May 202012
 

It’s tempting to write this as a valiant ninth-inning comeback, the third during this homestand. But the reality is that the Potomac Nationals had numerous opportunities to win this game sooner and took advantage of a very, very critical mistake.

Going into the 9th, the P-Nats had drawn four walks, stolen five bases, and left on 10 baserunners. They got off to a good start as Mudcats closer Jesus Flores committed the one of the cardinal pitching sins by walking the leadoff batter, Ricky Hague.

Hague stole second to reduce the odds of another double play, as the Woodbridge nine had done in the 7th and 8th innings. But David Freitas struck out for the inning’s first out. Zach Walters worked another base on balls, Potomac’s sixth, to set up 1st and 2nd with one down.

Michael Taylor drove in the tying run with a single to left while Carolina’s LF Anthony Gallas airmailed it past the catcher to allow Walters to take third, Taylor to take second.

Here’s where the critical mistake took place.

With first base open, the Mudcats decided to take their chances with Kevin Keyes, rather than issue the intentional pass and see if they can get another twin-killing with Adrian Sanchez, who had already hit two infield grounders.

The big man from Texas does indeed strike out quite often. And after getting ahead 1-2, the gamble appeared to be on the verge of paying off.

But Keyes also hits a fair amount of flyballs and that’s all that the P-Nats would need as he connected for a drive to medium center to send in Walters with a sacrifice fly with the gamewinner and a 6-5 final.

Keyes’ 23rd RBI (and yes, he does have 23 hits) made a winner out of Cameron Selik, the last of three relief pitchers that combined for six and 2/3rds innings of stellar relief.

Early on, this game had the feel of three of the previous four Carolina-Potomac matchups: A big inning in the 3rd that should have been much smaller that turned a 1-0 lead into a 5-1 deficit.

Spot starter Trevor Holder gave up a leadoff double to left-center followed by a single to left and a stolen base. Holder got the first out on grounder to second with the IF drawn in halfway, and should have had the second out on another grounder, but Freitas was late with the tag on a ball that beat the runner by 10 feet for the first Mudcat run. Another single and an error plated two more runs and another double followed for a fourth, and Holder was out — his scoreless inning streak snapped at 11.

Paul Applebee gave up the fifth Carolina run on a two-out double, but sporting a funky new motion, retired nine of the next 10 for a line of three and 2/3rds with one walk and one strikeout.

Meanwhile, Potomac answered the five-run Mudcat rally with back-to-back RBI singles from Freitas and Walters in the 3rd and a nifty double steal in the 4th that enabled Francisco Soriano to ease Potomac to within one at 5-4 with a grounder to 2nd. Potomac would leave on two in the 5th, one in the 6th, and as previously mentioned, hit into DPs in the 7th and 8th innings.

Rob Wort followed Applebee and worked around a one-out triple by striking out the #3 and #4 batters before turning in a 1-2-3 eighth for his sixth straight appearance without allowing a run of his own, all of them with three or more Ks. Selik worked around his own error (plunking the baserunner on a tapper back to the mound) with a pair of strikeouts in the ninth.

With the win, Potomac improves to 17-22, percentage points behind second-place Wilmington but still 4½ games behind division-leading Lynchburg. Ryan Demmin (0-1, 4.67) gets another turn in the rotation as the P-Nats shoot for the series win and attempt to close out the homestand with a 5-2 mark.

May 182012
 

For the second straight night, it’s a walkoff in Woodbridge, with David Freitas driving in two with two down in the 9th for a 10-9 Potomac win over Frederick.

While the outcome was pretty, the game was ugly — ten walks, six unearned runs, four errors, two passed balls over nearly three and a half grueling hours. Never mind the loudmouth lout with a face made for radio heckling the umps and the Keys.

Potomac rallied three times for three runs, with the first two aided by three Frederick errors for five of the six unearned runs. Still, staked to a 6-2 lead, it should have been smooth sailing in the middle innings for Kyle Winters.

Instead, he labored to get through five innings and turned it over to Shane McCatty, who blew the save in the 7th with back-to-back walks, a single, and a would-be sacrifice bunt that he fielded then air-mailed over Justin Bloxom’s head and bounced into the stands. It was the fifth time in six appearances he had been scored upon.

The four-run seventh was the fourth straight inning in which the Keys scored, turning that 6-2 deficit into a 9-7 lead.

Potomac would go in order in the 7th and 8th innings, thus the few that gutted out the 9th were in for an unexpected treat. Randolph Oduber singled to lead off the inning and took second on Blake Kelso’s one-out single. Oduber took third on flyout to right. Bloxom singled for third time to drive in Oduber, sending Kelso to third.

Bloxom took second on defensive indifference, a critical move because despite having first base open, the Keys decided that they might get Freitas for a fourth time versus taking their chances with Michael Taylor (3-for-4, 2B, 3RBI). The big backstop lined one into left to send home Kelso with the tying run and Bloxom with the gamewinner.

With the win, Potomac took the series 3-1 and won their third straight. Tonight, LHP Matt Grace gets the start against Carolina, looking to improve over his last outing last Saturday night in Zebulon.

May 172012
 

After losing seven of eight, the Potomac Nationals took a pair of one-run contests from the Frederick Keys, taking the first game 5-4, and capped by a walkoff in “extra” innings, 4-3.

Robbie Ray took the hill in the first game, coming off a six-run smackdown in Salem in his previous start and a position-player’s ERA of 16.50. The rest-or-rust question was answered rather quickly as Ray set down the Keys in order three times with three quick innings — 20 pitches, 17 for strikes.

But the second time through the lineup is always a big test for any starter, and Frederick drew blood in the 4th — three straight singles, a sharp lineout, then a two-run double, and an RBI single. Ray got the second out on a sac fly and then got out of the inning with a grounder. But it took 24 pitches.

Prior to the big inning, the P-Nats had built a 3-0 lead on a two-run HR by Adrian Sanchez in the first and a two-out RBI double by David Freitas. After the big inning, three straight singles in the bottom of the 4th produced the tying run, with Kevin Keyes atoning for his ill-advised attempt to score from second on a single in the 2nd with an RBI single.

Ricky Hague homered in the bottom of the 5th to put Potomac up 5-4. Ray would bounce back from the four-run fourth with 1-2-3 fifth and worked around a single and a hit batsmen with a inning-ending DP. Cameron Selik flirted with disaster, giving up a pair of two-out singles but bore down to get the save (his 5th) and preserve the win for Ray (his 1st).

In the nightcap, Francisco Soriano produced twice in the clutch — tying the game with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the 7th, and doubling home the gamewinner with two down in the last of the 9th for a 4-3 win.

Wilson Eusebio was the pitcher of record and got the win, but the pitcher of the night was Rob Wort. After starter Matt Swynenberg tired in the 6th, giving up a single and a double to put runners on second and third, Wort came on and struck out the first batter for the first out, then got the second with a grounder to second that Frederick inexplicably decided to try to score on Soriano’s arm.

While it’s true that an RBI single followed, for which the casual fan may place blame, what’s lost in the quick glance at the box score is that Wort then dispatched the next six batters straight — that’s three innings with nine outs to nine batters faced.

Potomac would actually score all four runs with two out last night. Blake Kelso, who scored three of the four Potomac runs on a 3-for-5 game and a 4-for-8 night, scored the first on a Frederick throwing error. Justin Bloxom followed with an RBI double to tie the game at 2-2 in the 3rd. Kelso would double in the last of the 7th and score on Soriano’s single. Then (guess who?) after reaching base safely on a grounder in the 9th, Kelso came around from first on Soriano’s gamewinner, a double to down the RF line.

With the win, Potomac improves to 15-21, percentage points behind second-place Wilmington, but still 6½ back of first-place Lynchburg. Kyle Winters (1-5, 6.99) toes the slab tonight for the P-Nats, opposed by Scott Copeland (1-3, 5.91).

May 062012
 

Capped by a three-run shot, the Blue Rocks hung a four-spot on the P-Nats in the 9th to ice an 8-3 win and reclaim second place in the C.L. North.

Leading 4-3, Wilmington was content to play small ball to get the insurance run, sacrificing a leadoff walk off Shane McCatty to set up the Blue Rock’s top hitter (and sole switch hitter), Angel Franco.

With first base open, manager Brian Rupp elected not to bring in a lefthander to turn Franco around nor order an intentional walk. Franco delivered the insurance run with a double down the left-field line that Kevin Keyes boxed around but recovered in time to gun down Franco at third.

Thus, with two out and the bases empty, back-to-back singles set up Brett Eibner’s 4th HR of the season and put the game away.

The P-Nats actually led this game at one point, 2-0, after Zach Walters’ two-out, two-RBI single in the bottom of the first. Starting pitcher Kyle Winters coughed up the lead in the second with a three-run four-hit second. Winters would strike out a career-high 10 over six innings and finish with four runs allowed on seven hits.

The fourth run, however, was unearned — a cricket wicket by Ricky Hague in the third — and after Michael Taylor’s RBI double (#11, which leads the Carolina League) in the 4th, that was the difference in what was a 4-3 ballgame until the 9th. Twice Hague had a chance to redeem himself, with Adrian Sanchez (3-for-4 in his return from the DL) advancing from first to third both times on passed balls and wild pitched, but tapped out to short and struck out instead.

The loss halted a modest three-game win streak for Potomac, returning the P-Nats to third place in the Carolina League’s Northern Division. LHP Matt Grace (1-3, 7.36) faces off against Leondro Perez (2-1, 3.66) in rubber match of the series finale.

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.