May 052012
 

On a night where hits were plenty but runs weren’t, Ricky Hague’s fourth single of the evening in the bottom of the 9th was the difference in a 5-4 Potomac win.

The two teams combined for 26 hits, but 23 of them were singles. Potomac turned four double plays, Wilmington one, but the difference was two-out hitting. The P-Nats got seven of their 14 hits and three of their five runs with two down; the Blue Rocks had just two-out hits and no runs.

This was Matt Swynenberg’s first start since his Sunday masterpiece, a three-hit, one-run complete game, but he was under the gun of the “GBI curse” — a little-known affliction that seems to affect players once they get recognition here in the weekly edition of “Good, Bad, and Interesting.”

With 11 hits given up over six innings, Swynenberg was not as sharp, but his penchant for the grounder saved him — twice he got the DP to end the inning, another to squelch a rally. Alas, the fourth DP came just one batter too late.

Wilmington opened the 6th with a single, double, and another single and had runners on second and third. The Potomac ‘pen got up, and appeared to be ready after Swynenberg issued a walk to load the bases.

But manager Brian Rupp was either slow on the trigger or was gambling that Swynenberg could get the batter, Jake Kuebler, to ground into another DP — just as he had done the inning before. Swynenberg got the DP, but one batter too late as Kuebler steered one to the 3/4 hole to drive in two and give the Blue Rocks a 4-3 lead.

Potomac would tie it in the 7th after threatening in the 6th as — you guessed it — Hague ripped a single to left to drive in Francisco Soriano.

Like the day before, stellar relief made the comeback possible Neil Holland needed just four pitches to get through his first inning and allowed just one hit over the final three frames. He also struck out three.

Soriano swung from his heels to open the 9th, but Randolph Oduber, who had homered to lead off the 3rd, used his eyes (walk on a 3-2 count) and his legs (stolen base) to get into scoring position for the Hague gamewinner.

The win was Potomac’s 11th of the season, but thanks to the league’s power clubs being clustered in the Southern Division, that 11-14 mark is just 2½ games behind the first-place Lynchburg Hillcats. Kyle Winters (1-3, 5.74) takes the hill tonight to try for the team’s fourth straight “W” with Greg Billo (1-3, 5.32) as his counterpart for Wilmington.

May 032012
 

Three Potomac pitchers combined on six-hit shutout, beating Winston-Salem for the first time in seven games, 5-0. The loss also halted the Dash’s nine-game win streak.

For the second straight outing, Adam Olbrychowski pitched into the seventh inning — a just-as-welcome development, given the toll on the ‘pen over the previous two nights — but against a much more potent offense. The 25-year-old showed no fear, working the ball inside (three HBP) and keeping the Dash batters off balance with his slow curve.

Though he allowed a baserunner in every inning, Olbrychowski also kept the ball on the ground, letting his defense help him with double plays in 3rd, 4th, and fifth innings and getting 12 of 20 outs on the ground total. He would give up just one extra-base hit, a double to leadoff hitter Marcus Semien with two outs in the 7th.

Meanwhile, the Potomac offense put together an impressive string of hits in the 2nd inning: five in a row, with three runners going from first to third and three crossing home plate. Were it not for a baserunning blunder by Kevin Keyes, it might have been a bigger inning.

The P-Nats would tack on one more run in the 5th as Francisco Soriano doubled, took third on a botched sacrifice, and came around to score on a double-play ball. They would finish the scoring in the eighth as Kevin Keyes launched yet another bomb to deep CF that could only score one of the two runners on base because with one out, they had to hold up in case it were caught.

Ryan Demmin took the ball from Olbrychowski and got the last out of the 7th, then turned it over to Cameron Selik. Though it wasn’t a save sitation, Selik closed out the game with five straight K’s before issuing a walk with two out in the 9th and then retiring the last batter on a popup.

With the win, Potomac improves to 9-14 and back into a tie for third place with the Frederick Keys. It’s a day game today with all signs pointing to Robbie Ray making his 2012 debut against Steve McCray.

May 022012
 

It’s one thing to keep the ball in the yard, but quite another to keep it out of the gaps. With nine extra-base hits out of 17 total, the Winston-Salem Dash pummeled the Potomac Nationals by a 15-6 count, taking their ninth straight win — six against the P-Nats.

The start for Matt Grace was similar to his previous against the Dash in Winston-Salem: Hit hard early, then settling down. But it wasn’t until the fifth batter that Grace got an out and there wasn’t much doubt about either double.

The two-bagger has been problematic for Grace all year long — all ten surrendered have come in the last three games. Yes, they’ve been given up to the league’s #1 and #2 offenses, but the 17 other hits in just 18⅓ IP isn’t exactly stellar. Throw in nine walks, and you’ve got a WHIP that’s just a hair shy of 2.00 (1.964) — if anything it’s a testament to both him and the Potomac defense that his 7.36 ERA isn’t higher.

Despite the 15-6 beatdown, there were some bright spots…

…Rick Hague made his first start at SS and made his first throw with no signs of a bum shoulder, a strong and accurate throw from about 8 feet “northwest” of second base.

…Offensively, Hague ripped a double to left and steered a single to right and drove in the first Potomac run with a sacrifice fly

…David Freitas followed the Hague double with a two-run blast over the left-field wall as part of a three-run 6th in which Potomac pulled within two at 7-5

…Potomac scored three times on “run-scoring flyballs” — perhaps an aberration, maybe just luck, but it’s still better than a strikeout (nine more last night brought the season total to 201, which is 2nd worst in the C.L.)

As aforementioned, the P-Nats were as close as 7-5 after six full innings but a six-run seventh put the game away for Winston-Salem Dash, aided by the ignominy of three hit batsmen (two that “Homer Simpsoned” runs in) and a bases-loaded walk.

With the loss, Potomac takes sole possession of last place, 5½ games off the pace. The series continues tonight with Adam Olbrychowski (0-3, 7.29) scheduled to pitch against Jake Petricka (2-2, 5.50).

Apr 282012
 

The first five runs in the game were earned, the last four weren’t. The Pelicans got three of those four on three P-Nats errors to overcome a 3-2 deficit and hold on for a 5-4 win on a cold Friday night.

The miscues also masked a gutsy outing by Adam Olbrychowski, who got hit (again) early with two runs in the 2nd inning but then settled in and settled down. After an RBI groundout for the second inning’s second out, the 25-year-old retired 13 of 15 batters.

The two that he didn’t get were walks, and were erased on two nifty double plays by Zach Walters and Franciso Soriano. A single to left followed, ending Olbrychowski’s night with just four hits and three walks allowed. More importantly, by pitching into the 7th he gave the bullpen the task of getting just seven outs, a little relief for the ‘pen that had worked three or more innings the past four games.

Before describing what happened next, it’s important to note that while Olbrychowski was setting them down in order inning after inning, so were the Pelican pitchers. Starter Wilmer Font gave up the first three runs, including a two-run shot to right-center by Wade Moore, but struck out six in his three innings of work. Middle reliever Randol Rojas was easily the true star of the game with five no-hit innings of relief, with just a walk in the sixth.

So while it’s natural to think “those three errors killed us,” the real culprit was the lack of hitting.

Back to the top of the 7th… runner on 1st, two outs, Rob Wort pitching. Josh Richmond lifts a flyball to medium right-center. Michael Taylor and Randolph Oduber converge but neither can get to it. And neither could pick it up cleanly, the error charged to Oduber as the runner came around all the way to score. Game is tied, 3-3.

In the 8th, an errant pickoff by Wort throw sets up a sacrifice fly. Myrtle Beach goes up 4-3.

In the 9th, Wilson Eusebio butchers a grounder with one out. Walters makes a sensational throw after going deep into the 5/6 hole, but the runner moves up and Richmond strikes again with an RBI single. The Pelicans now lead 5-3.

David Freitas, who singled in the first Potomac run way back in the first, strikes out to lead off the ninth. Michael Taylor follows suit. For those without a scorecard, that’s 22 of 25 batters retired since Moore’s homer in the 2nd.

Myrtle Beach commits its sole error as Justin Bloxom reaches on his counterpart’s mistake. After taking second on defensive indifference, Moore collects his third RBI of the night to pull the P-Nats within one at 5-4.

Despite the offensive drought, Potomac had a chance to win or tie. Brian Rupp rolled the dice by sending up big man Kevin Keyes, an all-or-nothing hitter, and giving Wade Moore the green light to steal second.

Moore succeeded, but Keyes didn’t, striking out to end the game.

The loss extends Potomac’s losing streak to six games. Chien-Mien Wang is slated to pitch tonight in a rehab start, with a pitch count of approximately 65 pitches. Matt Swynenberg is likely to be the first man out of the ‘pen as it’s his turn in the rotation. They’ll be opposed by 19-year-old Cody Buckel, the Rangers’ 2nd-round pick of the 2010 draft.

Apr 212012
 

“This one was over early.”

That’s what the brain said, after giving up six runs to the first eight batters Adam Olbrychowski faced, punctuated by a two-run HR by Salem’s Drew Hedman.

But then Oblrychowski settled down, retiring eight straight batters while the offense chipped away at the 6-0 deficit with a solo HR by Justin Bloxom in the 2nd and an RBI groundout by Michael Taylor in the 3rd.

So the heart said, “Well, maybe if Olby can give us five innings, we can make this a ballgame.”

After back-to-back walks in the 4th, then a nifty 8-6-4 double play when Salem tried to hit-and-run with leadoff hitter Jackie Bradley Jr., the heart started to flutter. Then a two-run shot deep to left field reminded us that the brain was right all along, putting the Red Sox up 8-2 after three and a 1/2 innings.

A five-run 5th put the game away for Salem, as the Red Sox prospects battered Trevor Holder for a triple, two doubles and a single to take a commanding 13-2 lead.

Randolph Oduber struck back with a two-run shot in the bottom of the 5th, but it was too little, too late.

Wilson Eusebio, Neil Holland and Cameron Selik combined for four and 1/3rd scoreless innings of relief, but their Salem counterparts matched them zero for zero, with Blake Kelso’s two-out single to left in the 7th the last gasp over the final four innings.

With the loss, Potomac falls to 6-7 on the season, tied for second place with the Frederick Keys in the Carolina League’s Northern Division, two and a 1/2 games behind the Lynchburg Hillcats. Matt Grace (1-1, 7.00) is slated to take the hill tonight against Salem’s Keith Couch (2-1, 3.38) in Game Three of the four-game series.

Aug 182011
 

If the Winston-Salem Dash miss the postseason by one game, they’re gonna point to this contest… and they’re gonna be pissed.

The Potomac Nationals will be listed as the 4-3 winners, but got the benefit of a controversial call. With one out in the 9th, the Dash’s Nick Ciolli doubled to left-center and took third on a Hector Nelo wild pitch that was errant enough to bounce into the stands behind home plate. The next batter struck out for the second out of the inning.

Winston-Salem sent up a left-handed pinch-hitter to face Nelo and he tapped a slow roller to shortstop that Francisco Soriano had to charge and curl towards third base to get a throw off. From my perch, it looked like the runner was safe. But the only opinion that mattered, the guy with the best view of play, disagreed and he called the runner out.

With the game over, it was the surreal scene of 20-something white jerseys celebrating the win and 20-something grey jerseys strolling out from the dugout in disgust and/or fascination as the Winston-Salem manager Julio Vinas escorted the umpires off the field with what one can only imagine was a string of expletives, quite possibly in multiple languages.

It was a fitting ending to a game that didn’t look like it was going to get played at all. Dark clouds and streaks of lightning were visible for much of the night as the thunderstorms passed just north and east of the Pfitz all night long.

Six Potomac pitchers were called to duty by manager Matt LeCroy. With the first two it appeared to be by design, as Sammy Solis was coming off the DL for his first appearance since July 27 with Cameron Selik, who had been lifted early on Sunday, called upon to put in a couple of innings in relief.

Solis worked around a leadoff double in fine fashion in the first inning, striking out two batters after Winston-Salem bunted the runner over to third, but gave two hits in each of the next two innings. Two double plays minimized the damage to just one run on five hits, but Solis looked vulnerable.

Unfortunately, so did Selik, who also got a groundball double play to minimize two hits given up in the 4th. In the bottom of the inning, Potomac strung together four hits to score three runs and put him in a position to perhaps get a win in relief.

But Selik was chased after just three batters in the 5th after Destin Hood misplayed a flyball into an RBI triple following a one-out single. Mitchell Clegg, who seems to have found a fit as a long reliever, stranded the runner at third with a lineout to second and a flyout to center to keep Potomac ahead by a 3-2 count.

A two-out double by Soriano in the 6th extended the Potomac lead to 4-2, driving in Sean Nicol from first base with a little help from a muff by the Winston-Salem catcher on the tag.

The Dash would cut the lead down to 4-3 in the next half-inning, a solo shot to left off Clegg, who ended up the winning pitcher with two and 2/3rds innings pitched with the one run allowed on two hits and no walks, finishing the frame with second of his two strikeouts.

Joe Testa and Marcos Frias would strike out the side in the 8th, handing the ball over to Nelo in the 9th despite Frias having faced just one batter in the 8th.

With the win, Potomac gets a game back on Frederick, which lost to third-place Lynchburg. The Keys lead the P-Nats by five games, which is the same margin the P-Nats have over the Hillcats.

Potomac and Winston-Salem continue their series on Friday with Paul Demny (8-10, 4.76) and Jake Petricka (3-6, 4.04) the expected starting pitchers.

Aug 142011
 

The Potomac Nationals got just enough offense to not waste Paul Demny’s best outing of the year for a 3-2 win over the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Demny went eight innings, dominating seven of them, and gave up just two runs on five hits with no walks and four strikeouts. He only allowed two leadoff hits — a single in the 3rd, which he promptly erased with a 1-6-3 double play, and a double in the 8th. That double was followed by a triple to plate the first Pelican run, then a grounder to second to send in the final Myrtle Beach run.

After a disastrous stretch of road starts in July and early August (7R in Lynchburg over 1⅔ IP, 9R in Winston-Salem over 4IP, 5R in Salem over 4⅓ IP), the past two home starts have been just what Demny needs to regain some confidence. Even with a rainout today, he’ll likely start his next two games at the Pfitz, and can build on this run as the P-Nats slouch towards head for the playoffs.

Offensively, there’s still reason to worry. Like the night before, getting runners on was not a problem: Leadoff doubles in the 1st and 7th, one-out singles in the 2nd and 3rd, a leadoff walk in the 4th. But when you subtract leadoff hitter Archie Gilbert from the equation, that’s three less hits, one less run, and the only hit with a runner in scoring position.

Potomac would strand 10 runners, including runners on second and third in the bottom of the 7th, as neither Brian Peacock nor Steve Souza could deliver the killshot to turn a 3-0 game into a 5-0 game.

With Nelo and Smoker used the night before, Marcos Frias was called upon to close out the 9th and delivered the win and earned the save, working around a leadoff single and finishing strong with two strikeouts.

The win keeps pace with Frederick, which won its 30th game of the second half and its fourth straight, keeping the division deficit at four games. A loss by Lynchburg extended Potomac’s lead to six, lowering the magic number to clinch a playoff spot to 17.

Should the rain hold off, Cameron Selik (4-8, 4.33) is scheduled to start this afternoon against Justin Grimm (3-2, 3.55).

Aug 132011
 

Click this bad boy to see the video

Believe the hype.

It’s not often that I can say a rehab start isn’t overrated. Usually, they’re a disappointment. Not this time. This was everything anyone could have possibly hoped for, perhaps even more.

In thirty-three pitches over three innings, Stephen Strasburg gave nine Myrtle Beach Pelicans batters a story to tell their children and grandchildren about the time they faced him. I know that because I had the pleasure of hearing a former minor-leaguer tell me about what it was like to face Dwight Gooden, a should-have-been Hall-of-Famer.

Two of them will boast that they got a hit, conveniently leaving out the part that the ball never left the infield, a byproduct of how hard Strasburg throws as they drove the ball into the dirt in front of home plate to produce a 30-foot hop that gave them time enough to beat the throw.

Four of them might be honest enough to say “Strasburg struck me out and I never had a chance,” like Vince DiFazio (pictured above) and maybe Leury Garcia will tell them “He got me twice.”

Strasburg threw mostly fastballs, hitting 96 to 99 m.p.h. on the scoreboard gun that was actually only juiced one or two m.p.h. This was the first time that was done this season, and of course, it was only done for Strasburg. Same goes for the four armed guards (I believe they were PWC officers) that were stationed along the home dugout, the first-base field boxes, and the bullpen.

But he also tossed a couple of curves and changeups that batters at this level just simply can’t adjust to on the fly, much like the guys three levels up in the National League. Twenty-six of the 33 pitches went for strikes and no batted ball left the infield in fair territory.

The announced attendance of 8,619 was the largest non-firework crowd at the Pfitz, according to Mark Zuckerman, who was stationed in the “press row” of the backless reserved seats below the press box, which rarely has more reporters than radio guys, never mind last night’s contingent. (If you’re reading, Mark, I was the guy wearing a red Nats cap in the field boxes below you ;-)

To their credit, the crowd didn’t disperse en masse when Strasburg left. And those that stayed got to see a pretty good ballgame, which, now I’ll tell you about quickly…

Evan Bronson followed Strasburg on the mound and despite throwing a wee bit softer, got similar results. He threw four scoreless innings and allowed three hits, but walked none and struck out two.

Meanwhile, the Myrtle Beach pitchers were up to the task of keeping their hitters in the game by keeping Potomac off the board. The P-Nats had baserunners in seven of the eight innings they came to bat, but were denied until the 6th.

With one out, Destin Hood tapped a grounder to deep short for an infield hit and took second when the throw went into the Potomac dugout. After a grounder to short, Archie Gilbert delivered the lone run of the game with an RBI single to left that sent in Hood.

Josh Smoker took the ball from Bronson in the 8th and retired the two- and three-hole hitters before giving up a single. Matt LeCroy called on Hector Nelo to face the next batter, the 25-year-old veteran catcher DiFazio. Nelo stranded Smoker’s runner with an infield popup.

Hood led off the bottom of the 8th with a single to right (his third in a 3-for-4 night) and Brian Peacock followed suit with a single to left. But like any 1-0 game, the Pelican defense got the key DP that it needed to prevent the insurance run, getting Gilbert on a sharp 6-4-3 sequence and popping up Steve Souza to end the 8th.

Nelo, who throws two kinds of fastballs (hard and hit-the-bull), nailed down the game with a little panache. He struck out the first batter looking, gave up an infield single that he might have fielded but followed the coaching that says let the infielders get it, then induced a liner to Souza who applied the tag on the runner for the game-ending double play.

Bronson got the win (#4), Smoker the hold (#5), and Nelo the save (#15) as Potomac kept pace with Frederick in the Carolina League north and got game back as Lynchburg lost to fall to five games behind Potomac, reducing the magic number to 19.

Paul Demny (7-10, 4.94) gets the start tonight in game three of the four-game series, opposed by Kennil Gomez (2-2, 3.65).

Aug 122011
 

Last week, Myrtle Beach’s Miguel De Los Santos and Erik Davis squared off in a 3-0 near no-hitter, looking like two AA pitchers pitching against High-A hitters.

Last night, they looked like two Low-A pitchers making their High-A debuts as the Myrtle Beach Pelicans flew past the Potomac Nationals 12-5 to take the first game of the four-game series.

Maybe that’s a little cruel, because both men showed flashes of what had gotten them past this level — through four innings, the two combined for 15 strikeouts — but games like last week are what you should expect when veteran pitchers throw against less experienced lineups.

Instead, both men walked three batters and got into deep counts on seemingly every batter. De Los Santos was a little better, giving up no extra-base hits — Davis gave up a long double and a longer triple despite the speedy Eury Perez and Archie Gilbert in center and right to chase them down — but was so slow to the plate that he gave up six stolen bases.

Davis did himself no favors with two hit batsman and a bases-loaded walk, his third, and was victimized by Zach Walters’s first error as a P-Nat when Neil Holland came in to relieve Davis with the bases loaded and one out. Instead of an inning-ending double play and a manageable 5-3 deficit going into the bottom of the 5th, it was 7-3 and the momentum shifted.

The Pelicans put the game away with a five-run seventh, as Rob Wort’s struggles continued with three walks and two extra-base hits. Joe Testa would also give up a hit before settling down to finish the game with two scoreless innings, working around leadoff triple in the 9th. If you’ve lost count, that’s three triples and three doubles for Myrtle Beach.

Offensively, the P-Nats were led by Destin Hood and Brian Peacock, who each went 2-for-4. Hood was one of the six base thieves, even taking third base on the stolen-base attempt. While his knee may be aching from a scrape suffered last week in Myrtle Beach, it appears to be healing — a problem that P-Nats media man Will Flemming said via Twitter is getting better every day.

The loss knocks Potomac back to four games behind Frederick, four ahead of Lynchburg in the Carolina League’s Northern Division.

Tonight’s game is a sellout, with Stephen Strasburg set to make a rehab outing of 50 pitches or three innings. Evan Bronson (3-3, 3.67) gets the unenviable task of trying to follow that act, while Wilfredo Boscan (4-9, 4.15) will toe the slab for Myrtle Beach.

Aug 112011
 

Destin Hood’s RBI single in the bottom of the 9th gave Potomac a 6-5 win, salvaging the series (and regular-season) finale between the Salem Red Sox and Potomac Nationals.

Like Monday night, as Salem learned that you can’t give your opponent chance after chance and expect to win. With eight walks and three hit batsmen, the P-Nats got 11 “extra” baserunners.

To Potomac’s credit, aside from the patience necessary to draw those walks, they made their four (4) hits count. All of them came with an RBI attached, with Zach Walters hitting a sac fly and Jose Lozada hitting a too-slow grounder for the other two RBIs.

Still, the bipolar (well, seemingly more polar, as in ice-cold) nature of the team’s offense leaves much to be desired. Tonight they got a gift, but absent the long ball and/or some luck, this should have been something like a 7-2 loss.

Adam Olbrychowski got the start and lasted into the sixth, giving up 11 hits and a walk, and leaving with two runners on and one out. Marcos Frias stranded them both with a strikeout and a baserunning blunder as former National farmhand Alex Valdez tried to score from third with two outs after a ball skipped about 20 feet past Sandy Leon, who threw to Frias for the 2-1 play at the plate to end the inning.

Frias, however, would surrender a solo shot to right in the 7th while Trevor Holder would give up the game-tying run on a blast to left in the 8th. Josh Smoker would pitch the 9th and work around two walks, getting credit for the efforts of the P-Nat bats in the ninth.

Lozada led off with a walk, two pitches after pulling a 400-foot foul down the RF line. Eury Perez popped up his sacrifice attempt for the first out. Francisco Soriano drew the 8th and final walk to push Lozada to second base. Jeff Kobernus made the second out on a deep fly ball to right-center, Lozada playing it safe by drifting about a third of the way down the basepath and retreating when it was caught.

Hood got the two-out walkoff when he scorched a grounder off the glove of Salem third-baseman Valdez into shallow left as Lozada scampered home with the gamewinner, well ahead of the too-late throw.

The win kept pace with Frederick and improves Potomac to 24-21, five games ahead of third-place Lynchburg and lowering their magic number to 21 with 24 games left to play in the second half.

Tonight, Erik Davis (0-1, 3.38) and Miguel De Los Santos (3-3, 2.95) take the hill in a rematch of last week’s near no-hitter in Myrtle Beach.