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.

Apr 102011
 

The 2011 edition of Potomac Nationals is apparently aware that walkoff wins on Sunday afternoon are a new tradition in Woodbridge, as Rick Hague doubled over the centerfielder’s head with two outs in the bottom of the tenth for a 7-6 win.

The double was Hague’s second hit and second RBI of the game, as the P-Nats pummeled Hillcats pitchers for 13 on the afternoon, with every batter getting a hit and four batters getting two, highlighted by Steve Souza’s second home run in as many days (and at-bats) with a solo shot in the second inning. Souza would also collect two RBI on the afternoon.

It made a winner out of Pat Lehman who misplayed a sacrifice bunt inthe 9th into a hit after a leadoff single and lost a valiant battle to Lynchburg’s Rick Gosselin after another sacrifice set up a 2nd-and-3rd with one out as the Hillcat DH chopped a grounder to Souza for an RBI groundout.

Lehman pitched a scoreless tenth, surviving an error that Brian Peacock erased by throwing out pinchrunner-turned-OF L.V. Ware for the second time in the game.

Trevor Holder pitched the first six innings, allowing three runs on six hits, but three of those went for extra bases, including a two-run blast to LF that would have been out most parks (except maybe Yellowstone). It’s a pattern that persists from last August-September: when his pitches are up in the zone, hitters will make him pay.

Like Souza and Hague, King and J.P. Ramirez also notched two hits to take the edge off both having an 0-for-4, 2K line in the boxscore last night. King did commit the 10th-inning error, but it was hardly a black mark after notching nine assists and snaring a line drive in the ten previous chances over two games. Similarly, Steve Souza’s transition across the diamond has been a success, as the 21-year-old has simply made all the plays and looked smooth.

With the win, the P-Nats split the series and play host to the Winston-Salem for the next three, the first meeting between the two 2010 Mills Cup finalists.

Aug 222010
 

The Winston-Salem Dash reasserted themselves as the class of the Carolina league with a 9-8 victory (and a series win) over Potomac today. But with a four-run eighth and the tying run being cut down at the plate in the ninth to end the game, Potomac let it be known that this may not be the last time these two teams meet in 2010.

The allure of a rehabbing pitcher is a great marketing tool to draw casual fans to a minor-league, but regular readers of this space already know that rehab starts are overrated. This Sunday was no exception.

Despite the threat of rain, Yunesky Maya took the mound in Potomac and looked every bit the pitcher who hadn’t faced experienced professional hitters in more than a year. And make no mistake: This Winston-Salem team can hit. As a team, they’re averaging a line of .287/.351/.432 in a league where the median is .260/.330/.386

Maya’s command was spotty, but he got hitters out the first time through the lineup while fiddling with both his pitches (fastball, slider, curve) and his arm angle (overhand and three-quarters). At times his motion was fluid, but more often than not, he was slow and deliberate. The most impressive of his pitches was his curve, which he threw at two distinctly different speeds.

The second time through the lineup, the Dash took advantage of Maya’s rust as the first six batters reached base in the fourth inning before he retired the No.9 hitter by strikeout, as the Dash scored five runs on five hits and two walks during the inning. The fifth inning wasn’t any better, as the cleanup hitter smacked a long solo HR to right field and the second batter walked before he was lifted with no outs by manager Gary Cathcart.

Maya’s final line: four-plus innings, six runs (all earned) on seven hits, with three walks and four strikeouts.

Put in a 6-1 hole by a rehabbing pitcher, the Potomac offense did not, however, roll over. They would mimic their opponents in the sixth with a walk and four singles sandwiched around a strikeout by Jose Lozada, who smacked a would-coulda-grand slam for a very loud strike one, to cut the lead to 6-3.

Winston-Salem answered right back with three runs in the seventh to go back up 9-3. Like a punch-drunk boxer, the response would come late, in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, Lozada doubled, Jerome Walton singled to score him for a 9-4 tally, then Francisco Soriano walked to load the bases for Chris Curran.

Curran blistered a ball down the first base line that the first baseman was unable to handle — a questionable ruling as an error — but a play that sent home both Walton and Soriano to narrow the gap to 9-6. Sean Nicol’s infield single off Dash closer Tyson Corley would complete the four-run rally, Winston-Salem 9, Potomac 7 after eight full innings.

In the bottom of the ninth, Potomac would rally once again with one out. Sean Rooney doubled to left, Lozada singled to move him to third, and Walton singled to score Rooney. Soriano would fly to right, Lozada tagging to take third. A wild pitch sent Lozada scampering home for the possible game-tying run, but the catcher got a strong rebound and gunned it to Corley for the tag, the third out, and a 9-8 final in favor of the Dash.

The loss, combined with a Wilmington win in Lynchburg, reduces the Potomac lead back to 1½ games as the Blue Rocks come to town tomorrow for a three-game showdown. Trevor Holder is set to take the hill against Aaron Crow, the Washington Nationals No. 9 draft choice that went unsigned in 2008.