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.

Aug 092011
 

You can only dodge the bullet so many times.

That’s the lesson that Potomac should have learned as the Salem Red Sox finally cashed in on the numerous chances the pitchers gave them for a 2-1 win.

Salem got its first run in the top of the 1st — another troubling trend that needs to stop if Potomac is to defend its Mills Cup title — but it could have been a lot worse. Two hit batsmen and a wild pitch then a walk loaded the bases. A swinging bunt drove in the run but starter Paul Demny escaped the jam with a flyout to right fielder Archie Gilbert (rehabbing from Harrisburg).

Demny would have baserunners in every inning he pitched. He walked two in the 2nd, giving up a single and double in the 3rd; got the trifecta in the 4th with another hit batsmen, a base hit, and a walk; and gave up walks in the 5th and 6th, the last chasing him in the 6th. To his credit, Demny kept the ball down and on the ground, getting two key double plays and allowing just four flyballs. For a pitcher that’s struggled with the longball, that’s bigger than Oprah.

Of course, what’s nearly always true is that good pitching gets scrutinized further when the offense is struggling, as the P-Nats have been over the past couple of weeks. It was sixth time in the past 10 games they’ve failed to score at least three runs.

It would be easy to chalk this up to the opposing pitcher, Chris Hernandez, who blanked them last week in Salem. But Hernandez was far from dominant, walking three and getting several long counts. During his five innings, it felt like he was one pitch away from getting smacked and having this game tied up.

Potomac would break through in the 7th as newly acquired Zach Walters drilled a grounder off the heel of Salem reliever Chris Martin to lead off the inning. A Steven Souza walk sandwiched between flyouts by Sandy Leon and Eury Perez (Walters taking third on the latter), brought up Francisco Soriano. The strong-armed infielder ripped a line drive into right to plate Walters and tie the game.

It would be the last Potomac baserunner.

Trevor Holder, Joe Testa and Rob Wort followed Demny on the mound. It was Holder’s first appearance in a Potomac uniform since June 24 and he tossed two solid innings of relief, allowing a hit and striking out three. Joe Testa pitched a scoreless 8th and appeared to be working around a leadoff bunt single but a two-out walk chased him from the game.

Wort gave up a single to right that Gilbert charged and threw a one-hop bullet to Leon, but on a night like this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the bounce was higher than usual and Leon couldn’t make the snap-tag that would have been a bang-bang play. A flyout ended the threat, but like I said at the beginning, you can only give a team so many chances before they cash one in.

The P-Nats went down in order and on strikes to end the game. The loss was a missed chance to gain ground on Frederick, which lost to Myrtle Beach. Lynchburg edged a game closer with a win over Kinston, trailing Potomac by five games while the Keys still lead the division by three.

Cameron Selik (4-7, 4.18) takes the hill this afternoon in the final midweek daygame (no gamer tomorrow), opposed by Salem’s Stolmy Pimentel (1-3, 4.96).

Jul 312011
 

Missed opportunities was the theme of the night in a 6-2 loss to Frederick.

Potomac had baserunners in eight of nine innings on offense, including a leadoff walk in the 1st by Eury Perez and a leadoff double in the 2nd. Both runners were erased or stranded.

Meanwhile, Adam Olbrychowski and the strike zone weren’t on friendly terms, with four walks issued during his three innings. Amazingly, none of them scored. But the net effect was that when he was around the plate, the 24-year-old got hit hard — a double and homer in the second and three singles in the 3rd, which chased him from the game.

Mitchell Clegg came on in relief and finally had what’s eluded him all season long: a strong appearance at home. In his eight previous appearances at the Pfitz, he’d given up 34 runs and 43 hits and walked nine over just 22⅔ innings. Instead, the lefty from UMass turned in three scoreless innngs with just two hits allowed, no walks, and four strikeouts.

Down 4-0 after three innings, Potomac broke up the shutout with a run in the bottom of the fourth, But it should have been more. Steve Souza was picked off first after drawing his team-leading 54th walk. Adrian Nieto singled, took second on on error, and scored on J.R. Higley’s ground-rule double to dead center.

Two innings later, Potomac’s night was summarized in the 6th. Destin Hood led off with a single to center, Bloxom ripped a liner to right to send him to 3rd and Steve Souza doubled to score Hood. With runners on second and third, and nobody out and down just two at 4-2, the P-Nats appeared poised to tie the game, if not take the lead.

Instead, Frederick went to the ‘pen and got precisely what they needed to stop the momentum from Chris Petrini — three straight strikeouts by Nieto, Higley, and Sean Nicol. The lefty would strike out five in his two innings of work for his 11th hold of the season.

If that wasn’t the kill-shot, then the two runs in the top of the 7th off Neil Holland put the proverbial bullet to the brain. As if they didn’t do enough damage on defense (with two double plays and seven assists for the night), the keystone combo of Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop led off the inning with a single and double respectively and came around to score on a sacrifice fly to right and an error by Jeff Kobernus that prompted the usual treatment from manager Matt LeCroy: A seat on the bench for the rest of the night.

Potomac stranded four more over the last three innings, with Bloxom striking out with runners on first and second in the 7th, Machado and Schoop turning a Sean Nicol grounder into a 6-4-3 DP to end the 8th, and Hood’s last-gasp flyout to deep right-center ending the 9th.

The loss extends the Keys’ lead over the P-Nats to four games and narrows the gap between Potomac and third-place Wilmington to seven games. Staff ace Danny Rosenbaum (5-5, 2.61) will be tasked with stopping the losing streak and salvaging the series this afternoon. Frederick’s Nathan Moreau (10-7, 3.92) will oppose him, with a shot to tie teammate Bobby Bundy for the Carolina League lead in pitching wins.

Jul 302011
 

The first inning is not the friend of Cameron Selik. Four runs by Frederick in the frame, plus another lull from the P-Nats bats, put another “L” in the books for both Potomac and Selik on Friday night.

It was the fifth time in 13 starts that Selik had been scored on in the first inning, the second in as many starts against the Frederick Keys. There wasn’t much doubt about it, either: a leadoff home run, single, single, ground-rule double to the first four batters (with a wild pitch just before the double) before the first batter was retired.

The problem is a fairly common one. Selik simply doesn’t have the stuff to live up in the zone, and that’s where the pitches were early on. To his credit, he made the adjustment and settled down. He would retire 10 in a row after the ground-rule double before giving up his sixth and final hit in the fourth (another double), and then the last 11 batters he faced.

Of course, none of this would be dissected in that kind of detail had the Potomac batters done more than just five hits and a walk on offense. Just two batters reached second: J.R. Higley via a double (the only extra-base hit) and Jeff Kobernus on a fielder’s choice. This was the second time in three starts against the P-Nats that Frederick’s Bobby Bundy had stifled them, and the smart money says that he’ll be skipped this time next month if the two teams are still in line to meet in the first round of the playoffs.

The loss drops Potomac three games behind Frederick in the Carolina League North division. Lynchburg and Wilmington both won to narrow the gap between second and third place to eight games.

The series continues tonight with Adam Oblrychowski (no word as to why he was bumped back one night) toeing the slab for Potomac against Frederick’s Jake Pettit.

Jul 162011
 

Behind a pair of Francisco Soriano two-run HRs and eight strong innings from Danny Rosenbaum, the Potomac Nationals returned to action with a 4-3 win on Friday night.

Enjoy this while it lasts because if history serves, Rosenbaum’s time in Woodbridge may be coming to an end.

One of the most common questions* is when will Player X get promoted. For position players, I keep telling folks, the new world order is that it’s a level a year below AA. Pitchers are the most likely to get in-season moves. Tonight, Brad Peacock makes his first AAA start. Next week, Nathan Karns will be likely to start for the first time north of Florida. *Answerable; I know nothing about incriminating pictures or information that’s keeping a given player active or on the 40-man roster.

With his one-year anniversary of his high-A debut coming next week, Rosenbaum’s AA debut could be on deck in the next three or four weeks. He certainly made the case with his performance: eight innings pitched, a season-high eight strikeouts and eleven groundball outs. His fastball command was a little shaky but hitters couldn’t touch his changeup, as several times he was able to fool them with it on back-to-back pitches.

Walks have been his bugaboo this year — something I believe has come with a jump in his top velocity from the high 80s to the low 90s — and though he walked just one, wouldn’t it figure that the lone walk would lead to the lone run? It came in the fourth inning with one out and was followed by a single that pushed the runner to third. Eury Perez snagged the flyout in medium center, waving off J.R. Higley and launched missile to home plate… just up the line enough for the runner to score.

The sacrifice fly was the first of five straight batters retired before a leadoff single in the sixth. That would be the last Indian to reach base against Rosenbaum, who retired the last eight batters he faced, including a 6-4-3 double to erase that single.

Not to bury poor Francisco Soriano, who was the story on offense. It’s one thing to hit two home runs in a game, it’s quite another to do it from both sides of the plate. Soriano drove in all four runs for Potomac, including a shot off the LF foul pole in the 7th to put the P-Nats up 4-1. As P-Nats broadcaster Will Flemming tweeted last night, his four HR in 41 games this year matches the four HR he had hit in the 245 games he had played previously.

The 4-3 final correctly suggests that Hector Nelo was less than stellar in the ninth. He walked the leadoff batter and his deliberate delivery enabled not one but two Kinston baserunners to steal against Sandy Leon (55% CS rate). An error “helped” make one of the two runs unearned with the runs coming in on single over Jeff Kobernus into right-center and groundout to Kobernus for the second out. Soriano gunned down the last batter with the tying run at third to end it.

The win improves Potomac to 12-8 for the second half, still a ½-game ahead of the first-half winner Frederick in the Carolina League’s Northern Division. Sammy Solis (2-0, 2.08) makes his second Pfitz start in the opener of tonight’s doubleheader against Kinston, with Evan Bronson (2-3, 3.77) pitching the nightcap.

Jul 062011
 

No Mercy! This is Wilmington!

The regulars know this is the battle cry from Steve Stevens, an otherwise mild-mannered grandfather, and last night the Potomac Nationals paid heed to the former Marine, blasting the Wilmington Blue Rocks by 12-3 score and taking the series three games to one.

The P-Nats scored often and early, though the bulk of the damage came in an eight-run second inning, one in which 12 men came to bat and highlighted by Sandy Leon’s first big fly of the season and a grand slam from J.P. Ramirez. Potomac “only” had 12 hits for the night, led by Jeff Kobernus’s 3-for-5 effort, with four other batters (Ramirez, Leon, J.R. Higley, and Eury Perez) collecting two.

Let’s Go Big Pitch!

It was also the Carolina League debut of 2010 Washington Nationals 2nd Round Draft pick Sammy Solis, who turned in a quality start of six innings pitched, three runs allowed on seven hits, one walk, and five strikeouts. Stevens wasn’t on hand to belt out another one of his familiar admonitions, but Solis wouldn’t need much encouragement with the huge lead.

Solis struggled early, with three-ball counts to nearly every batter in the first inning, and gave up a walk and two singles to fall behind early. He would settle down and settle in to retire 13 of the next 15 batters after giving up the first-inning run, allowing just a two-out single in the third and a swinging bunt single with one out in the 5th.

The velocity was there, as the “big pitch” (6’5″, 230) touched 96 on occasion, but what was more impressive was the huge separation in his pitches as his fastball was in the low 90s but his changeup dipped as low as the mid-70s. The 11-5 (1-7 from the batter’s eye) curve wasn’t as sharp as it was in Hagerstown last month, but it mostly kept the hitters off-balance as six of the seven hits Solis yielded were just singles.

The seventh, however, was another long home run off the bat of John Whittleman, his third HR of the series in as many uniform tops (last night it was #14) as Solis did leave on a somewhat sour note, giving up two runs in his final inning.

Rob Wort and Joe Testa followed Solis out of the ‘pen to combine for three scoreless innings, with Wort scattering three hits and both striking out one batter apiece.

The win improves Potomac to 7-6 in the second half, a ½ game behind first-place Frederick, the next team on the schedule. The Keys and P-Nats are slated for three games today through Friday. Potomac then visits Lynchburg over the weekend and into Monday for three games before returning to the Pfitz a week from today for an eight-game homestand.

Jul 032011
 

A 14-1 beatdown isn’t very common for the P-Nats. Being on the winning side of it is almost unusual. Throw in a decent rehab start, a few home runs, and you’ve got one of the more memorable evenings in a long time.

In front of an estimated reported crowd of 6,911, the Potomac Nationals gave the crowd a rousing victory and fireworks show before they even lit a match. Destin Hood, Francisco Soriano, and Brian Peacock all went deep, with Hood connecting for a two-run shot to right-center and three-run bomb to left as part of an 18-hit onslaught.

Every batter reached base, and every batter got a hit, with the homer-run hitters each going 3-for-5 and five batters getting multiple hits. Potomac did the bulk of its damage in the eighth, scoring seven runs on seven hits, with Peacock driving in all three of his runs on a home run (pictured above) and a two-out, two-run triple.

I suppose I’ve buried it as deep as I can, but Chien-Ming Wang pitched fairly well, albeit against a substandard lineup (the best hitter having a .259 GPA, league average is .236) going four scoreless innings and allowing one hit and two walks while striking out two.

Unlike most rehabbing pitchers, Wang used more than just his fastball and sinker, mixing in changeups and sliders. Early in the contest, he was hitting in the low-to-mid-80s but by the end of his outing he was in the upper 80s and low-90s. Wang allowed just one flyball to the outfield and got six of the twelve outs on groundballs, which is going to be key since it’s doubtful that he’ll ever return to throwing mid-90s heat*.

*As good a time as any to remind folks that I’m not a scout, I just play one on the web.

Mitchell Clegg and Neil Holland followed Wang on the mound, with Clegg getting knocked for four hits and a run in two innings and Holland working out of a bases-loaded-jam unscathed for two scoreless innings and properly getting credit for the win as the most effective reliever. Rob Wort Josjh Smoker pitched the ninth and got three outs with one walk.

The win brings Potomac back to .500 at 5-5 for the second half, but still one game back of first-half champ Frederick. Staff ace Danny Rosenbaum (4-3, 2.57) toes the slab for the P-Nats, opposed by the #14 Kansas City prospect (according to Basball America), 21-year-old Tim Melville (7-6, 4.23).