Jun 112011
 

With back-to-back-to-back singles in the bottom of the ninth, the P-Nats put an end to an ugly night of baseball for a 9-8 win and (*gasp*) consecutive home wins.

Eury Perez and Jeff Kobernus bunted their way on to lead off the inning to bring up Potomac’s all-star representative, Destin Hood. After two swings and a miss and foul-off, Salem’s Dennis Neuman went with a breaking ball for pitch number but Hood put a coat on the hanger, sending it to the wall for the game-winner.

The walkoff, which was Potomac’s third of the year and seventh home win overall, made a winner out of newly sidearming Joe Testa, the only P-Nat pitcher to go untouched with an inning and a third pitched over the 8th and 9th innings.

Early on, it was the same. old. very. tired. story of a starter struggling and getting hit hard and the defense not up to snuff (though in fairness, there does come a point when you can no longer blame the player for his fielding but the manager or the organization for playing him out of position; that point was passed a long, long time ago) as Clegg was charged with four runs on five hits over an inning and 2/3rds while the defense committed two errors.

Salem also took full advantage of Clegg’s slow motion to steal five bases in the first inning.

If there’s any positive to the situation, it’s that Evan Bronson was seen warming up at the first sign of trouble in the first inning and was ready to go when the hook finally came. He would throw four and 1/3rd innings of much-needed relief, surrendering only a no-doubt-about-it home run to dead center and he did it on just three days rest after a similar performance against Frederick on Monday.

The P-Nats would put up a big inning in the bottom of the fourth, with five runs on four hits, highlighted by doubles from Justin Bloxom and Jose Lozada and finishing with Eury Perez guiding a groundball single to righth for the go-ahead run at 6-5.

Two innings later, Potomac would extend the lead to 8-5 with a Peacock single and another Lozada RBI, with another run coming in on an error (the two teams would combine for five on the night).

Josh Smoker was the third straight lefty to take the hill in the 7th and turned in a Nuke LaLoosh-as-a-reliever outing with three walks and three strikeouts over an inning and 2/3rds, giving up an unearned run in his first inning and charged with an earned run the second inning when Marcos Frias gave up a two-out double.

Frias would let in the game-tying run in ignominious fashion, uncorking two wild pitches, the second coming on a walk. Joe Testa was the last man on the mound, getting the final out of the eighth and setting down the side in order in the ninth.

With the win, Potomac has won two in a row at home for the second time this season. Trevor Holder is set to toe the slab against rehabbing Junichi Tazawa in game two of the three-game series tonight.

Jun 102011
 

When you’re trying to scatter a whole bunch of hits, it sure helps to have a major-leaguer defender behind you. Just ask Danny Rosenbaum, who gave up hits in six of his seven innings pitched (nine total), but just one run as the Potomac Nationals ended a 10-game home losing streak with 3-1 victory.

Unlike the two nights he had previously started, Ryan Zimmerman was busy at the hot corner, racking up six assists and getting a glove on three more balls that were ruled hits. A major-league scorekeeper might have given an error on one of those, but most minor-league third basemen wouldn’t have gotten a glove on more than one, either.

As the nine hits in seven innings suggests, there were some double plays involved and ironically, Zimmerman was not involved in any of them. Journeyman shortstop Jose Lozada started up all three that the P-Nats turned last night, combining twice with Jeff Kobernus to help Rosenbaum out of jams in the first and third innings.

This is not to say that Rosenbaum was “rescued” by his defense last night, a common refrain when a pitcher gives up more hits than innings pitched. Folks have to look more closely at their scorecards or boxscores before making that observation. Last Saturday, Rosenbaum got 13 groundballs that led to outs, four flyouts, and six strikeouts in nine innings. Last night, those numbers were 10-3-5 in seven.

In other words, last night was pretty damn similar to Saturday night, even if it wasn’t a shutout. But for the first time this year, Rosenbaum didn’t issue a walk, which has been a troubling factor for him all season long. This may be in part to his increased velocity (90-92 vs. 87-89) and also attributable to his stubborn refusal to throw the get-me-over fastball.

In any case, in a first half that has been sorely lacking for bright spots, we may just have seen something to hang our hats on for the second half.

Offensively, Potomac did not break out last night: just eight hits and and eight men left on base. Zimmerman’s RBI double in the 4th was the offensive highlight while Lozada’s “single” to right field in the 5th, a grounder to second that was clearly misplayed but ruled a hit because it apparently went untouched, gave Potomac the go-ahead run (a runner who had reached on an error) while the game appeared to be under the threat of being halted, if not called, by the encircling dark skies and streaks of lightning spotted in the distance.

Potomac would get an insurance run in the seventh on another error-aided rally while Hector Nelo pitched the final two frames for his third save.

Mitchell Clegg (2-3, 5.70) is expected to get the start tonight against Salem’s Drake Britton (1-6, 6.75) as the P-Nats shoot for their seventh home win in 23 games.

Jun 092011
 

With three runs and four hits in the first inning — and the lead, too! — the P-Nats looked like they just might snap out of the funk they’ve been in at home. With Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup and manning third base, things looked promising.

Unfortunately, when it comes to losing in baseball, it’s not only contagious, it’s confounding in its creativity. Potomac would outhit Frederick 12-7, but two costly errors on defense and two costly baserunning blunders would be the difference in a 6-4 loss, the 10th straight at home.

To give Frederick some credit, three of the six runs were scored solidly: a fifth inning double after a hit batsmen and a two-run HR in the sixth off Dean Weaver, who took the loss in the game.

But to dole out some blame, baserunning errors in the fourth and fifth by Potomac didn’t help. Sandy Leon tried to advance to third base from first on an overthrown grounder to third base. Eury Perez got a little greedy and tried to take an extra base after leading off the fifth with a single to center. Maybe you can write off one of these as just plain bad luck, but not both.

The metaphorical buzzards kept circling for the third straight inning in the sixth when Destin Hood, who went 3-for-4 with an RBI double on the night and J.P. Ramirez led off with back-to-back singles. Leon sacrificed them to second and third, but a strikeout to Justino Cuevas and a “Hey there Z-man, I can do that, too” play by Key third baseman Dale Mollenhauer charged in and got Cutter Dykstra’s tapper down the line, tossing across the diamond to end the inning.

Speaking of Zimmerman, he batted third but went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout, making two plays in the field — one for an error, that a more accomplished first baseman might have saved, the other a cut-across-the-infield scoop and throw on the run that was, well, like a Gold Glover might make.

As of this writing, the pitching line for Pat Lehman is missing from the boxscore, but he followed Weaver for an inning, allowing Zimmerman’s error to score on a sacrifice fly but also getting two ground balls in his first appearance in three-plus weeks. Marcos Frias finished with two strong innings, allowing just a single and striking out one.

Danny Rosenbaum, who threw a three-hit shutout in his last outing, gets the call tonight against Frederick to stop the streak and prevent a four-game sweep. Oliver Drake is the opposing moundsman for Frederick as the Keys go for their ninth straight win overall and continue the march towards the first-half division title.

Jun 082011
 

It would be too easy to reduce this game to a close call that didn’t go their way — except for how the Potomac Nationals reacted to it.

To set the scene… the P-Nats had put two runners on for the first time in five innings in the bottom of the 7th, down 4-2. After a called third strike to J.R. Higley for the first out of the inning, Sandy Leon hit a long flyball down the right field line. It was called foul.

Potomac hitting coach Mark Harris stormed down the line from his spot in the first base coaching box to dispute the call made by the home plate umpire. With the base umpire in the field between second and third, an appeal was not going to happen. After a brief tirade, Harris was ejected.

But the P-Nats were clearly dejected. Only one more runner would reach base in that inning, the final seven batters would go down in order, four by a swinging strikeout.

Frederick would score three more runs in the final two innings, as Potomac fell 7-2 and was officially eliminated from the Carolina League North division first-half title.

It was also the ninth straight home loss.

Not coincidentally, for the sixth time in those nine games, the P-Nats fell behind early by letting the visitor score in the first inning. For a team that’s struggling on offense (pretty much 6th in every team offensive stat), it’s a psychological impediment to go up swinging (or bunting) to even the score right away.

Last night, though, they did even it at 1-1 by loading the bases with nobody out with bunt singles by Eury Perez and Jeff Kobernus, a walk to Destin Hood, and a sacrifice fly by Justin Bloxom. Manager Matt LeCroy tried to push the envelope, ordering Kobernus to steal third, but the team’s stolen-base leader was easily thrown out to effectively kill the inning.

Starter Paul Demny did settle down after the first and threw well enough to win for most other teams on most other nights, giving up three runs on nine hits (one a home run), no walks and seven strikeouts. But the bats were silent from the second inning to the sixth, with only Brian Peacock reaching base by a fourth-inning walk, charging Demny with his 7th loss of the season.

Cameron Selik gets the ball tonight and Ryan Zimmerman is scheduled to rehab again in the third game of four against Frederick, which is on a seven-game win streak and on pace to win the first half in back-to-back seasons, and the fourth time in the past six seasons.

Jun 072011
 

Well, sometimes rehab starts do live up to their billing.

Of course, we would expect no less from the “Face of the Franchise” as Ryan Zimmerman went 2-for-3 with a double and made two plays in the field, though he did do his best imitation of a high-A third baseman on the first ball hit to him, which skipped into left untouched on perhaps an in-between hop [insert bitching about Pfitzner field here].

In his first at-bat, Zimmerman blasted a double to the base of the left field wall. In his second, he waited on a fastball and served a line drive to the 3/4 hole between first and second. In his third at bat, he got under a fastball a flew out to center.

Did I not mention the score yet?

Well, that’s because it was a forgettable, yet quite familiar 8-1 loss to Frederick that snapped a four-game winning streak (all on the road, just like the previous and only other four-gamer) and extended the home losing streak to eight games. The tragic number is now one, for those of you who are wondering.

Trevor Holder took the loss for third time in four home starts, allowing five runs in the second inning and eight runs total over five-plus innings. If this sounds familiar, that’s because his home ERA is 10.19, WHIP is 1.81, FIP is 5.99 (on the road those rates are 5.74, 1.23, and 2.55). Unfortunately, the Pfitz’s park effects are historically neutral.

Yes, Holder pitched well once the hole was dug, but one has to wonder how much longer he can stick in the rotation before he’s sent to the ‘pen. Evan Bronson certainly made his case as a replacement, even if he let in both runners Holder left him. He finished the game with four innings pitched, two hits and one walk allowed, and two strikeouts.

Of course, complaining discussing the pitching (or lack thereof) is a Sysiphean exercise when the hitters aren’t hitting as a team. Individually, Justin Bloxom went 3-for-4 with a HR and the lone Potomac RBI and Sandy Leon went 2-for-3 with a double, but minus Zimmerman, that’s just six hits. Eury Perez’s infield single was only other hit.

As aforementioned, the loss dropped Potomac to 13 games behind Frederick and on the brink of mathematical elimination from the first-half race. Paul Demny (2-5, 4.50) takes the hill tonight, opposed by the Keys’ Nathan Moreau (5-3, 3.76).

May 292011
 

As the pic suggests, the P-Nats dropped a pair to fall into the Carolina League North Division cellar, losing 10-5 in the first game and 7-2 in the second. The losing streak is now six games.

The story in both games was much the same: the starting pitching was ineffective and made a mediocre offense look terrific. Except for one big inning in the first game, the Potomac offense was listless. It took nearly four innings in the first game for a runner to reach base. In the second game, they collected just three hits.

I’m not sure what the Nats brass, who have been on hand for the past couple of nights, has in mind to shake things up, but it’s pretty clear that some bats need to be thrown in the shower. Maybe even some wooden ones, too.

Individually, there is some decent talent in this group of players. But I keep hearing the rumblings that, while not quite 25 cabs for 25 guys, this is not yet a team. The difference in the record at home vs. the road in the past couple of weeks certainly begs the question of “why?” — especially when the opponents have been either the same (Lynchburg) or second-division (Kinston).

Again, I try hard not to editorialize in this space, but I know that folks value the eyes on the field and I’m seeing a collection of talent that needs some reshuffling. Maybe some guys that have been starting need to sit out today. Maybe some starters need to work out of the ‘pen and vice-versa. But something needs to happen soon.

Today, Cameron Selik and Evan Bronson are tasked with turning things around (and making me eat these words) with a noontime doubleheader against these same Hillcats, with a chance to both split the series and return to third place.

May 262011
 

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not easy to write about a blowout like this one (a 13-7 Potomac loss to Kinston, their fourth straight). You can be mean-spirited and lay into the poor pitching, piling on, kicking a man when he’s down (is there a better time?). Or you can cherry-pick the one or two good performances in the losing cause (Jose Lozada, 3-for-4 with two doubles, Justin Bloxom, 3-for-5), glossing over the contradictions (both had throwing errors).

Neither approach really serves you, the reader, all that well.

Potomac’s record is 18-27, a .400 winning percentage. They’ve scored 195 runs, allowed 234, which is fourth-best and dead last in the Carolina League, respectively. Their pythagorean projection has them at .392 or .409, depending on which formula you use. I’m not very good at math, but you can split the difference and see that .4005 is pretty damn close to .400.

As Bill Parcells famously once said “You are what your record says you are.”

Mitchell Clegg started this game with two quick outs and then loaded the bases with walks on either side of a hit batsmen. He then surrendered a bases-clearing triple and finally got out of the inning after pitching to the ninth batter. The second inning saw an error (Lozada’s) followed by a homer, a single (the only one surrendered), a long double to dead center, a flyout to center, a strikeout, then another long double to center.

Clegg was lifted with two outs, and his ledger filled when reliever Joe Testa was treated much the same with a double to… wait for it… center (don’t blame CF J.R. Higley — These balls were launched). The ‘pen may have faltered, but it was 8-0 after two, and it’s hard to pin much on group that has been asked to go one more inning or take one less day off more often than not

As the 13-7 score indicates, the P-Nats were able to muster some offense; unlike football, there’s no prevent defense. Joining Lozada and Bloxom in the hit parade was Eury Perez, who went 2-for-2 with sacrifice hit and a sacrifice fly and two RBI. Only Steve Souza went hitless as the team collected 13 total. On most nights, that would be more than enough.

Today is a badly needed day off for Potomac, the last scheduled off day of the first half. The homestand resumes on Friday with four games against the last-place Lynchburg Hillcats (doubleheader on Saturday).

May 252011
 

Good pitching beats good hitting, but just a couple of errors can make it all for naught.

That was the story, plain and simple for the P-Nats on Tuesday night. Three errors equaled three unearned runs in a 4-3 loss. For a team that’s streaky on offense, a shaky defense is unacceptable.

Let’s fast-forward to the seventh, where things fell apart. Tied at 1-1, starter and losing pitcher Danny Rosenbaum let up a long double to left to lead off the inning. Rosenbaum turned a sacrifice attempt into another baserunner with a throwing error, setting up a single to shallow right and a 2-1 Kinston lead, runners on 1st and 3rd and still nobody out.

Things went from bad to worse when a dropped pickoff attempt plated the third run, enabling the Indians to sacrifice again, moving a slow-footed catcher to third with their #9 batter. A tapper down the line sent in the fourth run, which would prove to be the gamewinner.

Offensively, the P-Nats would get 14 baserunners — six hits, six walks, two errors — but only once in seven tries could they get the clutch hit with runners on 2nd or 3rd. Twice they would have runners thrown out. Steven Souza’s leadoff home run to dead center in the second inning and Sandy Leon’s double to right were the highlights of the night.

With the loss, Potomac falls to 18-28, nine games behind and just a ½ game out of last place in the Carolina League Northern Division.

May 152011
 

The next time folks complain about the umps taking away any chance of winning, you might want to remember this Saturday night.

Down 4-2, with a steady rain falling, the P-Nats were allowed to bat in the bottom of the eighth. Following a Destin Hood whiff, Justin Bloxom lifted the spirits of the announced crowd of 4,973 with an opposite-field shot to right field to pull within one. Back-to-back singles by Steven Souza and J.P. Ramirez put the tying run on second.

Somehow, Sandy Leon beat out a groundball that should have ended the inning, and for all intents and purposes, the game. Francisco Soriano drew a walk to load the bases, to set up Eury Perez’s two-run, two-out single that pulled the P-Nats ahead. It was the only hit with RISP for the night, but it proved to be the gamewinner, as the umps ordered the tarp pulled after the 8th and eventually called the game.

The improbable victory took the edge off another butt-ugly game by the defense. The first three runs would score in the top of the first without a clean single to the outfield, with “singles” to shortstop, third, and second and two errors charged before Danny Rosenbaum would take matters into his own hands and strike out the eighth batter of the inning to end it.

Rosenbaum would get a no-decision for his seven innings of work. He still hasn’t quite shaken his walking ways, issuing three for the night, but retired the leadoff batter in five of the next six innings and worked out of a 1st-and-2nd-no-outs jam in the sixth. He was charged with all four Wilmington runs on 10 hits and struck out five.

Dean Weaver would get the win for his efforts in the eighth, in which he hit a batter that was erased by Sandy Leon, and struck out a batter.

With the win, Potomac improves to 13-21 and sends out Mitchell Clegg (1-2, 6.29) to face Wilmington ace Jake Odorizzi (3-0, 1.97), who’s coming off a 13K performance against Salem last Tuesday.

May 142011
 

The box score does justice to the outcome of the game — way too much justice.

The first-place Wilmington Blue Rocks pounded the P-Nats for 17 hits, most for extra-base hits, but some that should have been caught. It’s not to say that the outcome would have been different, but the differential could have been closer than 13-4. Much closer.

Destin Hood was not charged with any errors but looked lost and out of position for the six innings he was in right field. He did not slip. He did not fall. He simply was in the wrong place to field the ball more often than not.

Hood was not alone in this department, but with the one putout out of a half-dozen or so balls hit to his “zone,” he was the most noticeable. Officially, the Potomac defense was charged with four errors, but the mental errors were easily double that number.

The misplays weighed upon starter Cameron Selik, who was making his first start in Woodbridge, as he looked haggard by the end of his outing, which ended with one out in the fifth and ten hits charged to his line, six of which went for extra bases (see above). He walked just one and struck out four, featuring, at times, a slow curve that was at least 10 mph slower than his fastball.

As the score suggests, neither reliever was particularly effective though Evan Bronson did retire six of the last seven batters he faced, an error (really) breaking up the string. Adam Olbrychowski was charged with a one or more runs for his sixth consecutive outing, letting in the last two runs in the ninth.

Offensively, the PNats had one good inning — the first, in which they scored three of their four runs and all with two out as Justin Bloxom and Steve Souza hit back-to-back doubles and Wilmington’s Tim Ferguson simply dropped J.P. Ramirez’s flyball to left. Otherwise, they flailed for 15 strikeouts with only veteran infielder Jose Lozada reaching base more than once.

With the loss, Potomac falls to 12-21 and back into the Carolina League North cellar, seven games off the pace. Danny Rosenbaum (team-best 1.16 WHIP) takes the hill tonight for the tenth home game of the season, opposed by Tyler Sample (1.48 WHIP).