Jun 012013
 

Potomac sent nine men to the plate in the first two innings to rack up nine runs en route to a 10-1 win over the first-place Lynchburg, the third straight win for the Woodbridge nine.

Much of the damage was self-inficted. Hillcats thrower A.J. Holland walked the bases loaded to start the game, then gave up a one-run single to Jason Martinson and a two-run safety to Adrian Nieto. A wild pitch brought in the fourth run, a fourth walk ended Holland’s night after just six batters faced.

Veteran reliever James Hoyt got out of the first inning with a flyball, groundout and a strikeout. But the second inning was nearly a repeat of the first. A pair of walks sandwiched around a Jayson Werth single (you did know he was playing, right?) got the bases drunk and Jason Martinson sobered ‘em up with a three-run double.

Adrian Nieto doubled in Martinson, Kevin Keyes got a hometown single as the Hillcat third baseman waved at it and missed for an unruled error to move up Nieto and Caleb Ramsey capped the rally with sacrifice fly to left field.

After two it was 9-0.

The unfortunate side effect of the two crooked numbers was the time Robbie Ray spent cooling on the bench. After the four-run first, it didn’t seem to faze him as the 21-year-old struck out the side. But following the five-run second, his command wavered badly as turned in a Nuke LaLoosh inning of three walks and three strikeouts that ended his night early — the second time this month he was done after just three innings with seven strikeouts.

Colin Bates took over for Ray in the 4th got the win with four innings of scoreless relief, followed by single frames by Rob Wort and Richie Mirowski. After Hoyt, the Lynchburg ‘pen matched their counterparts five goose eggs, but the pressure will be on tonight’s Hillcats starter to go deep.

That’ll be the task for Ryan Weber (3-1, 2.61), with Sammy Solis (0-0, 1.50) making his third trip to the hill since missing 2012 after elbow surgery.
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With the end of the first half in sight (two weeks from tomorrow), the Carolina League North is in for yet another photo finish.

Lynchburg leads Potomac and Frederick by a half game but is in the driver’s seat in that they play those two teams for the next six games, then finish with 10 games against the Southern Division’s second- and third-place teams.

Frederick is playing last-place Wilmington tonight and tomorrow, but it doesn’t get easier for them as they play first- or second-place teams the rest of the way, including eight games against Potomac, though the last five will be at Harry Grove.

On paper, Potomac’s schedule is a little easier than Frederick’s but just five of the next 17 games are at the Pfitz. Whatever “break” they get from playing last-place Carolina for three on June 10-13 is more than offset than four games against the first-place Myrtle Beach.

Which leads us to Wilmington, which could sneak up on everybody by simply splitting with Frederick, then making hay against the Southern Division’s also-rans while the rest of the Northern Division plays each other.

Stay tuned to this space as we track the stretch run.

May 312013
 

Potomac’s two-out knack for offense continued in the series finale, a 7-3 win over Salem.

After scoring six times with two down on Wednesday (in one inning no less), the P-Nats scored four times with two outs. Unlike the night before, both rallies came with two out and nobody on.

Cole Leonida scored the first one with his third home run of the season, a blast to the woods beyond left field that reclaimed the lead for Potomac at 2-1 in the second inning.

In the 7th, ahead again by just a run for the second time at 4-3, Potomac did it again, ruining the High-A debut of Salem’s Madison Younginer. The 22-year-old struck out the first two batters he faced, but couldn’t put away either Randolph Oduber or Billy Burns and walking both the Nos. 9 and 1 batters.

The steal has been a favorite weapon for manager Brian Daubach. It helps, of course, to have the horses (greyhounds?) to run it. Three times in the 7th, Daubach took off the reins (leash?) to put the pressure on, running the P-Nats league-leading stolen base total to 81.

Veteran UT Francisco Soriano singled in Oduber while Michael Taylor doubled in Burns and Soriano to cap the three-run rally and send Younginer to showers.

Also like the night before, the Potomac ‘pen got the job done when the starting pitching faltered.

Well, maybe not faltered, but fell short of the high standard that had been set. Coming into the game, Blake Schwartz had won four of six starts with each start seemingly better than the last, culminating in a two-hit, one-run, eight-inning gem versus first-place Lynchburg last Saturday.

Instead, Schwartz gave up more hits (7) than innings pitched (5⅔) for the first time this year, including just the second HR allowed in 56 innings. Thanks to Matt Grace, the damage would be limited to just three runs (also a season “worst”).

Grace retired seven of eight batters faced, issuing just a one-out walk in the 7th and striking out three to pick up the win, his third against no losses (though he has four blown saves).

Cameron Selik rebounded from his poor showing on Tuesday to set ‘em down in order in the 9th, fanning the first and last batters to nail it down for Potomac.

The win keeps pace with first-place Lynchburg, which won its fourth straight. The Hillcats come to Woodbridge this weekend for the final series between the two teams in the first half. Robbie Ray (3-2, 2.58) takes the hill in Game One against Lynchburg’s A.J. Holland (3-3, 3.47).

May 302013
 

The big Nats may have trouble coming back from deficits of more than two runs, but seven runs? No problem for the P-Nats.

Potomac rallied for six runs with two outs in the 5th, then took the lead with two runs in the 6th to turn a 7-0 deficit into a 8-7 lead. Three relievers combined for four and 2/3rds innings of relief to stave off Salem as Potomac held on for a 9-8 win.

Caleb Ramsey’s grand slam was the big bang in the fifth, a frame that began slowly. With one out, Billy Burns lined one into center and stole second while Randolph Oduber struck out, a gamble of sorts when you’re down seven runs (perhaps not with the Carolina League’s stolen-base leader). Michael Taylor ended the shutout with an RBI double to left and scored when Jason Martinson followed with a safety to center.

It looked like that would be it as Adrian Nieto ripped one to first that Salem’s David Renfroe got a glove on, but booted for his fifth error. Kevin Keyes followed with a high chopper that went for an infield single and loaded the bases. Given those two breaks, Caleb Ramsey made the most out of a 3-1 fastball, launching it over three levels of sponsorship signage into the parking lot behind right field for four runs on one swing.

In the 6th, Justin Miller, who made the first out of the 5th, redeemed himself with a leadoff double. After a Burns sacrifice, Oduber got his shot at redemption for making the second out of the 5th, a rising line drive that went into the woods behind left field for a two runs and an 8-7 lead.

Taylor and Martinson kept it going with a pair of walks, then executed a double steal that paid off as Adrian Nieto’s bid for a third Potomac homer fell 15 feet short, but deep enought for the reigning Carolina League Batter of the Week to stride home with the ninth P-Nat run.

The offensive onslaught was great, but what made it necessary shouldn’t be overlooked. For the second straight start, Taylor Hill gave up seven runs on 10 hits and didn’t make it out of the fifth inning. Against an offensive powerhouse like Lynchburg, that’s forgivable. Versus the league’s worst lineup? Not so much. As the P-Nats make their second turn through the Carolina League, this is something to watch for: players who dominated early but are now struggling as the proverbial word has gotten out.

The Potomac ‘pen has taken its fair share of abuse in this space, but last night they got the job done.

Greg Holt let in the two runs he inherited from Hill, but was otherwise quite effective: striking out four over two and 2/3rds with two hits and a walk allowed as he earned his second win of the season.

Rob Wort let in the final Salem run in the 8th with an adventurous inning as he walked a man with one out, picked him off, hit a batter, walked another, and gave up an RBI single before Keyes snared a sharp grounder for the inning’s third out, the tying run just 90 feet short.

The defense also helped the pitcher out in the 9th as Derek Self gave up a pair of singles that were erased by Nieto (caught stealing) and Martinson on a 6B-3 DP to end the game. It was Self’s fourth save in eight chances.

The win keeps pace with both Frederick and Lynchburg as the three teams remain just a game and a half apart in the Carolina League North. Blake Schwartz (4-1, 1.00) gets the ball for Potomac with Mike Augliera (4-1, 3.44) as his counterpart on the mound for Salem.

May 282013
 

For six and a third innings, the Potomac Nationals pitchers flirted with a no-hitter. Leading 3-0, the game seemed relatively secure. A single, walk, a fielder’s choice and a two-run double later, the focus rapidly shifted from the statistical anomaly to the more basic task of winning the game.

Matt Grace stranded the tying run at second in the 7th as the P-Nats rallied in the 8th to get some breathing room. Rob Wort mowed ‘em down 1-2-3 in the 9th to secure the 5-2 win that gave Potomac its third straight “W” and kept pace with the first-place duo of Lynchburg and Frederick in the Carolina League North.

It was the first start in Woodbridge for Sammy Solis since August 23, 2011 — a four-inning stint against Wilmington as Washington’s 2nd Round pick of the 2010 Draft was finishing up his first full professional season. Solis would pitch another four innings last night, this time while pitching his way back from Tommy John surgery in March 2012.

Like many “TJers,” Solis struggled with his command, racking up a lot of deep counts and walking three over his four innings. The velocity, however, was as advertised — consistently in the 91-93 range, occasionally touching 94 or 95. Unusually, his touch with the secondary stuff was quite good; the 11-5 curve breaking late and over and the changeup sneaking by batters with good separation from the heat.

Solis struck out four, including the the side in the 3rd, and left the game without a hit as the league-worst Salem offense onlt hit one ball solidly, which third baseman Cutter Dykstra snared in self-defense to end the first inning.

Potomac got on the board in the next half-inning with a sloppy first as Billy Burns, returning after a 12-day absence, “singled” and took second on the throw that hit him in the back prior to touching first base, then advanced third on Michael Taylor’s opposite-field single.

Following a Dykstra popup, Taylor was caught leaning towards second and Burns, who scampered home on a similar rundown in his previous game, couldn’t repeat the feat and was thrown out between third and home. Taylor, however, did move up to second and scored on Adrian Nieto’s two-out single.

Burns teamed up with No. 9 man Randolph Oduber in the 5th for the second and third P-Nats runs, with the Groovin’ Aruban walking and Burns dropping down an actual bunt single. The lineup bookends executed a double steal after a Taylor flyout and both scored on Dykstra’s two-run single to extend the Potomac lead to 3-0 after five.

David Fischer got the benefit of the offense, taking over for Solis in the 5th and turning in two hitless innings with two walks and an error before running into trouble in the 7th, letting up a single to end the no-hit bid, walking the next batter, and throwing a wild pitch to set up Salem’s Jose Garcia for a two-run double that sliced the margin from 3-0 to 3-2.

As aforementioned, Grace got the final out of the 7th and retired the side in 8th, getting an assist the hard way with a grounder up the middle that went off his leg and rolled on over to first baseman Kevin Keyes for the third and final out.

Potomac put it away in the bottom of the 8th as Keyes singled with one out, Adrian Sanchez walked with two outs, and Francisco Soriano tripled them home for the 5-2 edge that Wort secured with a pair of strikeouts for the save. The win went to Fischer while the hold went to Grace — the first of the season in each category for both relievers.

The series continues with A.J. Cole (1-2, 4.98) taking the hill tonight against Salem’s Kyle Stroup (2-3, 4.86).

May 172013
 

The offensive onslaught carried over from Wednesday as the Potomac Nationals closed out their seven-game homestand Thursday at 5-2 with a 7-4 win over the Wilmington Blue Rocks.

The P-Nats wasted no time getting things going. Kevin Keyes, who went 6-for-21 with eight walks during the week, blasted a two-out, two-run home run into the woods past the left field fence to erase an early 1-0 deficit in the first.

Two innings later, also with two outs, the linebacker first baseman drilled a single up the middle to send in Michael Taylor (again) and increase the lead to 3-1. Taylor walked in the first and been hit by a pitch in the third for a burst of five straight PAs reaching base.

In the fourth, Potomac demonstrated its newfound penchant for stringing together base hits as Adrian Nieto, Caleb Ramsey, and Adrian Sanchez each singled to load the bases while Justin Miller doubled in two to extend the lead to 5-2. Like Keyes, Miller enjoyed the home cooking with a 10-for-24 stretch with two doubles, two homers, and eight RBI for the week.

Meanwhile, Taylor Hill turned in a quality start with two runs allowed over six innings to earn his team-leading fourth win. However, three of the seven hits went for extra bases and it was the fourth start in which he gave up more hits than innings pitched — a bugaboo from last season when he allowed 161 in 139⅓ innings between Hagerstown and Potomac.

Christian Meza followed Hill and was charged with two runs on a double and two walks, with Adrian Nieto’s passed ball problems continuing as the backslow was charged with nos. 10 and 11, making the second of the two run scored in the Wilmington 7th unearned. He followed with a two-strikeout eighth.

Richie Mirowski set ‘em down 1-2-3 in the ninth for his second save of the season.

The win combined with a Lynchburg loss puts the P-Nats back into a tie for first place, percentage points behind thanks to two fewer contests played by the Hillcats (21-17, .553 vs. 22-18, .550) with Frederick just a half-game back at 21-18 in the Carolina League North.

Potomac takes to the road for nine games in 10 days with a trio of three-game series against Winston-Salem, Frederick and Lynchburg as they return to the Pfitz on Memorial Day for a seven-game homestand versus Salem and the Hillcats once again. Tonight, it’s RHP Blake Schwartz (3-1, 0.82) versus Ryan Buch (0-0, 4.91 at AA).

May 152013
 

For one inning the Potomac offense broke out of its funk, but the bullpen remains offbeat, giving up six runs in five innings in a 7-3 loss to Wilmington.

The bottom of the lineup did the bulk of the damage, as nos. 7-9 batters Adrian Sanchez, Randolph Oduber, and Wilmer Difo went back-to-back-to-back with singles to lead off the 5th, with Difo flashing some speed as he turned a would-be sacrifice into a bunt single.

Billy Burns sent in Sanchez with a sacrifice fly and Jason Martinson got the clutch double over the head of Blue Rocks CF Lane Adams to complete the three-run rally.

Rob Gilliam, making his first start of 2013, went the first four innings and allowed just one run on a home run by veteran Wilmington 1B Jared Schlehuber. He struck out five and allowed three hits total while walking two — a solid first outing. He left down 1-0.

Working on five days’ rest, Brian Dupra should have been much sharper. Instead he gave up consecutive singles to open the 5th. A botched bunt enabled Adrian Nieto to easily throw out the lead man at third and for Dupra to escape the inning without a run scored.

No such luck in the 6th as Dupra was unable to retire the four batters he faced, giving up three singles and a walk before being lifted. This was arguably at least two innings less than what was probably expected from him, given his usage this season as a long reliever and spot starter. He left with a 3-2 lead and the bases loaded.

Matt Grace was the second man in from the ‘pen and was also well-rested (five days). After getting a badly needed double play ball, which tied the game at 3-3, he served up a single to center that plated the go-ahead run. Like Dupra, his second inning of work was worse than the first. Unlike Dupra, he got two outs before letting up two singles and a two-run double that pushed the Blue Rocks advantage from 4-3 to 6-3.

Richie Mirowski repeated the pattern with a scoreless 8th and a run in the 9th as the leadoff man reached first on a strikeout that wasn’t caught and came around to score on two-out single for the game’s final run at 7-3.

The offense broke a 15-inning scoring drought with the three-run 5th but failed to score the rest of the way with just three baserunners over the last four frames.

The loss drops Potomac to 20-18 for the season and into third place in the Carolina League North, a game behind division-leading Lynchburg and a ½ game behind second-place Frederick.

RHP A.J. Cole (1-1, 3.65) takes the hill in Game Two of the three-game set, opposed by Wilmington RHP Spencer Patton (3-1, 1.88).

May 122013
 

The rain that stayed away on Friday came back on Saturday, just three outs before becoming an official game.

It was just moments after the Potomac turned a Winston-Salem no-hitter into a 4-1 lead by sending nine men to the plate and stringing together four straight two-out hits. Adrian Nieto got the rally started with a one-out double and took third when Kevin Keyes grounded to first.

Down 1-0, the hope then was to tie the game before rains came. After a two-run homer by Justin Miller, an infield single by Randolph Oduber and an RBI double by Billy Burns, it became a matter of “OK, let’s get back out there and get three outs to make this game official.”

Michael Taylor, however, would not “cooperate” by drawing a two-out walk. The team’s two fastest baserunners then showed as much with a double steal to give Cutter Dykstra a chance to push the lead to 6-1 with the inning’s sixth hit.

Alas, it did not come; instead, a deep line drive right to the Dash centerfielder that ended the frame. The Woodbridge nine had barely gotten on to field in the top of the 5th when the downpour started, going from lawn sprinkler to car wash in less than a couple minutes.

After 92 minutes, officials called it a night. The game will be continued at noon followed by a seven-inning game.

May 112013
 

For the third straight game, Potomac won in its final at-bat. This time, however, it was the reclamation of a lead lost and a swift finish as Jason Martinson led off the bottom of the 9th with a solo HR for a 5-4 win over the Winston-Salem Dash.

The blast, which was the Texan’s seventh, took Richie Mirowski off the hook and “earned” the reliever the dreaded blown-save-win as he gave up the lead with two-out, two-run shot to dead center off the bat of Chris Curley. It was the fourth home run Mirowski has surrendered in just 14⅓ innings.

Early on, this was an exercise in frustration for the opposing offenses. It’s tempting to call a 1-1 game a pitcher’s duel, but the combined 15 baserunners left on through the first five innings beg to differ.

Both A.J. Cole and the Dash’s Chris Bassitt got themselves into and out of jams. Cole walked three, hit a batter, and balked a baserunner but got the final batter out with the strikeout four innings out of five. The lone run he allowed was by no means “cheap,” as Kevan “Don’t Call Me Silent Bob” Smith led off the 4th with triple to the right-center gap and scored on a sacrifice fly.

Twice Bassitt let up back-to-back singles with two outs, but twice the P-Nats were unable to hound him for a third hit as Adrian Nieto tapped out to short in the 1st and Cutter Dykstra popped out with the bases loaded in the 4th.

Potomac needed a couple of miscues to score against Bassitt as Kevin Keyes stole third as part of a double steal with two out and chugged home with the run when toss to first on the dropped third strike was botched for an error.

Both starters were done after five, with Cole finishing his night with one run on five hits and striking out seven. Bassitt gave up seven hits, but just one unearned run with five K’s.

After leaving on nine runners through five, Michael Taylor ended that streak with a two-run home run off the left field foul pole to give Potomac a 3-1 lead. Colin Bates, who set ‘em down in order in the 6th, was touched for a run in the 7th as he was unable to strand a one-out triple, giving up a two-out double to plate the second Winston-Salem run.

Potomac got it back in the 8th as Francisco Soriano led off with a triple and came around to score after Billy Burns walked and stole second (no, I don’t have that on autofill, but I maybe I ought to). The double play taken away, Michael Taylor got the RBI on a fielder’s choice as Soriano sacmpered home with the fourth Potomac run.

Christian Meza, who had pitched a scoreless 8th following Bates to earn the hold, gave way to Mirowski in the 9th. The 24-year-old got the first two on a whiff and a grounder to first but issued a two-out walk that set up Curley for the game-tying blast.

With the win, Potomac improves to 18-16 but remains a game behind Frederick and percentage points behind Lynchburg in the Carolina League North. Weather permitting, game two of the four-game series will feature a matchup RHP Taylor Hill (3-1, 2.21) for the P-Nats and RHP Chris Beck (2-4, 1.50) for the Dash.

May 052013
 

Potomac scored in each of its first three turns at bat but couldn’t keep up with Myrtle Beach, as the Pelicans scored the last eight runs of the game to hand the P-Nats an 11-5 defeat.

Brian Dupra took the hill in a spot start created by Monday’s rainout, but fell victim to his own mistakes. With a little luck, one or none of the first three runs might not have scored.

Tip your cap to Myrtle Beach for making him pay for a two-out walk with a two-out double in the 1st. Gnash your teeth at the wild-pitch strikeout that put the leadoff man on in the 3rd. But give the Pelicans credit for stealing second to take away the double play, and exploiting the extra out with a two-run home run to the fourth batter of the inning.

At the time, neither mistake seemed critical. Three extra-base hits in the bottom of the 1st erased the 1-0 deficit as Michael Taylor doubled with one out, Jason Martinson tripled with two down, and Adrian Nieto plated Martinson with an opposite-field, ground-rule double that might have gone for an inside-the-park job had it not bounced out of play. Pelican RF Preston Beck dove and missed and was slow to get up and was eventually removed from the game, though three K’s in three AB’s might have been a factor as well.

Back-to-back two-out RBI singles by Billy Burns and Taylor (set up by Burns’s 13th SB) extended the lead to 4-1. Adrian Sanchez served up the fifth and final run with an opposite-field liner to right, which has become something of a trademark for the Venezuelan this season.

Potomac put two runners on in the 4th but it was the last true threat as starter Victor Payano stranded them and turned in two more scoreless for an ugly line of five runs on nine hits over six innings, but got the win nevertheless.

Dupra hit the wall in the 5th, giving up a single, walk, then a double and leaving with runners on second and third. Matt Grace was the first man out of the ‘pen but couldn’t strand either and was charged with three runs of his own over three innings on six hits and no walks.

Greg Holt followed Grace and retired four straight batters before giving up a single with one out in the 9th and was on the verge of finishing the night with two scoreless frames until Kellin Deglan took him deep for a two-run shot that capped off the Pelicans onslaught.

With the loss, Potomac falls to 14-15 and two games off the pace in the Northern Division of the Carolina League. Taylor Hill (3-1, 2.43) gets the start in this afternoon’s rubber match and a chance to win both the series and close out the homestand with a 5-2 mark. Myrtle Beach will send Jerad Eickhoff (2-2, 4.44) to stop him and go for win no. 18 in game no. 30.

May 042013
 

Don’t look now. But these P-Nats are starting to gel into something that might just be a contender.

Of course, that’s easy to think when, for a third straight night, the starting pitcher turns in a stellar outing and the offense breaks into double digits in both runs and hits.

It was A.J. Cole’s turn to shine as the 21-year-old struck out nine over six shutout innings. He walked none and allowed just four hits, retiring the leadoff man five times out six.

That one time the first batter wasn’t retired was a pool-cue single that skipped past Cole and Adrian Sanchez couldn’t scamper in and sling it over in time. Another single put runners on first and second, but Sanchez, who wasn’t really to blame for not getting the 80-foot dribbler, teamed up with Jason Martinson for the 4-6-3 DP to clip the Pelicans’ rally with Cole delivering the killshot with a strikeout.

Backup catcher Cole Leonida, who usually spells Adrian Nieto (the DH last night) behind the plate, made the case for more playing time with a three-run blast in the bottom of the second that started the P-Nats scoring binge.

It was also the first of three innings in which Potomac had multiple runners reach base, albeit with a little help. A hit batsmen in the 6th got the bases loaded for Randolph Oduber, who cashed in the second big chance as the Groovin’ Aruban drilled a three-run triple to right-center. In the 7th, a Sanchez and Leonida went back-to-back with RBI singles to take advantage when Caleb Ramsey reached on an error following a one-out single by Nieto.

Potomac would get their tenth run in the 8th when Myrtle Beach once again couldn’t quite execute (it should be noted that the Pelicans have just eight players that aren’t 22 or younger, a byproduct of the Rangers tendency towards HS players and IFAs, not to mention being Thirsty-Thursday-Night loaded with talent) as Michael Taylor scored on a wild pitch on a Nieto strikeout with runners on the corners.

Christian Meza followed Cole with two innings of relief, allowing an unearned run on a double that followed a missed catch as Sanchez attempted to complete a 6-4-3 double play without the baseball. Colin Bates finished out the game, giving up two unearned runs on a Ramsey error in the 9th.

The win evens Potomac at 14-14 for the season, one game behind Lynchburg (14-12) and Frederick (15-13) as the Carolina League remains bunched up like a cheap pair of und…er, tube socks with all eight teams within five games of one another.

Thanks to Monday’s rainout, Brian Dupra (1-2, 3.72 at Hagerstown, scoreless IP for Potomac on Wednesday) makes the spot start tonight. Victor Payano (1-2, 4.76) is his counterpart for Myrtle Beach.