Apr 102011
 

The P-Nats got big innings in the first and ninth, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the mistakes in between, as they fell 6-5 to the Lynchburg Hillcats.

Danny Rosenbaum’s third inning was emblematic of the evening. He struggled with his control early, which is not unusual for him, but battled through it and only walked one while striking out four through the first seven batters. But a walk, an error, and another walk loaded the bases for Philip Gosselin, the only batter to make solid contact against him in the first pass through the lineup.

Rosenbaum fell behind again but snapped a curve on a hitter’s count. It was a good pitch, but Gosselin guessed right and deposited it into left-center, clearing the bases and turning a 2-0 lead into a 3-2 deficit. Rosenbaum would retire the last eight batters he faced, but that one bad inning was his undoing and hung the “L” on his pitching line of 5IP 2H 3R 2ER 3BB 4K.

The first two runs came on an odd combination of speed, luck, and power. Eury Perez provided the speed, steering a grounder into right field and then stealing second and third. Jeff Kobernus tapped a dribbler down the third base line that was thrown away but ruled a hit (luck of the hometown scorekeeper), though Perez would have scored in either case. Rick Hague blasted a double to set up runners on 2nd and 3rd, and after a J.P. Ramirez strikeout, Destin Hood tapped another “run-scoring grounder” to third for the P-Nats second run.

Like Rosenbaum, Lynchburg’s Arodys Vizcaino settled down, retiring 10 straight with mid-90s heat, a low-80s curve, and high-70s change until walking Destin Hood with one out in the fourth. The Hillcats botched a double play ball off the bat of Steve Souza, who took second on the overthrow to first, but a strikeout to Stephen King ended the only other threat against Vizcaino, who finished with six in five innings.

The score remained 3-2 until the top of the 8th, when reliever Adam Olbyrchowski, who was stellar in the seventh, fell to earth to a single, two walks, and three wild pitches to score three runs, capped off by a double steal that saw Jeff Kobernus decide to throw home despite having a play at second and Sandy Leon standing still on the five-feet-wide-of throw back to home plate. Olbryshowski managed to strike out the last batter, but the damage was done.

Down 6-2 in the Potomac 9th, Rick Hague led off with a single and went to second on a Destin Hood single to left. Steve Souza brought the announced crowd of 4,318 to its feet with a “oppo boppo” for three runs. After another Stephen King groundout, Sandy Leon drew a two-out walk, but with speedy Francisco Soriano pinch-running Cutter Dykstra struck out on a check swing to end it.

Game Two of the abbreviated series is today with Trevor Holder taking the hill against Zeke Spruill.

Sep 172010
 

The error that started the sixth drew a collective groan from the hundreds that braved the wet weather in Woodbridge. Though the Potomac nine were ahead 3-2, these diehards knew that the Dash can bang even when they start with a whimper. Sure enough, a sharp single to left and perfectly placed bunt loaded the bases with nobody out.

Veteran pitcher Jimmy Barthmaier had been struggling with his control, walking three in the previous five innings when he had walked just seven in nine regular-season appearances. Carlos Martinez started throwing in the bullpen and the fans were calling for Cathcart to put him in.

A popup to short got the first out, but the fans still wanted Carlos. Drew Garcia, who had singled twice in the previous two at-bats, got caught looking on an inside fastball. With the long, lean Dominican standing in the bullpen, hands on his hips, Barthmaier induced a popup to shallow right field. In the fourth, that flare found grass, but this time it landed in second-baseman Francisco Soriano’s glove for the third out. Barthmaier strode off the mound in triumph.

The energy carried into the bottom of the sixth, where Potomac rallied for three runs on two singles, two sacrifices, two wild pitches, and two stolen bases to take a 6-2 lead. It would prove to be enough, as the P-Nats would go on to win by a 10-2 count and take the series lead at 2-1, one win away from their second Mills Cup in three seasons.

Solo home runs by Bill Rhinehart and Jose Lozada in the first and second innings respectively gave the P-Nats an early 2-0 lead. The rain, light but steady, was enough to make folks worry if these longballs would eventually count. It had delayed the game 27 minutes and was quite visible on any ball skipping on the grass, an eight-inch plume of water spinning above it.

Rhinehart would lead all hitters with three RBIs on his homer and an eighth-inning double. Lozada would score three times while walking twice and Sean Rooney was the third P-Nat to collect multiple hits, including a fourth-inning triple to the wall in right-center that sent in Tyler Moore, who had been hit by pitches twice, to give the P-Nats the 3-2 lead.

Marcos Frias takes the hill tonight with the hopes of clinching his second playoff series in as many starts, opposed by Nathan Jones for the Winston-Salem Dash. Frias is 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA in his last three starts (17⅔ IP, 15H, 4BB, 14K) while Jones is 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA (16⅔ IP, 11H, 9BB, 11K) over the same stretch.

Sep 112010
 

Four big innings on offense and four innings of solid bullpen work were the, um, keys to beating Frederick as Potomac would go on to 10-3 win and return to Carolina League’s Mills Cup championship for the second time in three seasons.

Seven batters would combine for 11 hits, led by Chris Curran who tripled and singled twice for a 3-for-4 night, finishing the series at 7-for-12. Bill Rhinehart would drive in three for the second straight night, his six RBIs leading the team in the series. Potomac would score twice in the second, twice in the third, and three times in the fourth to build a 7-1 lead through four innings.

Marcos Frias would go five-plus innings to log the win, charged with three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out three. The first man out of the bullpen, Carlos Martinez, was greeted with a single to load the bases with no outs in the sixth, and then gave up a double, but Chris Curran and Jose Lozada combined to gun out the last runner by a healthy margin to get the first out. Martinez struck out the next batter and got a tapper back to the mound to end the inning, the lead cut to 7-3.

Potomac’s response would come in the bottom of the seventh, plating three runs on two hits and a groundout and took advantage of three walks — the seventh, eighth and ninth that the Keys would issue — to stretch the lead to 10-3.

Zach Dials and Rob Wort would follow Martinez, each tossing a scoreless inning to seal the deal. For the series, the bullpen would pitch 15⅔ innings, allow four runs, one earned, on 18 hits and three walks, and strike out 11.

As expected, the P-Nats’ opponent will be the Winston-Salem Dash. The double-half winner swept the Kinston Indians in the other half of the playoff bracket and will host Potomac for Games 1 and 2 on Monday and Tuesday. The series finishes at Potomac, resuming for Game 3 on Thursday, with Games 4 and 5 (if necessary) slated for Friday and Saturday.

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 252010
 

Some folks will say that Wilmington’s Will Smith dominated the P-Nats last night, but the more careful observer will tell you: This is what happens when you swing at pitcher’s pitches.

For eight innings, Potomac flailed at the Blue Rock southpaw, consistently putting themselves behind 0-2 and 1-2. For 5⅔ innings, Smith retired every batter he had faced before Nick Moresi singled up the middle to break up the perfect game.

The lanky centerfielder would be the lone exception as batter after batter refused to wait him out — even Derek Norris — as Smith racked up 12 strikeouts over eight innings against no walks.

Meanwhile, Trevor Holder’s troubles keeping the ball in the yard continued, as he surrendered two home runs to Wilmington, accounting for three of the four Wilmington runs. Holder has allowed five home runs in 45 innings for Potomac, but four have come in his last three starts.

But with such abysmal offense, it’s a nitpick. Potomac would get two runs in the bottom of the ninth against the Blue Rock bullpen as a walk, a Moresi double, and a Norris two-out double would cut the Wilmington lead in half before Tyler Moore would become the 13th and final strikeout on the night fly out to center to end the game.

The loss drops Potomac into second place, a ½ game behind Wilmington, and into a tie in the loss column. The latter matters because Wilmington will play just 68 games in the 2nd half, making it possible for the Blue Rocks to make the playoffs as a percentage-points winner.

Jimmy Barthmaier looks to stop the three-game slide for Potomac against Wilmington’s Timothy Melville, who is 0-1 with a 4.21 ERA in two starts against Potomac this season.

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 222010
 

Baseball is a game of failure, lots of it, actually. It’s also a game that offers a chance at redemption. It might come on the next play, the next inning, or the next night, but it almost always comes.

On Friday night, Derek Norris was asked to advance the tying run to third via the bunt with no outs in the ninth inning, and he popped it up halfway down the first base line. Regardless of whether it was a poor decision to ask him do it (and it was), the sting of failure still hurts because the cat-calling casual fans don’t understand.

Fast-forward to Saturday night, and in his next at-bat, Norris comes up with one on and one out, the P-Nats down 2-0. With one swing of the bat, Friday night was forgotten as the game was tied with one swing of the bat.

Tyler Moore would single, Sean Rooney would double him in, and the P-Nats would take the lead at 3-2 and never look back as both Norris and Moore had a night to remember, combining for seven hits, seven runs, and… wait for it… seven RBI as Potomac would pound Winston-Salem for a 9-2 victory.

Moore would homer twice to tie the franchise record at 28 and drive in five runs to eclipse the century mark in RBIs, the first player to do it since Troy Farnsworth in 2000 (113) and the sixth overall, according to the P-Nats website. He went 4-for-4 on the night, doubling, and homering twice after his first-inning single.

Norris would walk and double, scoring all four times he reached base, his on-base percentage raised to .426, second only to since-promoted Eric Hosmer of Wilmington in the Carolina League.

Starter Adrian Alaniz picked up his seventh win of the season, laboring through five innings against the league’s very best offense but would not give up another run after the first inning — a flat fastball that Dash cleanup hitter Seth Loman lined over the right-centerfield wall for both Winston-Salem runs — allowing six hits total, walking two, and striking out five.

The win combined with a loss by Wilmington extends the Potomac lead to 2½ games and three in the loss column. The Blue Rocks come to town on Monday for the final three games between these two teams. The recently signed IFA and former Cuban National team pitcher Yuniesky Maya is the announced starter for today’s game, opposed by Winston-Salem’s Terry Doyle, who has pitched twice against the P-Nats at Winston-Salem, allowing three runs over 13 innings.

Aug 212010
 

It’s not unusual to leave a game early, especially when the home team is up 6-1. After seven innings, this game looked like it was in the bag, even with Marcos Frias set to pitch the 8th.

Well, maybe not.

With eight runs in the eighth inning, the Winston-Salem Dash turned that 6-1 deficit into a 9-6 lead, then held on for a 9-8 win over Potomac. Seven of the eight runs scored with two outs. Frias, who was pitching in his third inning and had been the scheduled starter prior to Thursday night’s rainout, gave up back-to-back singles and was lifted for A.J. Morris, who struck out the first batter he faced, walked a batter to load the bases, and got a ground ball that erased the runner at second for the second out, the lead still intact at 6-2 with runners at the corner.

Then he gave up a single, the lead now 6-3, runners at first and second. All quiet on the bullpen front.

Then he gave up another single, bases loaded. Bullpen mounds unoccupied.

Then he gave up another single, two runs score, runner takes second on the throw home. The lead now just 6-5. Bullpen finally up and active.

Then he gave up another single, two runs score, runner takes second on the throw home, the Dash now up 7-6.

Manager Gary Cathcart finally lifted Morris for Patrick McCoy. Duly cursed by being named for this week’s “GBI,” McCoy promptly gave up the first extra-base hit, a double, then a single to complete the rally before finally getting a tapper to the mound for the third and final out.

Potomac would scratch out single runs in the eighth and ninth innings, but the number that jumps from the scorebook is 15. That’s the number of runners left on base, as the P-Nats would go just 3-for-16 with RISP.

Tyler Moore continues to be hotter than a two-dollar pistol as doubled to right field for two runs and launched a moonshot down the LF line for home run number 26 and RBI number 97. Starter Jimmy Barthmaier labored through five innings, but kept the Dash scoreless on three hits and one walk.

The loss blew an opportunity to gain ground on second-place Wilmington, as the Lynchburg Hillcats shut them out 7-0. Potomac still holds a 1½ game lead (two in the loss column) with staff ace Adrian Alaniz (6-4, 2.44) set to pitch against Joe Serafin (1-3, 6.21).

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.

Aug 102010
 

Thunder and lightning suspended this game at 8-2 last week, and Potomac used every bit of that anomaly to come away with an 8-7 score-that-counts-as-a-win in the first game played last night in Woodbridge.

Lynchburg’s three pitchers that took the mound on Monday shut down the Potomac offense, limiting them to just four hits and two walks by (who else?) Derek Norris while striking out nine batters.

Meanwhile, Marcos Frias, who had been pitching last Wednesday, resumed the game and immediately gave up two runs to cut the deficit from 8-2 to 8-4. He would settle down and retire eight of nine before surrendering a solo home run in the sixth, his team- and league-leading 16th of the season. It was now 8-5, Potomac.

Clayton Dill would follow Frias on the mound in the eighth and surrender a double to right, and suffer an error by Jose Lozada before getting a double play ball, which plated another run, shaving the lead to 8-6 for Potomac.

Justin Phillabaum took the ball in the ninth, and also gave up a leadoff double. But like Dill, he got two groundball outs, the first sending the runner to third, the second scoring him on a bullet down the LF line that Dan Lyons snared and fired across the diamond for out #2. After a two-out single, Phillabaum induced a fly to right field and sigh of relief from the stands, with the game in hand for an 8-7 victory.

Garrett Mock took the hill in Game Two, and did little to disprove the NationalsProspects.com mantra that rehab starts are overrated, coughing up a two-out, two-run blast to admittedly red-hot Denis Phipps (home run #8 since being demoted from AA Carolina) in the first inning, hitting two batters and surrendering eight hits over our innings. He also gave up a run in the fourth, his final inning of work.

It could have been worse were it not for a terrific relay on a two-out double to deep CF by Lynchburg’s Justin Greene. Speedsters Chris Curran and Francisco Soriano showed off their arms with a strong throw from the warning track to shallow and a bullet to the plate. Norris blocked the plate, absorbed the hit, and then glared at the baserunner — opposing catcher Jordan Wideman, who broke the catcher’s code by not sliding — before flipping the ball towards the mound, the body language roughly translated as: Is that all you got?

Unfortunately, the great defensive play did not spark the offense, which went down 1-2-3 for the next four innings. Newly acquired reliever Joe Testa worked the final the final three innings, the last of which saw him get roughed up for two runs on three hits.

With the split, Potomac’s lead over second-place Wilmington drops to just one game again. Adrian Alaniz is the scheduled starter for Potomac in today’s noontime barbeque ballgame, opposed by Curtis Partch for Lynchburg.