Apr 092013
 

Photo Credit: Gary Dize (Potomac Nationals)

The good news is that the P-Nats scored six runs for the third straight game. The bad news is that wasn’t enough to stop them for suffering their third straight loss, as Salem edged Potomac 7-6 on Monday.

The bullpen wasn’t to blame for this one — Ben Hawkins and Richie Mirowski hosed the Sox for four and 2/3rds of scoreless relief… with a little help from Michael Taylor, who gunned down top prospect Deven Marrero from shallow centerfield to end the top of the 7th.

Instead, it was the struggles of starter Kylin Turnbull, who had difficulty locating his fastball and was touched for nine hits — five going for extra bases — over just four and a 1/3rd innings. The big blow came in the top of the second when he gave up singles to three of the first four batters he faced before surrendering a three-run shot to the No. 9 batter Felix Sanchez.

The Salem right fielder also figured in the first and last Potomac runs, unable to track down a wind-blown flyball off the bat of Kevin Keyes in the 2nd and dropping a drive to the warning track off the bat of Jason Martinson in the 8th.

Those miscues, however, were something of a wash as the P-Nats ran into two outs that minimized the damages in the 5th as the Red Sox played like a team that was up big (7-1) and used the P-Nats aggression against them.

Singles by Cutter Dykstra, Adrian Sanchez, and Randolph Oduber loaded the bases with one out (a strikeout by Caleb Ramsey). Billy Burns doubled to left to plate Dykstra and Sanchez but Oduber was gunned down for the second out, trying to score from first. Likewise, Taylor followed with a single to right that sent in Burns for the third run but ended the rally when the Sox catcher reversed a throw to the on-deck circle with a seed to second get Taylor for the third out.

Ramsey atoned for his whiff with a homer in the 7th while Martinson cashed in the Salem Sanchez’s error by scampering home on a wild pitch.

Adrian Nieto would lead off the 9th with a walk, giving way to pinch-runner Francisco Soriano but a Dykstra strikeout and a Sanchez GIDP ended the game.

With the loss, Potomac falls to 1-3 on the young season. Taylor Hill, who apparently was doing his side session as a relief appearance (unusual, but not unprecedented) on Friday, gets the start tonight against William Cuevas for Salem.

Apr 072013
 

wheelscameoffthebusFor six innings, things were looking real good for the Potomac Nationals. Taylor Jordan was dealing, retiring 10 batters in a row before Kevin Keyes made a kick save for an error in the top of the 4th. But back-to-back doubles with two out from Cutter Dykstra and Adrian Sanchez, plus a three-run rally in the next “ups” put Potomac ahead 5-0.

And then the wheels come off the bus in the 7th.

Christian Meza gave up a solo shot to the first batter he faced, ending a streak of 14 scoreless innings for Lynchburg. Then he allowed a single. And another single, then a two-run double. Four batters faced, none retired, three runs in.

Colin Bates was summoned to stop the bleeding, but the circling of the drain continued with an infield single, then an error on a sacrifice bunt to load the bases, then a walk to plate the fourth Hillcat run. Three batters faced, none retired, bases loaded.

Matt Grace became the third pitcher of the inning and for just a brief moment, looked like he was going to get the pitcher’s best friend — a double-play ball to Jason Martinson who stepped on second then fired to Keyes, but the inexperience of the newly converted 1B showed as he couldn’t keep his foot on the bag. Tie game at 5-5.

Grace struck out the next batter, but the Hillcats took advantage of the “extra” out to plate three more on a walk, an infield flare that Francisco Soriano turned an ankle getting to as it backspun in the grass between second and the mound, and a two-run single.

The fourteenth batter of the inning ended the misery with a grounder from Martinson to Blake Kelso, Soriano’s replacement at second.

Burns tripled to lead off the P-Nats response to the Lynchburg barrage, but stood there for the next three batters as the 10 m.p.h. breeze out to left gusted to 11 three times on whiffs by Michael Taylor, Martinson, and Keyes.

Seven of the 14 Potomac batting strikeouts came in the final three innings, killing a bases-loaded rally in the 8th and stranding another runner at third in the 9th, as Martinson tripled in hit-by-pitch Taylor for the sixth and final Potomac run.

It’s a Sunday matinee for the rubber match of the series as A.J. Cole takes the hill for the P-Nats against Mark Pope for the Hillcats.

Apr 062013
 

Ten men came to the plate in the Potomac second, which saw eight straight hits as Potomac crushed Lynchburg for a 12-1 win in the 2013 season opener.

If this were softball, beers were on Kevin Keyes as the big man was the sole P-Nat to not get at hit as the Woodbridge nine pounded out 16 hits total, with Cutter Dykstra and Randolph Oduber both going 3-for-5. Michael Taylor drove in three to lead the RBI column.

Jason Martinson drew three walks and got the hit parade started with an opposite-field home run in the bottom of the first. He narrowly missed a second big fly as his second-inning blast went off the wall for a double. He finished the night 2-for-4 with two walks (the box score is wrong).

Early on, it looked like Robbie Ray had picked up where he left off in 2012 — which, as most folks will remember, wasn’t good. An infield single up the middle and a botched sacrifice put the first two runners. The sole Hillcat run came in on the third batter on a hit & run play that went 6-3 in the books as the leadoff man beat the relay throw home to score the way from second.

Ray picked off the runner at second, which proved to be the key to escaping the inning with minimal damage as the next batter walked, and he gave up another single. A passed ball put runners on second and third with two out but Ray caught the No. 6 hitter David Rohm looking to end the threat.

That would be it for Lynchburg as Ray’s habit of settling down after a rough start also kicked in. The 21-year-old retired the next 10 batters in a row, the streak of 11 straight broken up by the third and final hit off him with one out in the 5th.

He finished with the one run (unearned), one walk, and five strikeouts — four to end the inning, three times looking as Ray flashed a much sharper breaking ball than last season. Before folks get too excited though, his command was still a little spotty, especially in the first frame. Still, after a disappointing finish in 2012, this was a great way to start 2013.

A trio of relievers followed Ray out of the ‘pen, beginning with Taylor Hill for one inning — perhaps a tipoff that Matt Grace is indeed still a starter — followed by Greg Holt for two and Richie Mirowski to close out the game. They combined for three scoreless innings and six strikeouts.

Taylor Jordan is slated to make his High-A debut tonight in Game 2, as will his counterpart for Lynchburg, A.J. Holland.

Aug 262012
 

It wasn’t pretty, but it counts just the same.

Potomac scored three times in the rain with two outs in the bottom of the sixth before the umpires ordered the tarp drawn. Forty-seven minutes later they called it to give Potomac its fifth straight win, 3-0.

The rally began with a leadoff walk to Matt Skole, and after a Kevin Keyes strikeout and a Steve Souza Jr. flyout, it looked like yet another runner would be stranded. With the wind blowing in, Jason Martinson launched a drive to center that Frederick centerfielder Glynn Davis couldn’t hold onto, plating Skole with a triple. A wild pitch sent in the second run, sailed shot that banged off the backstop like Wednesday night. Jeff Howell homered to center to finish the binge.

Matt Swynenberg got the win despite putting a baserunner (or two or three) on in every inning, issuing four walks and giving up five hits. The secret to stranding eight Frederick runners was two, um, key double plays that ended the first and fourth innings — the latter started Swynenberg himself for a 1-6-3 mark in the scorebook. Ten of the 18 outs he recorded came on grounders as the 23-year-old won his sixth game and was credited with his second complete game.

With Wilmington idle, Potomac crept to within two games of first place and can tie Frederick for second place with a win tonight. Robbie Ray (4-11, 4.52) is scheduled to pitch against Tim Berry (4-5, 4.52)

Aug 242012
 

With six strong innings from top pitching prospect Alex Meyer, the Potomac Nationals took their third straight win with a 7-5 decision over the Carolina Mudcats, setting up a weekend showdown with the first-place Frederick Keys.

Potomac scored in each of the first four innings, highlighted by Steven Souza Jr.’s fourth home run, a light-tower shot that comfortably cleared the 400-foot marker over the centerfield wall with two outs in the top of the first. It was 23-year-old’s 21st roundtripper between Low-A and High-A. He would total two walks and two stolen bases and kept his cool when Carolina starting pitcher Michael Goodnight, who did not have one, plunked him in his third plate appearance.

Meyer turned in a quality start for the sixth time in seven starts, rebounding from a six-run shellacking last Friday night in Salem. The lone Mudcat run came in the third as Todd Hankins doubled to center, then was sent in on a sacrifice hit and a sacrifice fly.

With Nathan Karns likely on the shelf for the rest of the season, the towering 22-y.o. has become the staff ace. Like Karns, he has shown that he doesn’t necessarily need to blow guys away to be effective, as his first strikeout did not come until the 18th batter he faced with one out in the 5th — though he would need it and another whiff to escape a bases-loaded jam in the 5th, then stranded two more in the 6th with his third and final K.

Potomac scored its seventh run in the 7th after a Blake Kelso single, the second Souza walk, and a Ricky Hague single to left that was hit so sharply that the fleet-footed Kelso could only advance one base. Jason Martinson fell behind quickly on a pair of curves, but didn’t bite on the 0-2 fastball on the outside corner. Instead of offering something in the dirt, Carolina southpaw J.D. Reichenbach went back to the bender, but Martinson was not fooled this time and looped it into left for the RBI and a 7-1 lead.

After two shutout frames from Aaron Barrett, Rob Wort took the mound for what should have been an easy inning in the 9th. Instead, Carolina did not roll over and made him work. After following a leadoff walk with a strikeout, the slender righty gave up four straight hits — triple to right-center, double to left, a two-run homer off the second tier of signs in right field, then a single to right.

Wort would catch the next batter looking then get the cleanup hitter, 24-y.o. veteran Anthony Gallas, to fly out to shallow left to finally put the game away.

As aforementioned, one of the two teams that Potomac needs to catch and pass to make the playoffs comes to town for three this weekend. Frederick leads Potomac by three, thus the P-Nats need no less than two out of three to have a chance at postseason play and probably need to sweep, given that they will have to face second-place Wilmington on the road as well as these Mudcats for another four as part of the their seven-game road trip to finish out the 2012 season.

Tonight, the P-Nats will send Rob Gilliam (0-1, 5.48) out to the mound against Frederick’s Kevin Gausman (0-0, 12.00), the No. 1 draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles this past June.

Aug 232012
 

After falling behind 7-3 after three and a half innings, the Potomac Nationals took advantage of four errors and four wild pitches to score the last five runs in a 9-8 win in extra innings.

The comeback began in the 8th, Potomac down 8-4, with a Stephen King double to the right-center gap that might have been a triple. Adrian Sanchez followed with a slow tapper to second that got past the first baseman for a hit and an error and the fifth Potomac run. After Sanchez got caught stealing, Ricky Hague blistered a ball to short that Carolina shortstop Ronny Rodriguez decided to backhand for the second error of the inning. Matt Skole ripped a single to right, which the the rightfielder booted for the third error of the inning and the second P-Nat run, as Hague scored all the way from first.

In the 9th, after hitting the leadoff batter (Steve Souza Jr.) then striking out the next two batters, a two out walk drawn by J.P. Ramirez set up King to deliver another double, with pinch-runner Francisco Soriano easily scoring from first to tie the game at 8-8.

The comeback was completed in the 10th as Skole lofted his second opposite-field double to left, took third on a groundout, and scampered home when Fabio Martinez hit the backstop — the one without the glove behind home plate — as the wild pitch thudded with a report loud enough to be heard over the roar of the crowd.

The improbable comeback masked what was an otherwise awful debut by Taylor Hill, who gave up seven runs on eight hits and two walks over three and 2/3rds innings, including three doubles and a long home run by Rodriguez. Three of the runs were unearned, with two errors by Skole and a couple of misplays by Souza in his fifth game as a centerfielder as a pro, but the balls were hit hard because they were up and/or over the plate.

Ryan Demmin, Adam Carr, and Neil Holland combined for six and a 1/3rd innings of one-run relief, with Demmin surrendering the run (a home run by Anthony Gallas), Carr dispatching the Mudcats on six pitches in the 7th, and Holland striking out five over the last three innings for his sixth “W” of the season.

The win keeps Potomac’s playoff hopes alive, as they trail first-place Wilmington by three and a 1/2 games, second-place Frederick by three games (Lynchburg is also ahead of them, but in the event of a double-half winner, it’s the second-place second-half team that gets the berth).

The series concludes tonight with Alex Meyer (2-2, 2.35) taking the hill against Carolina’s Michael Goodnight (2-12, 4.73).

Aug 142012
 

For eight innings, the Potomac lumber was in a slumber but awoke in the ninth for two runs. They needed three, and lost 4-3 to the first-place Wilmington Blue Rocks.

Nathan Karns was tagged with his second straight loss, giving up three runs on eight hits and three walks over six innings. And it could have been worse. Twice Wilmington ran into outs at home plate, the first coming in the 2nd inning when Nick Van Stratten attempted to score from second on groundout to short, the second when Van Stratten attempted to score from first on a one-out double to right-center in the 4th.

Karns had but one clean inning, and it didn’t come until the 5th. Much will be made of the 10 strikeouts, but more should be made of how hittable Karns was. Command and control are not the same thing, but poor command will often lead to fat fastballs and that’s what the Blue Rocks were feasting on last night.

Like too many pink drinks on Ladies Night, the Potomac offense made a big ugly look good. For seven innings, the aptly surnamed Brooks Pounders (6’4″, 270, 5.43ERA) held the P-Nats to just four hits and one unearned run, walking none and striking out five. The portly starboarder retired the last nine batters he faced, but did not appear to have overpowering stuff.

Matt Swynenberg followed Karns from the bullpen and turned in three solid innings of relief, with one run on two hits, no walks and three strikeouts. The lone mistake was a dropped third strike to lead off the 8th. A steal and a two-out single plated the extra runner for Wilmington’s fourth run and it turned out to be the difference.

Anthony Rendon started the 9th-inning rally with one out with a grounder steered between first and second with two strikes. Kevin Keyes followed suit with Rendon going to third. Ricky Hague sent Rendon in with a single to left. After a Jason Martinson strikeout, Jeff Howell drove in Keyes with a single to center and snuck into second on the relay throw trying to get Hague at third.

Stephen King, however, couldn’t cash in either runner and struck out to end the game.

The loss drops Potomac to 3½ games back in the Carolina League North. The P-Nats and Blue Rocks are scheduled to play tonight with Rob Gilliam (0-1, 7.04) facing off against Leondy Perez (3-4, 4.26).

Aug 122012
 

What a difference a day makes.

The P-Nats bats came to life last night. The defense made the game closer than it should have been. But the pitching carried the game.

It took a couple of innings, but once the hitters figured out the soft-tossing Winston-Salem righthander, the offense came to life. The P-Nats struck for a pair of runs in third, highlighted by singles by Blake Kelso and Francisco Soriano and an Adrian Sanchez double that the Dash defense misplayed into a triple with both poor route running and a missed cutoff man.

Potomac hounded Chris Bassitt for another pair of runs in the fourth on four hits, as J.P. Ramirez fisted a one-out single over the shortstop to start the rally, took third on an errant pickoff throw, and scored as Kelso, Erick Fernandez, and Soriano connected for consecutive two-out singles.

Meanwhile, southpaw Matt Grace retired the first nine batter he faced, getting a little help from the defense as Jason Martinson erased a hit batsman in the 2nd with a 6-3 DP. On the second pass through the lineup, though, it was a tougher go — self-inflicted with a pair of walks in the 4th with a single sandwiched in between, but Grace erased the first free pass with a pickoff and Martinson helped again with a nifty 6-5 force at third on a grounder to his right.

Grace wasn’t so fortunate in the 5th as a leadoff walk and a double to left after a strikeout put two runners in scoring position. Grace got another strikeout and was on the verge of stranding another pair of runners when Stephen King botched the would-be groundout to let in two runs. He would put on another pair of runners in the 6th but worked out of the jam with another couple of K’s, for a season-high of eight strikeouts.

Potomac would score single runs in the 6th and 7th innings, with an error on a Fernandez grounder to third after a Kelso double in the 6th and a triple to right by Anthony Rendon that was hit so hard that the Dash outfielder, Brandon Short, a triple-A guy on rehab, got spun around and fell trying to track ti down.

Winston-Salem would make this a ballgame again with a two-run blast to right-center by veteran 1B/DH Dan Black off reliever Neil Holland in the 8th inning.

In the 9th, Rob Wort did his best imitation of Chad Cordero by loading the bases on a pair of doubles and a walk, but this 23-year-old can get the K when he needs it and struck out the side, including the final batter on a 3-2 count with two outs to bring his team-leading total to 81.

With the win, Potomac keeps pace with the rest of the Carolina League’s North Division as all four teams won on Saturday night. They remain 1½ games back.

The Dash and P-Nats conclude the series and the regular-season slate — Winston-Salem has won 14 of 19, and all 10 in North Carolina — with a matchup between Alex Meyer (2-0, 0.78) and Erik Johnson (1-2, 2.13).

Aug 112012
 

Sometimes the box score doesn’t tell the full story, but for this one, it did.

The Potomac Nationals were one-hit last night by three Winston-Salem Dash pitchers in a 6-0 shutout. The one hit? A no-doubt-about-it double to the right-center gap by Kevin Keyes to lead off the second inning.

That may be some consolation to Scott Snodgress, who won’t wonder if he could have had a no-hitter, but for the P-Nats the lack of offense against a 23-year-old southpaw with mediocre stuff is something to worry about.

More troubling: Robbie Ray continues to struggle in the second half. Since the All-Star break, the 20-year-old has gone 1-5 with a 6.75 ERA and a 1.77 WHIP. He avoided the usual pattern of getting hit hard early then settling in, in favor of the the more worrisome: success early, then a series of diminishing returns (single runs in the 2nd and 3rd, followed by a four-run 4th) that ended his night after just four innings.

The final line: 4IP, 6R, 4ER, BB, 5K, HR (a moonshot to dead center by the Dash backstop, not-Silent-Bob Kevan Smith).

Ryan Demmin turned in three and 2/3rds scoreless innings of relief with two walks and three strikeouts followed by four outs by Aaron Barrett to lower his ERA with Potomac to 1.04 in five appearances.

Anthony Rendon’s home debut was also a disappointment: a weak grounder to 1st, a popup to shallow RF that was dropped for an error, a lineout to short (albeit a laser), and caught looking on strikes. In the field, he made a couple of decent plays but also bounced one to first for an error, that perhaps a more experienced 1B would have caught.

Despite the loss, Potomac remains in the playoff hunt at 1½ games behind both Wilmington and Frederick and a ½ game behind first-half winner Lynchburg. Matt Grace (6-11, 5.93) and Chris Bassitt (3-2, 3.41) are slated to rematch last Sunday’s contest.

Aug 032012
 

Kevin Keyes gets congrats after his three-run HR in the 8th

After dropping the continuation from Wednesday by a 5-3 count in 10 innings, a quartet of Nationals pitchers combined for a five-hit, 8-0 shutout of the Salem Red Sox to claim sole possession of first place in the Carolina League’s Northern Division.

Nathan Karns got the win, his eighth, with five scoreless innings, which lowered his ERA from 1.84 to 1.70. But at the risk of sounding spoiled, this was not his best outing. This is not the Salem squad that finished the first half 41-28 — no Jackie Bradley Jr. (1.002 OPS), no Travis Shaw (.957).

The unofficial pitch count was 81 pitches, 45 for strikes. Three walks and a hit batsmen over five innings meant just one 1-2-3 inning and more than a couple of prolonged at-bats. The six strikeouts were nice, but Karns could have set down eight or nine against this lineup in five frames (he struck out 11 in seven in June).

Offensively, Potomac got started early for the second straight game. Three straight hits to go up 1-0, a sacrifice fly to go up 2-0, then another single to make it 3-0. With a little hesitation from J.P. Ramirez, it might have been 4-0 as the first ended with Stephen King slicing a double to right field. The two would get it done in the fourth with King ripping a double down the left field line, an error helping Ramirez to score.

As the pic above shows, the P-Nats busted the game wide open in the 8th as Adrian Sanchez singled, Ricky Hague walked, and Kevin Keyes deposited a fat fastball to left for home run #16 and RBIs 56, 57, and 58 (both team-best). Jason Martinson singled and scored on Blake Kelso’s RBI double to finish the four-run barrage.

Aaron Barrett followed Karns in the 6th and struck out the first two batters en route to his two goose eggs. Joe Testa worked around a single and a walk in the 8th to put up another zero. Rob Wort gave up a leadoff double to start the ninth then set down the next three, finishing with the strikeout to complete the team shutout.

With the win, Potomac evens its record at 20-20, a frac12; game better than Frederick and Wilmington and a full game better than Lynchburg. Salem did take two-of-three for the first opponent to win a series at the Pfitz since April. Tonight, it’s the start of a six-games-in-seven-nights stretch against the current co-leaders of the Southern Division, the Winston-Salem Dash and the Myrtle Beach. Rob Gilliam (0-0, 1.69) makes his second start.