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. MiLB.com 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.

Aug 152011
 

It’s not quite the rookie wall, but Cameron Selik may be hitting it.

The 23-year-old flirted with perfection for one turn through the lineup plus two batters before giving up a walk. OK, no problem, right?

Wrong.

A double over the head of Eury Perez in center broke up both the no-hitter and the shutout, and tied the game at 1-1. A home run to right put the Pelicans up 3-1. A triple to left-center, then a double to right-center and Selik’s day was done.

Maybe it’s day games that don’t agree with Cameron, or perhaps the Pfitz itself — his ERA is nearly 1½ runs lower at night, 2½ lower on the road. But my gut says that as his first full (long) professional season as a starter, he’s hitting a rough patch that affects a lot of pitchers when they pitch deeper into the summer than they ever have before.

Of course, it doesn’t help that Selik was facing a team chock-full of lowball hitters and was following a pitcher with a similar repertoire. His pitches may have had a little less life on them, but they were down in the zone.

The starters-turned-relievers that followed Selik did an admirable job to keep the team within striking distance, as Mitchell Clegg stranded two runners for Selik, then retired five straight before Myrtle Beach’s 5-6-7 batters (all went 2-for-4) repeated their feats with three straight singles. Trevor Holder did likewise for Clegg, then retired three straight but was able to work around a leadoff double in the 8th. The two combined for four and 1/3rd innings, with one run allowed on four hits.

I call this out because that kind of effort only gets mentioned when the hitters can make the comeback, and lately, that seems to be too tall an order for the Potomac nine. Take away two errors by the newest Pelican, Andrew Clark, and it’s just one base runner over the middle third of the game, a two-out walk to Steve Souza.

Even after Jose Lozada’s leadoff HR in the 7th, the offense just couldn’t get it going — a hit batsmen and a single set up runners on first and second for Jeff Kobernus, who then flied out weakly to right and the ordinarily “money man” Destin Hood popped up to the catcher.

The way the game ended was almost emblematic of the struggle: a two-out single, then a pickoff at first.

The 5-2 loss was a missed chance to gain ground on Frederick, while Lynchburg was rained out of its finale with Wilmington, reducing the Potomac lead to 5½ games.

The P-Nats embark on a quick three-game roadtrip to Kinston before returning home for a six-games-in-seven days homestand against Winston-Salem and Wilmington.

Jul 312011
 

The good news is that the Potomac Nationals figured out a way to beat the Frederick Keys. After losing 6-2 last night and 4-0 on Friday, this afternoon’s 5-2 win over Frederick prevented a three-game sweep and kept the P-Nats within striking distance for the second-half title.

The bad news is that they’re going to have to do it with Danny Rosenbaum. Or at least, they should have to do without him.

That’s because the 23-year-old has shown that he’s ready for the next level. After a rocky first inning — two runs on three hits and a walk — Rosenbaum did more than just settle down. He no-hit the Keys for the next seven innings, allowing just two baserunners (hit by pitch in the 3rd, walk in the 4th) while finishing with a season-high 11 strikeouts.

The curve has been an unreliable weapon for Rosenbaum in 2011, but this afternoon, he had it working. Seven of the 11Ks were called third strikes, including veterans with AA experience like Miguel Abreu and Dale Mollenhauer. Considering that this is the fourth straight start where he’s fanned seven or more while going eight, nine, six and eight innings, it’s both safe and fair to say that he has earned the chance to test his mettle at the next level.

Potomac would erase the 2-0 Frederick lead in the 2nd with three runs on three hits, with a two-run shot by Sandy Leon tying the game and Francisco Soriano’s two-out, bases-loaded walk scoring the go-ahead run.

The five-run output would seem to indicate an improvement from the night before, but the P-Nats were only slightly better with runners in scoring position: 2-for-10 vs. 2-for-12 and actually left on one more baserunner. It’s tempting to chalk that up to walks because they played a part in the three-run 2nd, but the Keys pitchers actually walked two fewer today than yesterday.

Potomac would strand five base runners from the 3rd to the 6th inning before breaking through in the 7th. Destin Hood stroked an opposite field single to right and stole second. After Justin Bloxom flew out, Steve Souza tapped to the mound and Hood got caught in a rundown between second and third. Souza aggressively took second to set up Sandy Leon for another RBI chance and the backstop delivered with a single to right to extend the lead to 4-2.

Jose Lozada doubled and came around to score in the bottom of the 8th when Hood redeemed his baserunning gaffe with an RBI single to center for the fifth and final Potomac run. Hector Nelo came on to pitch the 9th, allowing a one-out single but getting the three outs necessary for his 14th save.

With the win, Potomac returns to a three-game deficit behind Frederick with a 21-15 mark in the second half. They return to action on Tuesday against the Salem Red Sox, with newly acquired SS Zach Walters expected to join the team.

UPDATE: A reliable source tells me that Rosenbaum has been promoted to Harrisburg, swapping places with Erik Davis on the Senators roster. Will have a separate post when the move is officially announced.

Jun 122011
 

This could become a habit.

With a steady offensive attack — 10 hits, baserunners in six of eight innings, and just six runners stranded — the Potomac Nationals prevailed by a 5-2 count this afternoon, sweeping the Salem Red Sox for their fourth straight win.

With the first-place Myrtle Beach Pelicans the next team to visit as the P-Nats enter game eight of a 14-game homestand, we’ll soon see how much this is actual progress and how much this has been a function of merely facing an also-ran.

Paul Demny won his first home start in four tries, pitching five and 2/3rds innings, surrendering both Salem runs on five hits, three walks and five strikeouts. Unfortunately, one of those hits was a monster solo shot that hit the top of the scoreboard for his 10th home run allowed, tied for the most among Carolina League pitchers.

For better or worse, the hit parade was clustered with the Nos. 6-8 batters Sandy Leon (2-for-3), J.R. Higley, and Justino Cuevas (both 3-for-4). For folks looking for signs of progress, six of the ten hits and two of the four RBI came with two outs. Potomac would score single runs in four straight innings from the third to the sixth to overcome a (*surprise*) 1-0 first-inning deficit and then again in the eighth for the insurance run.

The P-Nat ‘pen did its best to keep the game interesting. Dean Weaver was greeted with a hard single to center with two outs and a runner on in the sixth, but got out of the inning with no further damage. He would then put on two runners in the seventh before Marcos Frias would come on with two outs in the seventh to get a flyball to center. Frias would give up two hits to the first three batters of the eighth before striking out the last two he faced. Rob Wort would put two runners on via the plunk (just wild) but got the three outs he needed to earn the save.

Combined, the three relievers would put on seven runners of their own and strand eight altogether. Unlike the two-out hitting, this smells more like luck, the kind that sandlot players would bark things like “I’m surprised you’re not walking funny with that horseshoe up your [hind quarters].”

Tom Gorzelanny is scheduled to make a rehab appearance tomorrow, with Cameron Selik (the displaced starter) most likely the first reliever to pitch against the Southern Division-leading Myrtle Beach Pelicans, who will send Justin Grimm to the mound, hoping for a very, very long outing as they come off a Sunday afternoon/evening game that is still in progress as of this writing (bottom of the 20th) in Kinston, NC.

May 302011
 

In the standings, Sunday was the same as Saturday with two more losses for Potomac to Lynchburg, 3-2 and 5-2. Offensively, it was just 12 hits in 14 innings. But the pitching and defense was markedly better — just one crooked number and one error versus five and three the night before.

Maybe those are the little things that might not add up to a hill of beans. But this is our hill. And these are our beans. (Sorry, couldn’t resist).

With the first half a lost cause, it’s time to start looking for the things that have improved.

Take Cameron Selik, for example. In his first home start, he got knocked around for nine runs and ten hits. The pitches were up in the zone, hard, flat and fast. Yesterday afternoon, the pitches were down and he’s begun to command his slider, pounding it inside under the right-handed batters hands. Few hitters can handle that pitch in that spot, fewer can do much with it.

Jeff Kobernus had a breakout day, going 5-for-7 on the afternoon with a double and two stolen bases, including third bases. With the assault of flyballs of late, it’s sometimes hard to notice how good he is on defense… until someone else plays second. Maybe it was just one day, but we’ll take it.

Steve Souza drew four walks. Yes, one of them was intentional, but for a guy that has struck out 62 times in 47 games, that kind of patience is good to see. He’s still a project on defense, particularly on when to defer on popups, but has leveraged his size and athleticism very quickly. You have to see him nightly to notice the faults because on some nights he looks like he’s been there all along.

Unfortunately, Souza’s presence at first has forced Justin Bloxom to play out of position at third. The positive that can be drawn from this is that his troubles on defense have not followed him on offense, as so often happens. Bloxom went 2-for-4 in the first game to raise his average to .231 in 22 games, with a .270 mark in the last 10 games.

In the second game, Evan Bronson survived a tough second inning (three runs, three hits, a walk) retiring seven of eight after a two-out single in the third before surrendering a long home run to turn what might have been a quality start into something more mediocre. But it just might have been good enough to earn another start, as the P-Nats are going to need a sixth man in the rotation this week with the back-to-back doubleheaders this weekend.

For today, it’s back to the top of the rotation with Danny Rosenbaum on the bump in Winston-Salem, attempting to stop an eight-game slide as the P-Nats take their final road trip of the first half to North Carolina four days and Delaware for three before returning for the long-anticipated 14-game homestand from June 6 to June 19.

May 152011
 

On paper, this looked like it was going to be a blowout. Wilmington’s Jake Ordorizzi was coming off a 13-K outing against the first-place Salem Red Sox, Potomac’s Mitchell Clegg two starts removed from an 11-run shellacking against third-place Winston Salem.

Instead, Odorizzi suffered his worst outing and Clegg posted his best as the Potomac Nationals once again prevailed 5-4, this time walking off in the bottom of the 9th.

Make no mistake: Clegg was not dominant. Three of the five hits he gave up were no-doubt doubles and he only struck out two over his five and a 1/3rd innings. But he got the outs he needed, including two double plays and had more outs on the ground than in the air, which is progress for a pitcher that has a tendency to leave his pitches up in the zone.

Meanwhile, the duo of Destin Hood and Eury Perez were nearly unstoppable. Both went 4-for-4 with seven total bases, accounting for eight of the 11 Potomac hits. Hood would drive in three runs while Perez would score two runs, including the gamewinner. But more on that a little later.

After six straight games with an error, the P-Nats finally put a zero in the “E” column with the infielders racking up eight assists and turning two double plays, highlighted by Francisco Soriano knocking down a grounder behind the second-base bag and gunning down the runner to save a run.

Josh Smoker and Marcos Frias — both recent starters-turned-relievers — were the first two to follow Clegg on the mound. Each had mixed results. Smoker, who was hitting 92 on the gun, stranded his inherited runner in the sixth but walked the first two batters in the seventh. Frias let in one of those walks in the seventh, but retired the last five batters he faced.

With a slim 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the eighth, Destin Hood drove the first pitch of the eighth deep into the trees beyond the left field for a 4-2 lead. Though the next three batters went down in order, with P-Nat closer Pat Lehman warming in the ‘pen, it looked like the game was over.

Though he had warmed up the night before, Lehman hadn’t pitched since last Wednesday and the Blue Rocks were able to take advantage of the rust for a two-out double and single that tied the game at 4-4.

After a J.R. Higley strikeout and a warning-track flyout by Soriano, Perez got his fourth hit of the game with a single to left field for a chance to avoid extra innings. Wilmington reliever Manauris Baez knew it, too, as he easily threw to first as often as he threw to the plate against the next batter, Jeff Kobernus.

While he was able to hold Perez at first, Baez made the fatal error of giving the speedster a 3-2, two-out jump and Perez took full advantage, taking off when Baez’s motion was toward home and going into the proverbial fifth gear when he saw the ball Kobernus hit clear the shortstop’s leap and float into left-center field.

Stevie Wonder could see that this was not going to be a close play as the crowd roared when Perez kicked into the proverbial fifth gear, gliding past third and sliding home with the game- and series-winning run.

The win knocked Wilmington out of first, and put Potomac at .400 for the year with a 14-21 mark. They’re back on the road again with four against the new first-place team, Frederick, then three against the last-place Lynchburg Hillcats before returning to Woodbridge next Monday for a six-games-in-seven-days homestand.