Jun 082014
 

With a nine-run 5th, Wilmington turned a pitcher’s duel into a little bit of payback for a 10-4 win to prevent a series sweep by Potomac.

Potomac had taken four out of five and three straight games, winning in their final at-bat on Thursday, 3-2, walking off on Friday with five runs in the bottom of the 9th, 11-10 and dominating them on Saturday night for a 6-1 win.

The two teams matched zeroes through the first four innings, with Potomac managing a pair of singles in the 1st and Wilmington collecting two-out singles in the 2nd and 4th inning, the damage minimized by P-Nats southpaw Matthew Spann getting the leadoff batter in every inning.

Until the 5th, that is, when Wilmington loaded the bases on a single to right, a bunt single, and a walk. For a brief moment, when Spann got a grounder to 3rd that Oscar Tejeda threw home to get the inning’s first out, it looked like Spann might clean up the mess with just one more grounder.

Instead, two more singles and a double chased the 23.y.o. southpaw. A week ago, Wander Suero was brought in to save the day and delivered a game-saving performance. This Sunday, no hubo suerte for Suero as he let in two inherited runners and gave up four runs of his own on five hits, three of which left the yard.

Potomac prevented the shutout with a pair of runs in the 6th, as Randolph Oduber doubled in one run, and Will Piwnica-Worms singled in the other. They got two more in the 7th on a Pedro Severino double followed by a Tony Renda triple and a Stephen Perez sacrifice fly.

A six-run comeback was not in the cards as the last seven batters following Perez went down in order for the 10-4 final. The magic number remains at six as the Hillcats rallied from 11-3 after four innings to win 12-11 and remain within three games with a week left in the first half.

Potomac hits the road for a brief three-game road trip against the Carolina Mudcats before returning on Thursday for a five-game set against Winston-Salem.

Jun 012014
 

Perhaps it’s fitting that the only pitcher that was any good this afternoon got the win as Potomac outlasted Salem, 12-11 for their fourth straight win.

In a game where the two teams combined for 23 runs and 31 hits, only Wander Suero was anywhere close to effective as a pitcher with one run allowed on three hits over three and 2/3rds innings of relief. Sporting a 10.05/5.97/1.81 pitcher’s line in six previous appearances, you could say Suero’s performance was rather unexpected.

The two starting pitchers were both chased in the 5th, giving up 12 runs and 14 hits combined (surprisingly, no home runs) while walking seven. Potomac’s Ian Dickson opened the game with a four-pitch walk and was in a 2-0 hole within two batters after Salem’s Ryan Dent singled and UVA product Reid Gragnani tripled.

He would retire the next seven batters in a row, giving hope that perhaps it was just the proverbial “one bad inning.”

Nope.

Dent, who went 5-for-6 on the afternoon, struck again for a double then Dickson loaded the bases with a walk and hit batsmen, then gave up another three-run extra-base hit, this time to journeyman backstop Carson Blair, who doubled to center to clear the bases and turn what had been a 5-3 lead for Potomac into 6-5 deficit.

On the other side of the scorebook, Salem’s Luis Diaz wasn’t much better. Staked to a 3-0 lead before he took the mound, he gave up one run in the first and four in the second, including a three-run triple to Tony Renda. Though he would come just one out of possibly qualifying for a win — Salem was leading 7-5 when he was lifted — it would become academic when the Salem firemen brought gasoline instead of water to put out the fire.

Potomac put the game away with three straight crooked numbers in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings, highlighted by homers by Cole Leonida and Justin Miller in the 7th to take the lead for good at 10-8.

A pair of unearned runs in the 8th, which extended the P-Nat lead proved to be critical as Derek Self became the latest victim of the GBI curse, dinged for three runs on five hits in the 9th over an inning and a third total. Because Potomac was only leading 10-8 when he arrived with two outs in the top of the 8th, he still qualified for the save, his third of the season.

The two teams wrap up the four-game series tomorrow night. Potomac shoots for the sweep with RHP John Simms (0-3, 4.50) on the hill, while Salem looks to stop its five-game slide and return to .500 with RHP Pat Light (1-2, 5.06) getting the ball.

PENNANT RACE UPDATE:
Lynchburg, which leads the Carolina League North, also won to remain a ½-game ahead of Potomac and 2½ ahead of Wilmington, who will host Potomac on Tuesday through Thursday, then come to the Pfitz for three more this coming weekend. The Hillcats will not face another Northern divisional opponent the rest of the first half but will play six against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, who lead the Southern Division by 10½ games over Salem.

Apr 282014
 

Potomac rallied from a 4-0 deficit and scored in each of the final five innings for a 6-5 walkoff win, their third straight of the homestand and fifth in a row against Lynchburg.

Doug Fister started for the first MLB rehab outing of the season by a pitcher in Potomac but struggled with his command early, racking up deep counts to the first three batters. Two of them would reach: one by an error — Stephen Perez’s team-leading 6th — another by a single before Fister would strike out his first batter looking.

Veteran minor-leaguer Kevin Ahrens cashed in the error with an RBI single to left before Fister would forget the outs and throw over to 1st on a tapper back to mound. The P-Nats defense let him down again as a passed ball by Pedro Severino scored the second Lynchburg run.

Fister settled down in the second and third innings, facing the mininum as double-play ball erased the third hit he gave up in the 2nd.

Things got hairy again in the 4th as a high-hopper to the left side was ruled an error when Adrian Sanchez couldn’t convert it into an out and the Hillcats got to Fister for three straight hits, though the first (Tyler Tewell) gave himself up by straying too far from 1B and the Potomac defense made him pay for his boneheadedness for the second straight game.

Fister rolled another double play ball to finish his day with four innings pitched, three runs allowed (all unearned) on six hits but no walks and three K’s on 59 pitches, 42 of which were strikes. The 31-y.o. former Tiger is expected to make another rehab start on Friday before returning to Washington next week.

As noted in the previous LNIW, Brett Mooneyham came on in relief instead of starting but seemed to respond well to the lower-pressure situation, though he gave up runs in his first and last innings of work. He walked a season-low of just one batter (though he hit two) and earned his second win.

This, of course, was courtesy of the offense, which scored in each of the last five innings and tallied 13 hits total; three apiece by Perez and Severino and another pair of singles by Adrian Sanchez.

Lynchburg would committ a critical balk in the 9th to set up the walkoff win, the miscue moving up Khayyan Norfork to second with nobody out after the Potomac second baseman led off with a single. The Hillcats elected to intentionally walk Oscar Tejeda to pitch to Brandon Miller and got the strikeout but Shawn Pleffner singled to center to drive in Norfork and give the P-Nats (and Mooneyham) the win.

Dakota Bacus (1-1, 2.08) gets the start tonight against Jarrett Miller (0-2, 3.86) in Game 3 of the four-game series.

Jun 092013
 

It takes more than a little luck to win ten games straight, but the luck ran out on Potomac in a 7-6 loss to Frederick this afternoon.

Truth be told, both teams did their best to give this one away. The box score will say just four errors, but sloppy defense was the name of the game in the final three innings as a 1-0 game turned into a 7-6 battle of who could field less.

Potomac starter Taylor Hill got the no-decision despite tossing six shutout innings, allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out five for the game. He turned the game over to Colin Bates in the 7th, and while a 1-0 game is by no means a gimme, it didn’t take long for folks to wonder if maybe Hill might have been given the hook one inning too soon.

Frederick put on the first two men with a double and a single to set up first and third. A tapper back to the mound looked like the break Bates was looking for, as he fired over to Cutter Dykstra to catch the man at third leaning but dropped the ball for an error in the rundown, following the tag while trying for a second out, which allowed the original man at first to advance to third.

A controversial steal (looked like the runner overslid second and was tagged) took away the double-play setup and then the next batter hit one to Dykstra, who committed a second error to load up the bases. Bates induced a popup for the inning’s second out, but if you’re a fan of the game, you already know that the Keys would take advantage of the two extra chances.

A two-out walk tied the game at 1-1. The leak sprung with a two-run single by Jason Esposito, who had came off the bench in the first when Jerome Pena got tossed for arguing a called third strike, giving Frederick a 3-1 lead.

The levee broke with a three-run shot by Brenden Webb, who had entered the game in the fourth when Nicky Delmonico got tossed for arguing a called third strike. The big fly pushed the Keys lead to 6-1.

Ordinarily, have two of the opponents’ starters ejected might be a good thing, but perhaps the P-Nats might have wished the umps were more mature patient, as the replacements combined to go 2-for-5 with a walk and five RBI.

Potomac got single runs in the 7th and 8th innings, earning the first one with a Michael Taylor triple in the 7th followed by an RBI groundout by Jason Martinson, but getting a gift run in the 8th with a two-out error that extended the frame and allowed Potomac within striking distance at 7-3 after eight innings.

Another error in the 9th and some poor glovesmanship led to three more unearned runs in the 9th, but the equalizer never made it into scoring position as Billy Burns, batting righthanded, rolled one to short for the game’s final out.

The loss keeps the Potomac magic number to clinch at six with eight games to play. Frederick is in second place, three games back and Lynchburg, with a doubleheader split today, is in third place at four games back.

The P-Nats finish on the road, beginning with a three-game set in Zebulon, followed five in Frederick as the first half winds down next Sunday.

Jun 032013
 

Rehabbing major leaguer Jayson Werth clubbed two three-run home runs to lead Potomac to its fifth straight win, 10-6, and complete the sweep of divisional rival Lynchburg.

The six runs driven in, however, masked another poor showing from A.J. Cole, who got the win despite allowing runs in each of the first three innings and four overall. The 21-year-old gave up four runs total on six hits, including a pair of home runs.

To his credit, he walked none and struck out eight. The problem is that when the Hillcats connected, there was little in-between — a loud out or a long drive, as just three of the 17 outs he recorded came on the ground.

Offensively, the Potomac lineup continues to improve as they continue to show patience (eight walks) while still delivering hits when they’re needed (5-for-12 with RISP). Like Friday night, the first inning was emblematic of this balance.

Billy Burns and Werth both drew walks while Michael Taylor singled to load the bases. Jason Martinson refused to take the bait of a steady diet of breaking pitches (the word is out) and drove in the first run with the inning’s third walk. Kevin Keyes followed with a two-run single to left to push the early lead to 3-0.

Patience would also play a part in both the Werth home runs. Francisco Soriano and Burns both walked with two outs in the 4th to set up the first big fly, a shot over the Budweiser sign in right-center (pictured). In the 8th, Soriano walked again and Billy Burns beat out an infield hit, then the two bookends trotted home ahead of Werth’s second shot, a first-pitch fastball deposited just short of the scoreboard in left field, turning a 7-6 lead into the 10-6 final outcome.

Potomac heads to Southern Division-leading Myrtle Beach for the next four games before returning for their final home series of the first half, a weekend set against the current second-place Frederick Keys.

May 132013
 

The Potomac Nationals picked up where they left off on Saturday night and rolled to a 7-1 victory in the completion from Saturday night. Then they did it again in the 7-inning game that followed with a 7-2 win to extend their streak to five games and hold onto a share of first place in the Carolina League north.

Tyler Herron took the mound and tossed three scoreless to get the win in the completion, walking one and striking out four. Between Herron and Taylor Hill’s effort the night before, the game was well in hand but Kevin Keyes removed all doubt with a three-run HR off the LF foul pole. It was also the third time in the game Potomac had hit safely back-to-back-to-back with two outs.

In the second game, Blake Schwartz walked the first two batters he faced then threw away the ball on a pickoff attempt. He rolled a grounder to send in one run but got the next two outs to escape the jam with minimal damage, just one run.

His counterpart, Jason Van Skike, was just as wild (or squeezed, depending on your bias ;-) as he walked three of the first four batters he faced. Then the P-Nats started their station-to-station offense, connecting for three straight singles to cash in the three base on balls and give Schwartz a lead to work with.

The 23-y.o. Minnesotan walked the first batter of the 2nd, and for a brief moment, it looked like this could be a long afternoon — even with the shortened contest.

Then Schwartz, who is most definitely a flyball pitcher thus far for Potomac, found his groove. Changing speeds, he kept the Winston-Salem lineup off balance and retired 11 straight without the ball touching the ground — including three strikeouts and five flyouts to CF Michael Taylor.

The Dash’s no. 9 batter, .220-batting David Herbek, ended the no-hit bid with a line-drive single to left-center. He would also be the final Winston-Salem baserunner.

That’s because Schwartz strung together another streak of outs, beginning with a groundout to second to end the 5th and a strikeout to finish the 7th and earn the complete-game one-hitter. He walked three and struck out five for his third Potomac win.

As aforementioned, the win keeps pace with first-place Lynchburg, which leads Potomac in percentage points .559 to .556. The two teams have two remaining series against each other — May 24-26 in Lynchburg and May 31-June 2 in Woodbridge.

Tonight, the P-Nats shoot for the four-game sweep with LHP Robbie Ray (3-1, 2.08) taking the hill versus RHP Bryan Blough (1-4, 6.94).

Apr 212013
 

Adrian Nieto’s flare to shallow left with two outs in the 8th plated two to break a 1-1 tie and help the P-Nats return to .500 with a 3-1 win over Frederick.

Three Potomac pitchers combined for 15 strikeouts, though they also walked six. Starter Robbie Ray went six-plus innings allowing one run on two hits, with four walks and ten strikeouts — four of them looking. He was working with slightly lower velocity, but his command (the four free passes not withstanding) was significantly better as he worked with well with the fastball, curve, and change.

Indeed, the “plus” was the one time Ray did not retire a leadoff batter in seven innings. Matt Grace, the first man out of the Potomac ‘pen, was greeted with by Frederick’s Travis Adair with a single that first-year first baseman Kevin Keyes couldn’t snare and which pushed the runner Grace inherited to third.

Though it won’t show up in the box score, Billy Burns snagged the next batter’s liner on the run for a sacrifice fly that tied things up at 1-1. Grace stranded his runner with a groundout and the first of his four K’s over two innings.

Potomac got on the board first in the fourth with a near repeat of yesterday’s game one, leading off with a single and trotting home on Michael Taylor double as the 22-year-old again waited on a curve and served it down the left field line for an RBI double.

The gamewinner came in dramatic, almost bipolar fashion in the last if the 8th for what we like to call a “sportswriter’s win.” Pinch-hitter Caleb Ramsey led off with a walk and was pushed to second on a picture-perfect bunt by Burns that went justpast the pitcher and died on the grass before the second baseman, who could see it coming… but couldn’t stop it.

An errant pickoff throw took away the need for Taylor to bunt, and instead he walked to load the bases with nobody out. Cutter Dykstra flew out to shallow right, then Jason Martinson, who had two infield hits on a 2-for-3 afternoon, struck out. But before folks could lament the missed opportunity, Nieto saved the day — none too late after striking four times in his last six at-bats.

Richie Mirowski came on in the top of the 9th to close things out and issued a two-out walk but got pinch-hitter Brenden Webb to ground out to short to end it.

It’s a swing down 95 to Zebulon and Myrtle Beach this week for the 8-8 Potomac squad, as they play four against the Mudcats and three against the Pelicans before returning home to face the same two teams for the same number of games next week.

Apr 082013
 

The light of day didn’t change the horror of the night before as the Potomac bullpen imploded again for an 11-6 loss to Lynchburg.

Seven unanswered runs — three in the 8th, four in the 9th — was the black mark on the report card and the scorebook, with Derek Self bearing the brunt of the beating with four runs charged on three hits, including a home run in the ninth sandwiched between two walks. Greg Holt was also victimized by the big fly in the final frame after striking out the first batter he faced.

To make matters worse, the Hillcats pitchers weren’t much better. They walked eleven batters, doing their part for the concession sales to stretch this game to 3 hours and 36 minutes.

The difference was that they were able to get the double play ball (three of ‘em) and work around their mistakes as the Potomac hitters were held to a 2-for-15 mark with RISP. Keeping the ball in the yard — one vs. three — also made a wee bit of difference.

Billy Burns and Jason Martinson continue to wreak havoc from the leadoff and No. 3 spots in the lineup, with Burns reaching base four times out of five plate appearances and Martinson going 2-for-3 with a home run and two RBI, and also drew a walk and stole a base. Conversely, Michael Taylor and Kevin Keyes — the No. 2 and No. 4 batters — have struggled mightily, a 3-for-26 combined with nine strikeouts over the first three games.

It’s early, of course, but that kind of uneven production in top half of the lineup will become much more noticeable once the P-Nats face better pitching.

Uneven is also the word to describe the season debut of A.J. Cole. The lean righthander struck out the side in the first but then was ambushed for no-doubt-about-it blast to center on a first-pitch fastball by Lynchburg cleanup man Robby Hefflinger. Cole then went away from the heat and walked the next batter then stumbled to give up two more runs in the second frame.

Cole righted himself with three strong innings in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th but a third look by the middle-of-the-order Hillcats produced a pair of doubles and another run. He was lifted with one out in the 6th after surrendering the inning’s third hit. His final line: 5⅓ innings, seven hits, four runs (all earned), one walk, seven strikeouts.

With the loss, Potomac falls to 1-2 on the season with the Salem Red Sox coming to town for the next three. Kylin Turnbull is slated to pitch tonight, but there’s a little intrigue as the tall southpaw is the only pitcher on the active roster that hasn’t pitched yet, perhaps indicating that a roster move (or two) will make way for tomorrow night’s starter.

Aug 122012
 

It would be tempting to pin this one entirely on the bullpen, but it would be letting the offense off the hook.

For the second time in three games, Winston-Salem shut out Potomac, this time by a 7-0 count. The P-Nats managed just five hits and drew just one (1) walk to put three (3) baserunners into scoring position. They stranded five baserunners.

Perhaps that’s not so bad, considering that for five and 2/3rds innings, Dash pitcher Erik Johnson had a no-hitter, which was broken up when veteran utilityman Francisco Soriano served up a clean, line-drive single to center.

But after back-to-back singles to open the 7th, Potomac couldn’t do any more damage against the White Sox 2011 2nd round draft pick, who wriggled out of the 1st-and-2nd-no-out jam with a strikeout and a double-play ball.

Alex Meyer suffered his first Carolina League loss, giving up a single run over six innings on four hits and no walks with seven strikeouts. His lone mistake: A leadoff triple by Michael Earley that Meyer couldn’t strand at third, getting the first out to a drawn-in infield but giving up the run on a sacrifice fly to medium right field.

As aforementioned, the firemen came out of the ‘pen with gas instead of water, as Adam Carr gave up back-to-back HRs to open the 7th and five straight hits total before being lifted for Joe Testa, who stranded one of two inherited runners then gave up two of his own on three hits in the 8th. Within the space of roughly 20 minutes, a 1-0 pitcher’s duel was transformed into another rout.

With the loss, Potomac finished 5-15 against the leading contender for the 2012 Mills Cup, which includes 0-10 at BB&T stadium. They are now 2½ games behind first-place Wilmington, which comes to town for three games starting tomorrow night and finishing on Wednesday afternoon.

Jun 242012
 

Folks are champing at the bit for the next wave to come to Potomac. This afternoon, Nathan Karns may have just reminded folks to appreciate what has come here so far.

The 24-year-old allowed just five baserunners over eight innings, racking up 11 strikeouts — career highs in both categories — as the Potomac Nationals pounded the Wilmington Blue Rocks, 7-1.

This was Karns’s fourth start since his promotion from Hagerstown on June 4 and the progression has rather quick all things considered: from seven runs over one and 2/3rds innings to two runs over four and 2/3rds to six and 2/3rds shutout innings to one run over eight innings today. Is his next start going to be a complete-game shutout? Probably not, but he’s shown enough that it might not be too optimistic to expect another quality start.

That’s because Karns showed that he can do what good pitchers do: make in-game adjustments. After weathering two walks and what was ruled an infield single in the 2nd, Karns bore down and got the groundouts he needed to turn what could have been a big inning into just a single run.

Then he found his groove.

After getting out of the second with minimal damage, Karns retired the side in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th innings, striking out five out nine and 11 straight overall before giving up a long double to center. He then retired another eight in a row before issuing a two-out walk (his third) in the 8th.

Everyone wants to know how hard a given pitcher is throwing, but from my perch, the improvement I’m seeing from Karns is that he’s gotten more separation from the heat to his breaking stuff, especially his changeup. Seemed like at least half the Ks came on batters that were WAY AHEAD of his offering.

Offensively, Potomac did its best imitation of Winston-Salem by scoring in each of the first four innings, highlighted Kevin Keyes’s opposite-field blast in the second that turned a 2-1 game into a 4-1 game. Like two nights before, there’s some reason to be concerned as the P-Nats left 12 on and went just 3-for-16 with RISP, but perhaps that’s just nitpicking.

With the win, Potomac improves to 3-1 in the second half. Game two of the four-game series will feature Adam Olbrychowski (2-6, 5.47) versus Yordano Ventura (3-5, 3.10) tomorrow night at 7:05 p.m.