrong on this one.

Back to Bacus… the 23-y.o. finished with the one unearned run on five hits and two walks while striking out four over five and 2/3rds innings but got the no-decision. After the Perez error, Gilberto Mendez came in and induced a tapper to the 5/6 hole that Khayyan Norfork glided to his left and made the toss across to end the inning.

Norfork, who drove in the first run with a single in the 4th, led off the seven-run 7th with a sharp single to left. Will Piwnica-Worms followed suit with a safety to center. Pedro Severino then laid down what appeared to be a bunt single but was ruled interference for the inning’s first out.

After a Tony Renda walk, Perez got that run back he let in with his error and another with his bat with a two-run single and took second on the first error for a 3-1 lead. Estarlin Martinez, who replaced Zimmerman in the lineup, hit a high fly to shallow right that was dropped and scored Renda for a 4-1 score.

A popup to short was the inning’s second out. Then Shawn Pleffner ripped an opposite-field double to send in Perez, 5-1. A grounder to third by Randolph Oduber was thrown around the diamond like someone gave the Salem defenders the water bottle from the freezer instead of the fridge — two more runs, and perhaps mercifully, just one error as Oduber stood on third when it was over, 7-1.

Salem changed pitchers and the rally was completed when a dropped third strike enabled Norfork to reach first base while Oduber charged home with the seventh run as the Salem backstop elected to go for the force instead of tossing to the pitcher for the less-certain tag play.

Mercifully, both teams played out the string without much drama. Mendez pitched the 8th and worked around a leadoff single to earn the win, his second of the season, while Travis Henke worked the 9th and gave up just a two-out single to end it.

Game three of the four-game series is this afternoon and features a matchup of RHPs — Ian Dickson (1-4, 6.55) vs. Luis Diaz (5-3, 3.42).

May 312014
 

Were it not for the presence of Ryan Zimmerman, this would not be one to write home about*.
* For the folks under 30, that refers to a letter written on paper in an envelope with postage stamp.

A sacrifice fly in the 10th gave the P-Nats a 5-4 win and pulled them within a game of 1st place in the Carolina League North. It was the fifth walkoff win of the season and the first time Potomac had won back-to-back games on consecutive days since May 5th and 6th.

The distinction matters because this is a team that has been reeling for most of May. The culprit is a lack of starting pitching, which, with the placement of Ronald Pena on the DL earlier this week, means the team has completely replaced its Opening Week starting rotation.

Brett Brach became the latest starter last night, signed away from the Somerset Patriots — same team as Zach Kroenke, who replaced Matt Purke in the Harrisburg rotation.

Zimmerman would give him an early lead, smacking a sacrifice fly to the warning track in right-center to plate Tony Renda, who had led off the game with a double and took third on sacrifice bunt by Stephen Perez. The soon-to-be 3B-1B-LF tapped out in the 4th, flew out in the 5th, and grounded out in the 8th as the P-Nats DH. He’s expected to play again tonight and tomorrow afternoon, perhaps appearing left field in one or both games.

Salem tied the game in the top of the 4th on a pair of singles and groundout in which the P-Nats couldn’t turn a double play fast enough to end the inning. The Red Sox basically gave away three runs in the bottom of the 4th with an error and three wild pitches that plated two of the runs with Randolph Oduber driving in the third with an RBI double as the P-Nats took a 4-1 lead.

Salem chased Brach in the 6th with a double ruled an error followed by a triple the right-center gap. Paul Demny made his 2014 debut but let in the runner he inherited and one of his own to tie things up at 4-4. Brach would finish with five-plus innings pitched, with three runs (two earned) allowed on three hits with no walks and seven strikeouts.

Demny would pitch a scoreless 7th but finished with one run allowed on two hits and two walks while striking out two. Bryan Harper took over in the 8th and blanked the Sox for two frames before giving way to Robert Benincasa, who walked two in the top of the 10th but was the winning pitcher, thanks to another sloppy inning by Salem.

Pedro Severino led off with the fourth Potomac hit and took second when Narciso Mesa was plunked. Both runners moved up 90 feet on a wild pitch, the 4th of the night for the Sox. Tony Renda struck out and was ejected. After wisely issuing an intentional pass to Perez to load the bases, Khayyan Norfork — pinch-hitting for Zimmerman — delivered the gamewinner with a flyout to center.

Game two of the four-game series will feature a matchup of RHP Dakota Bacus (2-1, 3.57) vs. LHP Cody Kukuk (1-3, 4.43).