Sep 102010
 

Back-to-back jacks in the top of the 7th inning by Bill Rhinehart and Tyler Moore broke open a 3-0 game as the Potomac Nationals took a 2-1 series lead with a 7-1 win over Frederick on Friday night.

Entering the game, Rhinehart had been hitting just .100 (1-for-10) in the series; Moore just .250 (2-for-8) but both would break out at home to collect multiple hits and fuel the Potomac offense.

Pitching, however, would be the name of this game. Veteran Jimmy Barthmaier would go the first 5⅔ innings and give up just two hits and one walk while setting down seven Keys on strikes, mixing curves with changes and fastballs to keep the Frederick nine off base and off stride. He would allow just two hits and walk just one while striking out seven.

A.J. Morris would relieve Barthmaier in the sixth and go two innings before running out of gas and loading the bases in the eighth before turning it over to Pat McCoy, who exploited the impatience of Miguel Abreu for a groundout to third to end the innings, the lone Frederick run coming on a passed ball that was ruled a wild pitch.

McCoy set down the side in order in the ninth to nail down the 7-1 win and give Potomac a 2-1 series lead, with two chances to punch their ticket for a return trip to the Mills Cup Finals, which they last won in 2008.

Sep 052010
 

For the second time in three seasons, the Potomac Nationals are playoff-bound. They clinched with a 2-0 shutout of the Kinston Indians in the opening game of a doubleheader, the second shutout in as many games.

Perhaps more satisfying is that it came against Kinston ace Joe Gardner, who had beaten the P-Nat nine that past two times they had faced him. Or maybe that Trevor Holder kept the ball down and in the yard for six scoreless innings, just the second time a zero had appeared in the run column of his pitching line all season long.

Early on, it looked like it might be a rout. Derek Norris and Bill Rhinehart drew back-to-back walks with one out to bring up Tyler Moore, who scorched a grounder that third-baseman Kyle Bellows couldn’t handle and left-fielder Donnie Webb nearly misplayed (yes, it was hit that hard) for an early 1-0 lead. Webb recovered in more than enough time to throw out Rhinehart attempting to go from first to third.

After another walk, this one to Sean Rooney, Gardner got Jerome Walton to ground out to end the threat. It would be the first of 13 batters in a row he would retire.

Indian catcher Chun Chen would smack a double to left field to lead off the second and the feeling of a rout came back, but in the opposite direction. But then a funny thing happened: Holder struck out the side, en route to retiring nine straight.

After a brief threat in the fifth, which Holder escaped with a nicely turned 5-4-3 double play, Potomac would get an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth, as Francisco Soriano led off with a walk, stole second, and took third on an error before Norris drove him in with a single to left.

Holder would finish with three hits allowed and six strikeouts against no runs and no walks to give way to Pat McCoy, who retired the Indians 1-2-3 for save no. 6, clinching the second-half Carolina League North Division title for Potomac.

GAME TWO
With the playoff bid secured, Rhinehart, Norris and Moore were given the rest of night off and swingman Carlos Martinez got the nod to start. The veteran swingman would put in four innings of work, leaving with a 1-1 tie before giving way to Justin Phillabaum.

For the 15th time in 29 appearances, Phillabaum was scored upon, coughing up three runs in the fifth with a bases-clearing, two-out triple by Abner Abreu. Inexplicably, Phillabaum was asked to throw again in the sixth. Predictably, the Indians torched him for another three runs, a no-doubt-about-it blast to right by Bo Greenwell.

Down 7-1 in the sixth, the P-Nats showed some heart to rally for three runs in the sixth and one more in the seventh, but the damage had been done as the Potomac would fall in the nightcap by a count of 7-5.

Aug 312010
 

Despite late-inning heroics, the Potomac Nationals couldn’t take both games of the doubleheader and had to settle for a split to open up the last regular-season road trip of 2010 with a 5-2 win and a 3-2 loss.

GAME ONE
In opening game, Potomac pounced on Salem’s Michael Lee, connecting for three doubles on their first three hits as Derek Norris, Jamar Walton doubled before and after a two-out walk to Tyler Moore to take a 2-0 lead in the first.

Dan Lyons got double number three to lead off the second and came in on an RBI single by Francisco Soriano, who in turn scampered in when Chris Curran tripled him in. Bill Rhinehart would single after a walk to Norris to complete the rally and the scoring for game one.

Zach Hammes came on in relief of Lee and stifled the P-Nats bats over the next four innings while Salem picked away at the Potomac lead, which began with two runs in the bottom of the second off starter Jimmy Barthmaier, who went five innings and gave up five hits.

Rob Wort came on in relief in the sixth and failed to retire a batter, issuing two walks around a double. A.J. Morris preserved the lead with a first-pitch double play that plated the third Salem run and got the final out in the sixth.

The seventh, however, was a little different as Morris issued two walks and knocked down a ball that went for an infield single but also got two strikeouts and a flyball to earn his second save for Potomac and preserve the 5-3 win.

GAME TWO
Pitching on two days’ rest, Pat Lehman got the nod to start the nightcap and sailed through the Salem lineup with just two base runners allowed over the first three innings. In the fourth, Alex Hassan and Oscar Tejeda hit back-to-back jacks to erase an early 1-0 lead that came courtesy of a Norris solo HR in the first. Lehman would finish the inning, allowing five hits over his four innings of work with no walks and two strikeouts.

But like the first game, Potomac’s offense was the long hit or no hit at all. After the Norris big fly, the next five batters would go down in order. Then Robby Jacobsen committed the cardinal sin of making the first out at third by trying to stretch a leadoff double into a triple in the fourth, then six batters went down in order until Jamar Walton doubled with one out in the 5th.

Thus, the 2-1 lead looked almost safe as Salem veteran Mark Holliman went for the complete game and started the seventh. Bill Rhinehart doubled high off the RF wall to lead off the inning and Tyler Moore made a loud out to chase Holliman. Sean Rooney greeted Sox reliever Cesar Cabral with a double to left to cash in “Dolla” Rhinehart and pinch-hitter Jose Lozada singled to left, but too sharply for Rooney to come in from second. The rally was then killed when Cabral got Sean Nicol to roll (hey, that rhymes) into a 6-4-3 double play.

Justin Phillabaum, who had pitched the sixth, came out to pitch the seventh and immediately surrendered a leadoff single that Salem turned into a double as pinch-runner Ryan Dent stole second.

Potomac seemed for just a brief moment to have fortune on their side when a towering popup to shallow center caught Dent in-between as Chris Curran sprinted in after misjudging the arc of the ball and got the double-play call. But a walk and an error kept the inning alive, and .

With the top of the order coming up (and a lefthanded batter), Gary Cathcart summoned Joe Testa to escape the jam. The lefty-on-lefty matchup was rendered moot with a walk, loading the bases. And the game was lost when a 3-2 fastball was deemed too inside for the walkoff walk, and a 3-2 Potomac loss.

With the split and a Wilmington win, the Potomac lead is down to 1½ games (two in the loss column). The series continues tomorrow with Marcos Frias set to take the mound against Miguel Gonzalez.

Aug 252010
 

Down 4-0 after 4½ innings, things were looking dismal for the Potomac Nationals. It was the sixth game of a six-game homestand that had begun with an eighth-inning meltdown against playoff-bound Winston-Salem and was threatening to send Potomac on the road down 1½ games, relying on other teams for help in their quest to make the postseason.

Like most rallies that begin in the lower half of the lineup, the big inning started slowly with a one-out walk. Then a hit batsmen. Then an error. Suddenly the bases were loaded and the top of the order was coming to the plate.

Leadoff hitter Francisco Soriano fell behind 0-2 after the first two pitches, but then worked the count full, and took the walk to send in the first run. Derek Norris would follow with a sky-high popup, and it looked for just a brief instant that yet another rally would fall short. Wilmington’s manager nevertheless made the call to the bullpen for some help to face Bill Rhinehart.

“Dolla” had doubled to left-center in the first inning, the first of just two hits up to that point. Hit no. 3 went just a little farther: A towering shot just to the right of the scoreboard for a grand slam that gave Potomac a 5-4 lead.

Marcos Frias would come on in relief of Jimmy Barthmaier in the very next inning (the sixth) and cough up the tying run on, of all things, a two-out wild pitch — the third that had eluded the grasp of catcher Derek Norris.

Norris would get his chance for redemption — be it the bases-loaded popup or the wild pitches — in the bottom of the 7th, blasting a ball just a few feet short of Rhinehart’s fifth-inning blast for a two-out double that put Potomac ahead for good at 6-5.

Both teams first man out of the bullpen would make a mistake then settle down for two-plus innings, but Wilmington’s second man out was not so lucky: surrendering an insurance run on a walk and two singles to give Potomac a 7-5 lead in the bottom of the eighth.

A.J. Morris came on in the ninth to pitch a scoreless inning to earn his first professional save and ice the win, which put Potomac back in first place by ½ game and a one-game lead in the loss column. Tomorrow is the teams first scheduled off day since the August 1, and it will be badly needed to prepare for a three-game road series against Frederick this weekend, then a five-game series in Salem next Tuesday through Friday.

Aug 242010
 

The World Cup came to Woodbridge on Monday Night, as the Wilmington Blue Rocks scored twice in the final minute ninth to tie it at 3-3 and then broke through for three more in extra time innings for a 6-3 win over the Potomac Nationals.

The 14-inning game took three hours and 51 minutes to play, much of it in a light rain, and featured just 25 baserunners over the 28 frames. Wilmington’s Ernesto Mejia was one-man wrecking crew for the Blue Rocks, driving in five of the six runs on a single, triple, and home run, including the two game-tying runs in the ninth and the first two go-ahead runs in the 14th.

Former Washington Nationals draftee Aaron Crow did not make his scheduled start, as he reportedly claimed to have “a strained oblique muscle in his back,” which is odd because the obliques are, in fact, located in the abdomen.

Nevertheless, the weather was fit for a duck, the game started on time in a light rain and the game quickly turned into a pitcher’s duel. Mejia got the Blue Rocks on the board first with a towering shot off the scoreboard in the second, Potomac responded one inning later with back-to-back doubles by Nick Moresi and and Francisco Soriano that would tie the game, while Derek Norris would break an 0-for-7 skid with an RBI single to give Potomac the lead at 2-1.

Robby Jacobsen would put the P-Nats up by two in the fifth with a Little-League home run of a triple to center and a relay that went into the stands.

Starter Danny Rosenbaum, who despite his final line, labored with his control but got the key groundballs when they were needed to go six innings with the one run allowed, one walk and four strikeouts. Rob Wort would hold the lead with two scoreless innings to deliver the ball to Justin Phillabaum in the ninth.

It took just four batters for the lead to evaporate as a single, hit batsmen, and a walk loaded the bases for Mejia, who promptly singled to left to tie the game at 3-3. Pat McCoy would come on in relief and limit the damage, but despite having the 3-4-5 hitters up in the bottom of the ninth, Potomac would go down 1-2-3.

McCoy would pitch the 10th and 11th innings, giving way to Pat Lehman who delivered two scoreless innings before the Blue Rocks would rally for three in the 14th on a double, sacrifice, and a Mejia triple to take the lead. Mejia would later come around on a wild pitch.

Potomac would stage a two-out rally in the bottom of the 14th as Bill Rhinehart and Sean Rooney both singled, but Jose Lozada couldn’t get the clutch hit, as the P-Nats went down in defeat by the final count of 6-3.

With the loss, Potomac’s lead falls to just a ½ game (one in the loss column) as the two teams meet for game two of three-game series tonight (weather permitting). Trevor Holder and Will Smith are the announced starters.

Aug 122010
 

Baseball players are creatures of habit and routine; the process often matters as much as the results. Upset that process, though, and an adverse effect on results is nearly inevitable.

Such was the case last night with Danny Rosenbaum. Pitching for the first time in 11 days, the interruption was noticeable over the course of his start as the 22-year-old struggled with his command and was unable to locate his offspeed pitches. That he only gave up three runs is actually a testament to his skill; it should have been more, with eight hits allowed over 4⅓ innings.

Of course, with the offense reverting to its feast-or-famine form, it would have required a shutout to beat the Hillcats, as Lynchburg handed Potomac a 4-1 loss.

Take the fifth inning as an example of the offense’s futility. Sean Rooney led off with a walk, followed by a Jose Lozada double to right-center. With nobody out, Rooney was held to give the P-Nats runners on second and third. That’s two chances to score by making an out, and three overall. Chris Curran taps to third for out #1. Francisco Soriano pops out in foul territory by third base for out #2. Dan Lyons strikes out swinging. Inning over, two runners stranded.

That LOB number would swell to nine before Tyler Moore doubled for the 38th time this season in the bottom of the eighth and Bill Rhinehart singled him in, pulling Potomac to within two at 3-1. Lynchburg would get it right back with a double to LF, an error by Rhinehart, and a sacrifice fly, and then set down the P-Nats 1-2-3 in the ninth to seal the deal.

With the loss, Potomac remains two games ahead of Wilmington for first place in the second half with a 25-19 mark. Tonight, Trevor Holder (0-2, 4.36) takes the hill against Chase Ware (1-3, 4.05) in the series and season finale between these two teams.

Jul 312010
 

The Potomac bats remained hot, but the pitching was erratic, resulting in a split against the Frederick Keys.

In Game One, Marcos Frias took the hill against a team that he had thrown a quality start against earlier in the month, when Potomac swept the Keys on the road. For three innings, it looked like he might just duplicate that feat, though the signs that this might be short outing were evident: three of the first four Frederick hits were of the extra-base variety, enabling the Keys to get single runs in the 1st and 2nd.

In the fourth, Frias set down the first two batters fairly quickly but then struggled to get the Nos. 8 and 9 batters out, walking them both. This paved the way for the top of the order to make him pay. Xavier Avery* doubled to right, Kyle Hudson singled to left, and Ronnie Welty, who had doubled in his previous two at-bats, completed the scoring binge with a two-run shot to turn a 2-1 lead into a 7-1 chasm.

* If there’s a contest to rank great baseball names, how could MiLB look past this one?

Potomac, however, would not roll over in its half of the 4th. Derek Norris his just his second HR at the Pfitz to lead things off. Following singles by Bill Rhinehart and Jose Lozada, Chris Curran and Francisco Soriano hit back-to-back triples with two outs to rally the P-Nats to within two at 7-5.

Steve Lombardozzi’s third single of the game with two outs drove in Lozada in the sixth cut the lead to one at 7-6. Billy “But He’s Still Young” Rowell connected for a solo HR in the top of the 7th — his 25th for Frederick in 316 games since 2008 — to give the Keys an 8-6 lead.

That run would prove crucial as Potomac rallied one more time in the 7th, as a Moore single, a wild pitch, and a Rhinehart single whittled the lead to 8-7, but that’s as close as the P-Nats would get.

###

After an announcement of a 20-minute break between games, the nightcap started 39 minutes later with Adrian Alaniz on the mound and he was not sharp. Consistently falling behind hitters, the 26-year-old battled through 4⅓ innings and somehow managed to allow just two runs on six hits and one walk before giving way to Jimmy Barthmaier.

Meanwhile, the Potomac bats, which had peppered the field in the first game with 14 hits, a-salted the Frederick pitchers for 11 hits in the second game. They scored in every inning but the first, highlighted by a pair of two-run blasts by Bill Rhinehart in the third and sixth innings. Jose Lozada led the hit parade with three hits, and had five hits combined in the doubleheader, as did Steve Lombardozzi.

With the split, Potomac gained a half game on first-place Wilmington and remains a game-and-a-half ahead of third-place Frederick, the first-half winner. Recently promoted Danny Rosenbaum makes his second home start for Potomac, with Ryan O’Shea taking the hill for Frederick.