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.

May 062012

Strong pitching from start to finish led the Potomac Nationals to a 3-1 win on Sunday afternoon.

Matt Grace turned in a season-high six and a 1/3rd innings, scattering seven hits in the field, with an eighth going deep over the LF wall in the 4th innings for the lone Wilmington run. The southpaw also set down a stretch of seven straight before leaving with one out in the 7th and the bases loaded, clinging to a 2-1 lead.

Enter Rob Wort, arguably the team’s most valuable reliever right now. With zero margin for error, the lean righthanded struck out the first batter he faced and got a popup to end the inning. In the 8th, he struck out the side to increase his total to 24 in 14⅓ innings, but surprisingly it was his first hold of the ’12 campaign.

Offensively, this was not one of Potomac’s finest efforts — just three runs on ten hits. But the first run and the first hit came off the bat of the hulking left fielder, Kevin Keyes, who scorched a line about 12′ above the 400-foot sign in center field to lead off the third.

Potomac would get the second run two innings later after an Adrian Sanchez double and Beau Seabury single set up a 1st-and-3rd situation with nobody out. Randolph Oduber tapped one down the third base line but Wilmington’s Cheslor Cuthbert decided to go for the outs instead of the play at the plate.

The insurance run came in the last of the 8th, as Blake Kelso legged out a double and took third on Ricky Hague’s single to right. It looked like the Blue Rocks were going to escape for just a brief moment when Oduber bounced a grounder again, this time to second, but instead threw it away. Everybody came in to score, but the umpires ruled the ball had gone dead, and sent back two Bloxom and Oduber to third and second.

Zach Walters was intentionally walked to load the bases with one out and Michael Taylor whiffed and Kevin Keyes flew out to center to strand the sixth and seventh batters of the game.

Cameron Selik worked around a one-out single to earn his third save, slinging dropping a 2-2 changeup slider on Jake Kuebler for a swinging strikeout to end the game.

The loss gives Potomac the series win at 2-1 and finished the 10-game homestand at 6-4. Tomorrow, however, is their last secheduled off day until the All-Star break (June 18-20), with Potomac slated to make up three April rainouts for 44 games over 41 days, as they embark on a six-game road trip to visit the Salem Red Sox and (finally) the Carolina Mudcats (formerly the Kinston Indians).

Apr 292012

There’s a fascination with velocity when it comes to pitching, as nearly inquiry here includes some variation of “how fast does he throw?”

On Sunday, Matt Swynenberg reminded us that sometimes keeping batters off-balance is just as important.

The 23-year-old needed just 94 pitches to retire 27 of 30 batters in tossing a three-hit, one-run complete game as the P-Nats took the rubber game of the series by a 2-1 margin.

Swynenberg got 12 batters out on the ground and 12 out in the air, but seven of those came to the opposite field or on a popup. Essentially, the only three balls that were truly well-struck produced the run and the three hits. From the second inning to the ninth, Swynenberg retired 19 straight batters before walking the #9 batter Josh Richmond to lead off the 9th.

He picked the right time to pitch so well, as the Pelican’s Roman Mendez was nearly as good. Like Swynenberg, he got weak contact with a half-dozen or so popups. Unlike Swynenberg, he got it done more with the strikeout — nine total, with Justin Bloxom as his favorite victim (0-for-3, 3Ks). He would finish with both Potomac runs allowed on four hits and three walks.

Myrtle Beach drew first blood in the top of the 2nd, as Yefry Castillo singled in Brett Nicholas with one, who had doubled to lead off the inning, but Castillo hesitated on Kevin Keyes’ throw to the plate, and backup backstop Beau Seabury made him pay for the mistake, drifting from the plate forward and firing to Francisco Soriano who relayed to Sean Nicol to nail him for the inning’s second out.

Potomac would tie the game on two ugly singles to shallow right field in the bottom of the 3rd, with Sean Nicol scoring on Blake Kelso’s two-out flare.

The gamewinner came without a base hit, as Soriano led off with a walk, took second on a wild pitch, third on a sacrifice bunt by Kelso, and scored on a deep flyball from Zach Walters.

The ten-game homestand continues with a four-game set against Winston-Salem, with Kyle Winters (1-2, 5.24) rematching against the Dash’s Ryan Buch (1-1, 4.76).

Apr 152012

Until Wade Moore appeared to pull up lame to end the 8th, the best that could be said was that nobody got hurt.

With runs in seven of the nine innings, Lynchburg dismantled Potomac by a 13-2 count this afternoon. The Atlanta farmhands plowed the P-Nats pitchers for 21 20 hits, 10 of which were for extra-bases.

If the Mets hate Willie Harris, than Evan Gattis can’t be much more loved by Potomac — not after a 5-for-6 game, with a double, a three-homer, and six RBIs. In six games against the P-Nats this year, the 25-year-old catcher is 11-for-22 with two HR and nine RBI.

Truth be told (no, tell us lies) — the team was horrific on defense. That “2” in the “E” column? Could have been three, as one fielder ran past a ground ball without touching it. In fact, after the game ended, just one error had been charged but was later changed from “1” to “2”

Not that it matters in the big scheme of things. Even with stellar fielding, this would have been a blowout. One cannot readily dismiss seven doubles, a triple, and two home runs and play the game of woulda-coulda-shoulda.

The loss drops Potomac to 3-6 for the season and ends the brief homestand 1-2. It’s a quick trip to Frederick for three games before returning on Thursday for a four-game set against Salem.

Sep 112011

For the second straight afternoon game, the Potomac Nationals scored six times in the bottom of the eighth. Last time, it secured the second-half title. This time, it forced a deciding Game Five in the Carolina League’s Northern Division Series.

After 16 innings of offensive futility — four baserunners last night, five through the first seven innings today — the rally started as one might expect: with a whimper, not a bang. Eury Perez chopped an infield single to the 5/6 hole and beat it out. After unsuccessfully trying to sacrifice, Francisco Soriano worked a walk to push Perez to second. Kobernus likewise “failed” to lay one down, but paid the price with a hit-by-pitch to his wrist to load the bases with nobody out. He was replaced by Sean Nicol.

Do I need to tell you who was up next?

With the infield drawn in, the Potomac right fielder bounced one up the middle to give Potomac the 2-1 lead. Justin Bloxom followed with the third sacrifice attempt, and this time, the cleanup hitter got the job done, moving up Nicol and Destin Hood. Brian Peacock got the intentional pass to reload the bases.

After Sandy Leon, who had the audacity to throw out three of the four runners to try to steal against him, struck out for the second out of the inning, Frederick still looked like they might recover and have a chance to tie, down just 2-1.

Instead, Jose Lozada took out a two-run policy with a single to center and Zach Walters attached a similar rider with a triple over Keys right-fielder for a total of four insurance runs and a 6-1 lead.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without some stellar pitching prior to the eighth. Adam Olbrychowski let in the one Frederick run on six hits, but walked just one and struck out five in his five and a 1/3rd innings of work. Neil Holland was the first man out of the ‘pen and while he did hit a batter, he got a critical strikeout and some help from Keys manager Orlando Gomez, who hasn’t quite grasped the concept that running on Leon is not a good idea, as he sent Miguel Abreu on a steal of third with two outs to end the threat.

Joe Testa took the hill in the 7th and got two quick outs before giving up an infield hit by Dale Mollenhauer, the leadoff lefty that was his raison d’être. Unlike Gomez, manager Matt Lecroy wasn’t about to play with fire and let Testa face Jonathan Schoop, calling instead upon Cameron Selik.

“Win or go home today” Selik tweeted and he backed it up by inducing Schoop to fly out to end the 7th and working around a hit and an error in the 8th. As the pitcher of record for the 8th-inning rally, he got the win for today’s game.

Hector Nelo got three ground outs in the 9th, but, as usual, made it less than automatic by giving up a one-out double and balking the runner over to third.

The series resumes tomorrow night in Frederick. is listing Mitchell Clegg and Nick Haughian as the probables, but the smart money is on a rematch of the Game One starters Sammy Solis Paul Demny and Jacob Petit.

Sep 042011

Kinston’s three-run rally with two outs in the second inning proved to be too much for Potomac to overcome, as they dropped the first game of the doubleheader by a 5-3 tally.

Evan Bronson got the start but was not sharp this afternoon, allowing a long leadoff double to start the game and then misplaying a sacrifice bunt to set up runners on the corners with nobody out. After a popup to the three-hole batter, Adam Abraham, it appeared for just a moment that he would clean up his own mess, like the good pitchers do and like he’s done before.

Instead, he would walk the next two batters to give Kinston a 1-0 lead.

Bronson would get a liner to second and a strikeout to end the first, then the same sequence again to the first two batters of the second inning. And again, it looked like the worst had passed.

But the one thing that Bronson can’t control is the insistence by the Nationals of playing Justin Bloxom at third, and it was Bloxom’s 37th error in his 76th game at the position that started the Kinston rally in the second. Yes, you can put the blame on Bronson for failing to buckle down to the next two batters, who singled and homered, but it’s human nature to lose focus when things go awry and hard to ignore when a preventable problem keeps recurring.

Potomac would respond in its half of the 3rd as Cutter Dykstra singled and Eury Perez was safe on a sacrifice attempt to set up runners on first and second. Francisco Soriano’s subsequent bunt attempt was popped up and for a brief moment it appeared that Kinston’s Toru Murata had pulled a fast one by intentionally allowing the ball to drop and firing to second to attempt the 1-4-3 DP.

To his credit, Soriano ran out the play and it saved the P-Nats from an embarrassing moment, if not the umpires. Dykstra strayed from second but retreated to second *after* the throw to second came and went. With the force removed from Dykstra and Soriano beating the relay to first, the only out was the force on Perez. Had Murata thrown to third, he might have gotten away with the gambit and gotten the double play.

Instead, Jose Lozada ripped a first-pitch fastball (when will the Carolina League ever learn?) down the left field line for a two-run double and cut the Kinston lead in half, 4-2.

Bronson worked around threats in the 3rd and 4th innings before working a 1-2-3 fifth. He would throw away a pickoff move that sent Kinston outfielder Delvi Cid all the way around from first to put the Indians up, 5-2. He was lifted after his fourth and final walk for Neil Holland, who stranded the runner with the help of nifty 7-3 double play by Soriano, who has been pressed into OF duty with the shortage of OFs since J.P. Ramirez and J.R. Higley were placed on the DL.

Unfortunately, Kinston’s Murata also settled down to retire seven of the next eight batters, including a double play to end the fifth, before giving up another big hit to Lozada, a solo shot to right field in the 6th. Steven Souza would single two batters later, but he would be the final baserunner as the Kinston closer Preston Guilmet came on in the 7th and final inning to set down the P-Nats in order for his league-leading 35th save

Prior commitments made for a short afternoon, but in the nightcap, Potomac fell again 2-1, giving the Kinston Indians the second-half division title.

For the second straight day, Wilmington beat Frederick to keep Potomac mathematically alive, but it will require another Frederick loss and a win to break the streak. This wouldn’t be the 2011 season if the weather weren’t a part of the narrative, and yes, there is rain in the forecast for tomorrow.