Sep 062013
 

CLNDS 13 celebrationWill Piwnica-Worms was a late addition to the playoff roster, but contributed for the second straight night with a two-out single in the 9th to give the P-Nats a 3-2 walkoff win and their third trip to the Mills Cup Finals in the last six seasons.

Kevin Keyes, who had doubled to left off Lynchburg reliever Jose Lugo in the 6th, cranked one off the right field wall with one out in the 9th for his second two-bagger. Despite having struck out three times previously, Brandon Miller was given an intentional pass in favor of a possible double play by Randolph Oduber.

The Groovin’ Aruban became the 7th P-Nat to go down by way of the K versus Jugo, which brought Piwnica-Worms to the plate. Lynchburg backup backstop Anthony Nunez, who hadn’t let up a passed ball in 18 games with the Hillcats during the regular season, let one go off his glove to move up the runners 90 feet.

The miscue proved fatal as Piwnica-Worms guided a seeing-eye single between first and second, sending in Keyes for the gamewinner.

Blake Schwartz “only” went eight innings, giving up both Lynchburg runs on eight hits but walked none and struck out five. Greg Holt got the win, working around a leadoff walk in the 9th with a flyout and two ground outs, assisting on the final out himself, 1-3.

In the Carolina League Southern Division series, the Salem Red Sox swept the Myrtle Beach Pelicans two games to none with a 4-3 win in 10 innings. The Sox will come to town tomorrow night for the best-of-five Mills Cup Championship, their first appearance since being swept by Lynchburg in 2009. Potomac was the 2008 and 2010 Carolina League Champions, defeating Myrtle Beach and Winston-Salem, respectively, three games to one.

Pitching matchups for the Finals have not yet been formally announced, but Potomac’s rotation will most likely be Matt Purke in Game One on Saturday, Paul Demny in Game Two on Sunday and Sammy Solis in Game Three in Salem on Tuesday with Schwartz and Purke going for Games Four and Five (if necessary, and also in Salem) on Wednesday and Thursday.

Sep 052013
 

No pressure, Blake, but we kinda need you to go all nine innings tonight.

OK, so maybe nobody said that to the Potomac ace last night, but this morning, that’s what P-Nats fans are thinking after last night’s 2-1 win in 14 innings over Lynchburg. At least this one.

Potomac rallied with two outs in the bottom of the 9th to tie it, as Randolph Oduber grooved a 1-1 pitch into the right-center gap to score pinch-runner Will Piwinica-Worms all the way from first base. Michael Taylor won it with a two-out RBI single in the 14th, ending the four-hour-and-30-minute marathon.

But where the game was really won was in the nine shutout innings that the quintet of Travis Henke, Colin Bates, Robert Benincasa, Rafael Martin, and Brian Dupra turned in. As a group, they walked four, struck out eight and allowed just four hits. As noted yesterday, these guys had been worked hard in the final week of the season but you’d have never known it if you seen ‘em in action last night, Colin Bates in particular (nine up, nine down in innings seven through nine).

Both teams, truth be told, pitched a hell of a game. Sammy Solis nearly lost despite giving up just a run over five innings on three hits and a walk (care to guess which was the run that scored?) while fanning five.

Lynchburg’s Greg Ross struck out 10 P-Nats, primarily by pitching backwards: throwing change after change then spotting an average fastball once he’d gotten ahead. No doubt Hillcats fans are wondering why an almost 24-y.o. journeyman wasn’t asked to go an inning or two longer after giving up just two infield hits and a walk over six shutout innings.

As the lede suggests, Blake Schwartz takes the hill tonight for Potomac with a chance to advance to the Mills Cup Finals. Schwartz was 3-0 vs. the Hillcats during the regular season, including a pair of wins 10 days apart in July. He’ll be opposed by veteran southpaw Ryan Hinson, coincidentally, the opposing pitcher in Schwartz’s last two starts against Lynchburg.

Aug 222013
 

Rained-Out-2012The second ten-game win streak for Potomac came to an end with a rain-shortened 3-1 loss in five innings to Winston-Salem.

Starter Paul Demny took the loss for the second time in six starts since his demotion from Harrisburg. He gave up all three runs (two earned) on four hits, three of which went for extra-bases. The difference came in the two-run fourth as Kevan Smith took the 24-y.o. Texan deep with a solo shot to right-center with one out while Joshua Richmond connected for the second double of the game with two outs to build a 3-0 lead.

Rain began to fall in the top of the 4th but a double play ended things quickly in the bottom of the 4th and Demny retired the side in order in the top of the 5th. Brandon Miller led off the bottom of the fifth with a triple and came in to score on a groundout to short. Cutter Dykstra struck out to end the inning, which also ended his 29-game on-base streak.

Play was halted after the 5th and the game called 92 minutes later.

The loss combined with Lynchburg’s eighth straight win keeps Potomac’s magic number at six to clinch the Carolina League North division again. Both Frederick and Wilmington have been eliminated from the second-half title race. The Hillcats lead the Keys by eight and the Blue Rocks by 10½ games in the overall standings that determine the second playoff team in the event of a double-half winner.

Potomac, however, still has good incentive to beat the Dash tonight and tomorrow, as Winston-Salem’s best chance of making the playoffs is to beat out Salem for the best overall record behind Myrtle Beach, if the Pelicans can win both halves (they lead the Red Sox by 1½ games after a 5-0 win last night). The P-Nats have won just once in six games at BB&T this year and would play the deciding games there in the event of both teams making the Mills Cup Finals.

Tonight, Brett Mooneyham makes his High-A debut after earning a promotion with a 8-2, 1.88 mark since the Sally League All-Star break. He’ll be opposed by Myles Jaye (7-6, 4.66) for Winston-Salem.

Aug 172013
 

Potomac scored seven times with two outs as they completed a three-game sweep of Frederick with a 7-3 win.

Ross Ohlendorf made the rehab start but was not sharp. The 31-year-old journeyman gave up all three Keys runs on eight hits, including three hard-hit doubles.

While he walked just one, the former Diamondback farmhand faced multiple long counts as his command was spotty. For the velo who..er, enthusiasts, peeks at the guns were in the 89-91 range.

His counterpart, however, would need a vehicle to hit that speed. Frederick’s knuckleballer in training Zach Clark had the Potomac lineup fooled for about seven batters before Justin Miller knocked a flutterball off the left field wall in the 2nd, then Randolph Oduber put one over it for a two-run shot that gave Potomac a 2-1 lead.

Potomac would add three more in the third with three doubles by Caleb Ramsey, Kevin Keyes, and Adrian Sanchez. Clark would finish the evening by retiring the last seven in a row, but lost his sixth decision for the Keys while lowering his ERA from 14.06 to 13.19.

Greg Holt relieved Ohlendorf after he gave up his eighth hit to the leadoff batter in the 5th and earned his seventh win with two innings of scoreless relief, though he walked three — including the first two batters of the 6th. A grounder to third, a popup to third and strikeout enabled the 24-y.o. to escape the jam.

Colin Bates pitched the 7th and 8th and Rob Wort the 9th, as both relievers worked around multiple base hits (two in each inning) and combined for three scoreless innings.

The win was the fifth in a row for the P-Nats, who hit the road for four games in tax shelter Delaware against the Blue Rocks before returning home for their final regular-season homestand on Wednesday.

Aug 162013
 

Overcoming deficits of 1-0 and 2-1, Potomac sent eight men to the plate in the 5th to take a 3-2 lead and held on for a 5-4 win.

It was the fourth straight win for Potomac on the current homestand, and the first “W” for starter Paul Demny in five starts since his demotion from Harrisburg last month. The 24-y.o. allowed seven hits and walked two but allowed just two runs while striking out five.

To the naked eye, Demny’s velocity seemed diminished since he last pitched for the P-Nats in 2011, an observation also made by the Senators beat writers. Demny was placed on the DL in early July with “arm soreness” and removed from the Harrisburg rotation in late June. Last night marked the first time he had pitched more than three innings since June 23.

Offensively, the P-Nats notched 12 hits, with Cutter Dykstra, Justin Miller, and Caleb Ramsey each collecting three but struggled in the clutch — 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position and a total of 10 men left on base in eight innings.

Adrian Nieto got the scoring going with his 11th HR of the season, a bomb to right-center while batting lefthanded. Justin Miller, Dykstra, and Ramsey singled to load the bases in the 5th. After a Michael Taylor whiff, Nieto drove in the second Potomac run with a grounder to first. It would require back-to-back walks by Brandon Miller and Kevin Keyes to take the lead.

Ramsey bunted his way on in the 7th and took second on a wild pitch, but scored without a base hit thanks to a Taylor roller to 1st and a sacrifice fly by Brandon Miller, which ended his hit streak at 15 games, but pushed the score to 4-2 in favor of Potomac. Dykstra’s RBI single in the 8th gave the P-Nats a 5-3 lead.

Brian Dupra followed Demny out of the ‘pen and worked around a leadoff single in both innings he pitched to earn his fifth hold. Travis Henke was knocked around in the 8th a run while Robert Benincasa served up a long homer to the Keys’ Johnny Ruettiger before setting down the next three in the 9th to qualify for his 13th save.

With the victory, Potomac extended their lead to eight games over Lynchburg and reduced the magic number to 13.

LHP Sammy Solis (2-0, 3.12) is officially listed as the starter for tonight, however, on Wednesday multiple Washington beat writers reported that RHP Ross Ohlendorf would be pitching five innings in his final tuneup before replacing former P-Nat RHP Taylor Jordan in the big club’s rotation.

Aug 152013
 

Matt Purke evened up his won-loss record at 3-3 as the P-Nats cut down the Keys, 6-2.

The 23-y.o. southpaw gave up both Frederick runs on four hits and a walk while striking out three for his second quality start in his last three starts, and the second time he’s gone six frames for Potomac.

While neither dominant nor ineffective, Purke got the job done by working off the fastball and throwing strikes… but not gunning for the K with his breaking stuff or trying to get batters to chase. He retired the leadoff batter in three of six innings and and got two diving catches by his corner outfielders — Brandon Miller in the 3rd, Randolph Oduber in the 6th — to end the inning in dramatic fashion.

Offensively, the P-Nats middle of the order carried the night. Frederick’s Brady Wager had a no-hitter and a 1-0 lead through three innings but lost it on Adrian Nieto’s line-drive single off the leaping glove of Keys SS Jerome Pena to lead off the 4th. Brandon Miller extended his hit streak to 15 games with a double down the left field line while Kevin Keyes tied it with a single to center. The 4-5-6 combo of Nieto, Miller, and Keyes would combine for six hits, three doubles, four runs, and three RBI on the night.

Potomac rallied for three in the 4th and posted a picket fence in the 5th, 6th, and 7th innings to build a 6-2 lead. Veteran relievers Rafael Martin and Colin Bates finished out the game with three scoreless to nail down the “W” for Purke.

With the win, Potomac improves to 30-20 in the second half and holds a 7½ game lead over second-place Wilmington in the Carolina League North. The three-game series continues tonight with a matchup of Paul Demny (0-1, 5.06) vs. Zach Davies (7-5, 3.41).

Aug 132013
 

It wasn’t as pretty as the box score might indicate, but it was just what Potomac needed.

Blake Schwartz and newcomer Travis Henke combined on a six-hit shutout as the P-Nats stopped a four-game slide with a 2-0 win over the Mudcats.

Schwartz became the first 10-game winner at a single level in the Nationals organization with seven scoreless innings, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out one. He had, however, just one 1-2-3 frame (the 5th) as Carolina put on a runner six times against the ace of the P-Nats staff.

But, as any pitching coach will tell you, getting the leadoff man out in any inning is the key to success and Schwartz did that in six of seven opportunities. The one time he didn’t was the only true scoring threat that Carolina mounted on the night.

That’s also when it’s a good reminder that there are seven guys behind you and Schwartz got some help from both corner OFs in the 3rd. No. 9 batter Todd Hankins drew a leadoff walk, stole second, and took third on a line drive to right that Randolph Oduber snared on the run for the inning’s first out.

After walking the next batter, Schwartz induced a flyball to medium left. Down 1-0, Carolina gambled that newcomer Brandon Miller’s jitters from the night before would be enough to risk a play at the plate. The decision proved to be unwise as Miller’s throw had Hankins beat by six feet for the inning-ending double play.

Miller had gotten Potomac on the board in the 1st with an RBI groundout, cashing in back-to-back singles by Cutter Dykstra and Caleb Ramsey for the 1-0 lead. After walking in the 3rd with two outs, the 23-y.o. Georgian extended his hit streak to 13 games with a wall-ball double to left-center in the 6th that turned out to be Potomac’s final hit of the night.

The fifth hit was Cole Leonida’s tenth HR, a solo shot in the 4th that put the score to its eventual final of 2-0.

Travis Henke made his High-A debut in the 8th. After a shaky eighth, in which he gave up a pair of singles, Henke went 1-2-3 in the 9th, handling two comebackers to the mound for the save.

The win was Potomac’s 70th of the season and improved them to 28-20 in the 2nd half, reducing the magic number to clinch to 17 over Lynchburg with 22 games left to play. The Hillcats are the P-Nats likely first-round opponent as the second-best team in the Carolina North with a 56-59 mark, three games ahead of the Keys and four in front of the Blue Rocks.

Weather permitting, Rauh (3-1, 3.02) will take the hill today in a noontime start against Carolina RHP Robert Whitenack (0-1, 4.30).

Aug 122013
 

That Potomac will win both halves of the 2013 season still seems pretty certain. Whether they’ll advance to the Mills Cup Finals is not.

Playing flat on offense and sloppy on defense, the P-Nats lost 5-2 in 10 innings to the Mudcats for their fourth straight defeat.

Sammy Solis got the start, essentially his 10th as his lone relief appearance was a continuation of a suspended game, and set down the side in order in the 1st. It should have been four in a row but newcomer Brandon Miller, who’s been on a tear on offense, looked like the second coming of Chris Marrero in left field on defense as he misplayed a flyball into a leadoff double in the 2nd.

Solis nearly pitched around the mistake but a two-out double to right-center plated the first Carolina run. It happened again in the 3rd: a flyball that a stronger defender would have caught fell in for a double, Solis getting two outs before giving up the RBI hit.

At the plate, Potomac didn’t get a hit until Cole Leonida led off the 3rd with a single to right and didn’t get a runner into scoring position until the 5th, when Carolina’s defense returned the favor with a passed ball and two errors by second baseman Joe Wendle to allow the P-Nats to tie with just one clean hit, coincidentally a single by Brandon Miller.

Solis was pulled after five innings, finishing with two runs on six hits and a walk and four strikeouts. Colin Bates was summoned from the ‘pen, which has been asked to pitch four or more innings in seven straight games, and turned in two scoreless innings. He couldn’t make it three, giving up a single and a double to open the 8th.

Rafael Martin bailed out Bates by striking out the side in the 8th and worked around a one-out single in the 9th.

As you might have already guessed, after the 5th, the Potomac offense threatened just once more — putting runners on 1st and 2nd with a one-out walk by Justin Miller and Leonida’s second single in the 7th only to have Randolph Oduber strike out for third time.

Robert Benincasa took over from the Martin in the 10th and was tagged for three runs on a walk, single, triple, and another single to suffer his third loss and the third straight outing with a run allowed.

The P-Nats would go down in order in the 10th for their sixth loss in seven games — all to the Carolina League South’s top two teams, Carolina and Myrtle Beach, which are separated by just a 1/2 game in the race for the 2nd half title.

Blake Schwartz (9-4, 2.92) will be tasked with breaking Potomac’s losing streak tonight, if not giving the bullpen some badly needed rest. He’ll be opposed by Nick Pasquale (4-6, 4.56) for Carolina.

Jul 222013
 

Five times before this season, Potomac got a run in the ninth to walk off with a win. The sixth would require them to match that output in one inning.

Down 7-3 after eight and a half innings, the P-Nats sent nine men to the plate and scored five times on five hits for the improbable 8-7 win.

Billy Burns plated the gamewinner on a two-out bloop single that sent in pinch-runner Randolph Oduber. It was the fourth single of the frame, as the P-Nats had just one extra-base hit, a Cutter Dykstra double, and one walk.

The heroics made a winner out of Marcos Frias, who got the last out of the 9th and took starter Sammy Solis off the hook.

Solis was making his first start at home since coming off the DL last week in Salem. After striking out the side in the 1st, Solis stumbled in the 2nd, giving up a single then a long home run to put himself in a 2-0 hole. Two innings later, he would give up another two-run blast that ended his night early.

Final line: Four innings pitched, four runs allowed on five hits, one walk, and four strikeouts. Salem simply made him pay for two pitches left up in the zone on fastball counts.

Brian Dupra followed Solis out of the ‘pen in the 5th, starting off about as bad as any pitcher could (solo HR) but then finishing as strong as anyone could expect (nine straight retired).

Rob Wort was next with two runs charged over an inning and 2/3rds, as Frias was greeted with a single then retired the second batter he faced.

The win improves Potomac to 16-11 in the second half, three games better than Wilmington, which lost its seventh straight yesterday. The series continues tonight with a matchup of Blake Schwartz (7-3, 2.81) vs. Henry Owens (7-4, 2.93).

Jul 202013
 

“Still looks the same as he did in college.”

It’s an opinion I keep hearing from folks, as Matt Purke was battered for his third loss in four starts in an 8-2 loss to Lynchburg. The problem is that this isn’t TCU and the next start isn’t next Friday, but next Wednesday (weather permitting, of course).

Even in this loss, which I’m sure folks are champing at the bit to pin on the defense (especially if you believe you can explain away extra-base hits to the gaps), the potential that got the southpaw drafted is evident. The velocity, which is good but not great, is there. The fastball has good movement. The curve can drop like a hammer.

But the command is not yet good enough for this level, which really shouldn’t surprise anyone when factoring out age, bonus, or draft position. He’s spent less than 50 innings over two seasons in Low-A, and just 18 in High-A. He’s coming off shoulder surgery, which some believe was put off for far too long.

I’ll leave it to the experts to analyze the mechanics, but Purke thus far looks like pitcher that hasn’t spent enough time refining his stuff at the lower levels.