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.

Jun 102012
 

Sometimes rehabs giveth and sometimes they taketh — and sometimes it’s both.

Rehabbing Chris Marrero singled twice (one flare, one line drive) and drove in one but two grooved fastballs (read: no-doubt-about-it HRs) by rehabbing Ryan Mattheus tied and lost the game in the 8th as the Potomac Nationals fell 3-2 in the final home game of the first half.

Potomac opened the game with a leadoff single by Blake Kelso, who stole second (#19) an third (#20) to set up Marrero’s RBI grounder to 3B, which was momentarily bobbled to prevent a play at the plate.

Salem would tie the game at 1-1 as reserve catcher Carson Blair doubled in 19-year-old Xander Bogaerts off starter Trevor Holder, who gave up five walks in five inning.

Holder was in a position to win, thanks J.P. Ramirez’s leading off the 5th with a single to center, taking second on an error, third on Erick Fernandez’s sacrifice bunt, and sliding in under a poor throw as Kelso tapped a high grounder to short.

Jimmy Barthmaier followed Holder with two shaky innings, rescued by a diving stop and tag of third and toss across to first DP by Kelso to end the 6th and Salem’s Jackie Bradley Jr. baserunning miscue that doubled him off to end the 7th.

Despite Mattheus’s poor showing, the P-Nats still had a chance to win as Marrero and Bloxom, who both went 2-for-4, reached base with one out but neither Zach Walters (strikeout) nor Michael Taylor (flyout) could push either runner across.

After another 1-2-3 outing by Rob Wort, Potomac’s 7-8-9 batters followed suit.

Combined with another win by Lynchburg, the elimination number for the P-Nats is now just four with seven games to play — the next four on the road against the Winston-Salem Dash, which leads the Carolina league with 37 wins, 20 at their home venue of BB&T park, where the P-Nats were swept in late April.

Jun 032012
 

It's time to see if the P-Nats can take this show on the road.

With eight masterful innings by Robbie Ray, Potomac completed a three-game sweep of Lynchburg with an 8-0 shutout.

The southpaw allowed just two hits and a walk over eight innings while striking out nine, flirting with a no-hitter for two and 1/3rd innings before Randolph Oduber got turned around on a flyball that fell in for a triple.

Ray retired the next seven just as easily, then gave up a clean double to base of the LF wall to quash any what-if ramblings about a no-hitter.

Working fast, keeping the ball low, and using both sides of the plate, Ray was in command from start to finish — and did it against one of the better offenses in the Carolina League.

Meanwhile, the offense picked up where it left off the night before, making the Hillcats pay for each and every mistake (and even overcoming a couple of their own), using the long ball once again. An error, sacrifice, and another error on a double-steal plated the first Potomac run while Zach Walters went deep (again) for his third HR in five at-bats to give Potomac a 3-0 lead after one.

Back-to-back singles by Kevin Keyes and Randolph Oduber opened up the 2nd inning, but a botched bunt by Blake Kelso erased Keyes at third for the first out. Manager Brian Rupp ordered another double steal but Oduber was gunned down trying to advance on grounder to short for the second out.

But strange things happen in A-ball, such as Rick Hague following those two miscues by lofting a high flyball to RF that seemed destined to be caught or fall foul by the Potomac bullpen. Instead, it somehow went out on a clear and not-too-windy Sunday for another home run, and a 6-0 Potomac lead.

Hague registered five RBI for the game, a season-high for any P-Nat thus far this season, while going 2-for-4 and scoring twice. He drove in the seventh run with an RBI single in the 4th and beat out a double-play ball for the eighth final Potomac tally in the 6th.

The win sliced the Hillcats’ lead to just 2½ games over the Blue Rocks and 3½ games over the P-Nats.

As caption suggests, winning at the Pfitz has not been the team’s problem this year, as their 18 home wins (in 29 games) leads the Carolina League. But on the road? Just six (out of 24).

If Potomac is going to continue this win streak of four games, and make a run at the division title, they’re going to have to play this way in Maryland and in the Carolinas over the next two weeks. And they’re going to need some help. That’s because they have no more games left against Lynchburg (4-8 against) or Wilmington (2-4 against) and just one more home series, a five-game tilt next weekend against Salem.

Next up: a five-game set in Frederick that begins tomorrow, and includes a doubleheader on Tuesday that is likely to be Nathan Karns’s High-A debut. Matt Grace (2-6, 6.02) is slated the start in the series opener, opposed by the Keys’ Tyler Wilson (1-1, 3.00).

May 202012
 

Justin Bloxom and Randolph Oduber continue to terrorize the Mudcats, as both went deep in a 4-2 Potomac win over Carolina.

Potomac got on the board in the bottom of the 1st for the fifth time in the last seven games, posting a three-spot. Francisco Soriano drew a one-out walk and stole second and third, waltzing home with the first run when Carolina’s Tyler Cannon overshot the third baseman. Bloxom connected two batters later for his first HR batting righthanded to drive in the second run

Michael Taylor followed with a double to deep right-center. After a Kevin Keyes walk, Oduber drove in the third Potomac run. Three innings later Oduber cleared the LF fence as Bloxom did. The two combined for four HR’s and eight hits for the series, scoring five runs and driving in five runs.

Ryan Demmin took his second turn in the rotation and struggled with his control. His stuff was there — a nice mix of 90s heat combined with low-80s breaking balls — but the command was spotty as the southpaw walked three and struck out five. But with some help from his defense (a nifty 5-C-3 DP by Blake Kelso in the 2nd), he stranded four baserunners and gutted his way through four scoreless innings.

Shane McCatty was the first man out of the ‘pen and wasn’t much better than his previous outing. He walked three and struck out but also gave up a HR to Cleveland’s #13 prospect Ronny Rodriguez, unable to get his fastball past him despite multiple warnings that were hit hard, far, and foul down the LF line. He would get the rulebook win despite giving up a run in his fourth straight appearance, pitching the 5th and part of the 6th.

Joe Testa, another reliever that’s been struggling, stranded the two runners he inherited from McCatty to end the 6th. But got into trouble after giving up a leadoff double to start the 7th and then firing a seed on a sacrifice attempt that handcuffed an inexperienced Soriano at 1B as the throw glanced off Soriano’s wrist, scoring the second Carolina run. He would finish the inning on defense, but eventually left the game.

David Freitas, who was getting the usual rest for an everyday catcher (day game after a night game) showed little signs of rust as he returned to the position he played as a schoolboy and deftly handled all four chances he had over the last two innings, as sidewinding Neil Holland closed out the game with just a one-out single allowed in the 9th for his first save of the season.

After getting swept last weekend, Potomac took two of three from the Mudcats finished the homestand with a 5-2 mark, keeping pace with both Lynchburg and Wilmington. With less than a month left, the six-game roadtrip that starts tomorrow will make or break the P-Nats’ chances for the first half.

It starts with a three-game series against the second-place Blue Rocks, a team that Potomac took two of three from at home two weeks ago. After a previously misreported (*ahem*) unnoticed off day on Thursday, it’s a weekend set against the Hillcats — a team that (rather handily) beat Potomac five times in six April meetings.