Jun 012014
 

A seven-run 7th which featured five hits, three Salem errors, and multiple Red Sox misplays turned a 1-1 game into an 8-1 goat rodeo as the Potomac Nationals won their third straight and pulled within a 1/2 game of first place in the Carolina League North.

Ryan Zimmerman continued his rehab assignment and appeared in left field for the first time in his professional career. And it showed. Just one ball was hit his way in the five innings he played — a routine line drive to the left-center gap that was not hit particularly hard.

However, the “face of the franchise” broke the opposite way, turning a single into a double as the ball rolled past him towards the warning track. A strong throw — and that it was the leadoff batter in the inning — minimized the misplay, but it’s pretty clear that the specious Robin Yount comparisons ought to stop immediately.

Offensively, Zimmerman went 1-for-3 with a strikeout.

Dakota Bacus got the start and continues to show an ineffable knack for getting himself in and out of trouble. Four times in six innings, the leadoff batter reached — twice by way of double (*ahem*) — but only once did he score.

That was when Stephen Perez did his best imitation of Ian Desmond, ranging behind second base to make the scoop, only to boot it on the transfer for his 15th error in 49 games. To be clear, most other shortstops wouldn’t have gotten to it. Fewer still would have been on their feet and in a position to make a throw. Perez was rated the best defensive IF in the organization by Baseball America, and as much as I rag on BA, they’re not wrong on this one.

Back to Bacus… the 23-y.o. finished with the one unearned run on five hits and two walks while striking out four over five and 2/3rds innings but got the no-decision. After the Perez error, Gilberto Mendez came in and induced a tapper to the 5/6 hole that Khayyan Norfork glided to his left and made the toss across to end the inning.

Norfork, who drove in the first run with a single in the 4th, led off the seven-run 7th with a sharp single to left. Will Piwnica-Worms followed suit with a safety to center. Pedro Severino then laid down what appeared to be a bunt single but was ruled interference for the inning’s first out.

After a Tony Renda walk, Perez got that run back he let in with his error and another with his bat with a two-run single and took second on the first error for a 3-1 lead. Estarlin Martinez, who replaced Zimmerman in the lineup, hit a high fly to shallow right that was dropped and scored Renda for a 4-1 score.

A popup to short was the inning’s second out. Then Shawn Pleffner ripped an opposite-field double to send in Perez, 5-1. A grounder to third by Randolph Oduber was thrown around the diamond like someone gave the Salem defenders the water bottle from the freezer instead of the fridge — two more runs, and perhaps mercifully, just one error as Oduber stood on third when it was over, 7-1.

Salem changed pitchers and the rally was completed when a dropped third strike enabled Norfork to reach first base while Oduber charged home with the seventh run as the Salem backstop elected to go for the force instead of tossing to the pitcher for the less-certain tag play.

Mercifully, both teams played out the string without much drama. Mendez pitched the 8th and worked around a leadoff single to earn the win, his second of the season, while Travis Henke worked the 9th and gave up just a two-out single to end it.

Game three of the four-game series is this afternoon and features a matchup of RHPs — Ian Dickson (1-4, 6.55) vs. Luis Diaz (5-3, 3.42).

May 312014
 

Were it not for the presence of Ryan Zimmerman, this would not be one to write home about*.
* For the folks under 30, that refers to a letter written on paper in an envelope with postage stamp.

A sacrifice fly in the 10th gave the P-Nats a 5-4 win and pulled them within a game of 1st place in the Carolina League North. It was the fifth walkoff win of the season and the first time Potomac had won back-to-back games on consecutive days since May 5th and 6th.

The distinction matters because this is a team that has been reeling for most of May. The culprit is a lack of starting pitching, which, with the placement of Ronald Pena on the DL earlier this week, means the team has completely replaced its Opening Week starting rotation.

Brett Brach became the latest starter last night, signed away from the Somerset Patriots — same team as Zach Kroenke, who replaced Matt Purke in the Harrisburg rotation.

Zimmerman would give him an early lead, smacking a sacrifice fly to the warning track in right-center to plate Tony Renda, who had led off the game with a double and took third on sacrifice bunt by Stephen Perez. The soon-to-be 3B-1B-LF tapped out in the 4th, flew out in the 5th, and grounded out in the 8th as the P-Nats DH. He’s expected to play again tonight and tomorrow afternoon, perhaps appearing left field in one or both games.

Salem tied the game in the top of the 4th on a pair of singles and groundout in which the P-Nats couldn’t turn a double play fast enough to end the inning. The Red Sox basically gave away three runs in the bottom of the 4th with an error and three wild pitches that plated two of the runs with Randolph Oduber driving in the third with an RBI double as the P-Nats took a 4-1 lead.

Salem chased Brach in the 6th with a double ruled an error followed by a triple the right-center gap. Paul Demny made his 2014 debut but let in the runner he inherited and one of his own to tie things up at 4-4. Brach would finish with five-plus innings pitched, with three runs (two earned) allowed on three hits with no walks and seven strikeouts.

Demny would pitch a scoreless 7th but finished with one run allowed on two hits and two walks while striking out two. Bryan Harper took over in the 8th and blanked the Sox for two frames before giving way to Robert Benincasa, who walked two in the top of the 10th but was the winning pitcher, thanks to another sloppy inning by Salem.

Pedro Severino led off with the fourth Potomac hit and took second when Narciso Mesa was plunked. Both runners moved up 90 feet on a wild pitch, the 4th of the night for the Sox. Tony Renda struck out and was ejected. After wisely issuing an intentional pass to Perez to load the bases, Khayyan Norfork — pinch-hitting for Zimmerman — delivered the gamewinner with a flyout to center.

Game two of the four-game series will feature a matchup of RHP Dakota Bacus (2-1, 3.57) vs. LHP Cody Kukuk (1-3, 4.43).

May 222014
 

Sammy Solis continued his latest rehab tour with another win, as the P-Nats edged the Hillcats 3-2 in the opener of a true doubleheader on Wednesday.

Solis, who went on the DL with back problems after just two spring-training appearances, consistently hit the low 90s on the gun while showing both his change and curve with mixed success. He didn’t pile up the Ks but induced weak contact — two of his first three singles allowed were of the ‘tweener flyball variety, falling short of outfielders that others may have caught.

He walked one in the first and worked around those two singles with a popup to short, a groundout, and the first of four strikeouts. Lynchburg scored the lone run off him in third when Lynchburg shortstop Daniel Castro singled to left followed by a Josh Elander double — a truly hard-hit shot down the left field line.

The offense, which was held to an infield hit by Tony Renda in the 1st and an opposite-field safety by Pedro Severino in the 3rd, gave Solis the lead with two in the 4th.

Oscar Tejeda led off with a double and took third on a single by red-hot Shawn Pleffner (.314BA in last 10G). Randolph Oduber was hit by pitch to load the bases, setting up Khayyan Norfork, who ripped a double to right to plate Tejeda and Pleffner. Estarlin Martinez whiffed and Oduber got caught in a rundown to kill the rally.

More importantly, Solis responded to the two runs with his first (and only) three-up and three-down frame in the 5th. After striking out the first batter in the 6th, he would give up back-to-back singles and be lifted for Robert Benincasa.

The Potomac closer stranded both runners with tapper to the mound and a popup to second after a long struggle with pinch-hitter Eric Garcia, who worked the count full and fouled off several pitches.

Renda and Tejeda would team up for an insurance run with a single and double respectively, and it would prove necessary as Benincasa, who has had just one outing with zero baserunners in 14 appearances, was touched for a run in the top of the 7th on two hits. He would get a key strikeout of Hillcat cleanup man Kevin Ahrens and after an intentional walk to lefty Levi Hyams, then retire DH David Nick on a liner to short for the inning’s third out and notch his 8th save.

The P-Nats would lose the second game, 3-2, which coupled with another Wilmington win (four in a row), reduces Potomac’s lead in the Carolina League North to two games over the second-place Blue Rocks. Lynchburg and Potomac conclude the five-game series tonight with a matchup of Sim(m)s as John (0-1, 3.68) takes the hill for the home team against Lucas (4-3, 4.07) for the visitors.

May 212014
 

After making the error that gave back the lead to Lynchburg in the top of the 9th, Stephen Perez was up sixth in the bottom of the 9th and would need some help, if not luck, to get a shot at redemption.

Narciso Mesa drew the leadoff walk from the leadoff position, the second time he’d reached base in the game, but had had a sub-.200 OBP coming into the game. After a strikeout by Estarlin Martinez, Oscar Tejeda came up and drew the second walk of the inning.

Tony Renda, who’d singled in each of the four previous at-bats, would’ve been the lede had he gotten a fifth hit. Instead, he too struck out, leaving it up to Shawn Pleffner, the 6’5″ first baseman who was unable to snag either Perez error, both of which had sailed over his 9′ or so reach with a short leap.

Pleffner had already singled twice the opposite way, towards Lynchburg LF Josh Elander, who hadn’t made an accurate throw all game long. Could Pleffner serve up another his way and send in Mesa for the tie? Or perhaps hit a gap and end it for sure?

Nope. Pleffner wouldn’t get the chance because the umpires made the rare but easy call of catcher interference when Pleffner’s bat struck the glove of Anthony Nunez, who got out of his crouch and shook his left hand while Hillcat manager Luis Salazar argued.

Bases loaded. Two out in the 9th. Perez got his chance and wasted no time by ripping the first pitch into right field to plate both the tying and winning runs and turn a 5-4 deficit into a 6-5 walkoff. Perez finished with two errors, but also drove in three runs on three hits.

Derek Self, who faced two batters in the top of the 9th — Perez’s second error, and a strikeout — got the win in relief. He was the second man out of the ‘pen, following Brett Mooneyham, who pitched an up-and-down two and 2/3rds innings with two runs (one earned) on three hits and three walks.

Dakota Bacus, who started the original April 28th game and was on the mound when play resumed, went the first six innings and gave up three runs (one earned) on seven hits and a walk while striking out two. The win was Potomac’s 23rd and lowered their magic number to 25 over the second-place Wilmington Blue Rocks for the 1st-half title.

May 082014
 

Potomac couldn’t pull off a second walkoff in as many nights as their ninth-inning rally fell one run short in a 3-2 loss to Frederick.

Through eight innings, the Keys held the P-Nats to just four hits, thanks in large part to six strong innings from native son Brenden Kline. The Frederick-born 22-y.o. walked just one and struck out four while earning his third win of the season.

After Stephen Perez tapped a dribbler in front of the mound to start the ninth, Oscar Tejeda beat out an infield singled and scored ahead of Brandon Miller’s team-leading eighth home run.

The Keys lifted Miguel Chalas, who had stifled Potomac in the 7th and 8th innings, in favor of veteran Matt Hauser. Shawn Pleffner kept the one-out rally going against the 26-y.o. reliever with double to right field and took third on a wild pitch.

Potomac had two chances to send in Pleffner but couldn’t deliver as Keys shortstop Adrian Marin knocked down Khayyan Norfork’s at ‘em ball with infield drawn in for the second out and then ranged behind second base to gun down Adrian Sanchez on a close play at 1st to end it.

Ronald Pena was charged with the loss despite turning his best effort of the season with six innings pitched, with two runs on four hits and one walk. He did give up a home run, his fourth of the season, on a first-pitch fastball to Frederick’s Glynn Davis.

Travis Henke was responsible for the third Keys run as former P-Nat Mike Burgess singled in the second of two walks issued with two outs in the 8th after pitching a scoreless 7th. Gilberto Mendez stranded two runners and struck out the side in the 9th to lower his pitching line to 1.54/1.74/0.69 in 11⅔ innings over nine appearances.

The loss snaps a three-game win streak for Potomac, which still leads the Carolina League North by 4½ games. The seven-game homestand continues as Myrtle Beach, the Southern division leader by two games over Carolina, visits for the the next four games.
Brett Mooneyham (2-2, 4.43) will be on the mound for the P-Nats opposed by Chi Chi Gonzalez (2-2, 2.80) for the Pelicans.

May 072014
 

The Potomac Nationals rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to walk off in the 9th with a 4-3 win over Frederick. Randolph Oduber’s two-out double to right-center, his second two-bagger of the game and third hit overall, sent in Justin Miller all the way from first base to complete the comeback effort.

Of course, had the P-Nats not been so sloppy in the first, the drama would not have been necessary. It started with the very first batter as Oscar Tejeda booted a grounder to third by the Keys leadoff man Glynn Davis. After a 1-3 sacrifice moved up Davis, Zane Chavez singled to center.

For the second time in as many games Narciso Mesa launched a rocket in from center. If Cole Leonida were 7’2″ he might have caught it on the fly. Instead it sailed to the backstop and allowed Chavez to take second. Former P-Nat Mike Burgess drove in the first run with a groundout to first.

Frederick got another gift run when Stephen Perez committed his eighth error on a routine grounder, pulling the 6’5″ first baseman Shawn Pleffner off the bag far enough that the southpaw couldn’t get the tag play ruled in his favor (it looked like he got him but thanks to the Carolina League’s parsimony two-umpire system, the call was made from across the diamond).

Burgess would double and score in the 4th, catching the Potomac battery napping with a steal of third and trotting home on single by Jason Esposito as the Keys extended their lead to 3-0.

Frederick’s Bradley Wager went through the Potomac lineup twice with just a single hit allowed, retiring nine in a row from the 1st to the 4th, but failed the true test of a starter — making it through the lineup a third time.

Oduber doubled to the LF corner to start the 6th, Perez singled to center to push him third, and Tejeda atoned for his error with a three run bomb on a BP warmer to the tie it up at 3-3 and chase Wager from the game.

The big fly also took John Simms off the hook, as the 22-y.o. survived the errors to notch the very first quality start for Potomac in 2014: three runs (one earned) on four hits over six innings with no walks and two strikeouts.

The gamewinner came after a questionable called third strike in the 9th against Leonida, who protested without getting tossed, perhaps influencing the walk that followed to Justin Miller. Mesa missed his chance for redemption with a first-pitch popup for the second out in the ninth, setting up Oduber’s heroics.

The win went to Robert Benincasa, who pitched a scoreless 9th, while Rafael Martin made his first appearance of the year with two perfect innings in the 7th and 8th.

Potomac goes for the sweep tonight with Ronald Pena (2-0, 6.23) making the start against Frederick’s Branden Kline (2-1, 2.36).

May 062014
 

It doesn’t count as a quality start, but the efforts of Ian Dickson and Matthew Spann last night are as good as it gets for a two-pitcher effort. The Potomac duo combined on a seven-hit shutout — the first of 2014 for the P-Nats — in a 4-0 win last night in Woodbridge.

Dickson, who was making his first start of the season after seven relief outings, allowed just three hits and a walk over four innings as he kept the veteran Frederick lineup (redundant, I know) off-balance with a mix of fastballs and changeups. More importantly, he retired the first batter in all five innings.

The P-Nats would draw first blood in the 1st with a leadoff double by the Groovin’ Aruban (Randolph Oduber) and one-out triple by Oscar Tejeda. Brandon Miller was responsible for three runs, the first one via the bat as he ripped one to the 5/6 hole that Keys 3B Jason Esposito stopped and threw out Miller while Tejeda charged in from third base.

The second Miller run was one he prevented with his right arm in the 3rd inning as he gunned down Tucker Nathans trying to score from second on a two-out, groundball single to right field by Lucas Herbst.

The third run came in the 6th as Miller beat out an infield hit to third to extend the Potomac lead to 3-0. Potomac would get its fourth and final run in the 8th on a Stephen Perez walk, steal of second, and Tejeda’s two-out single for his second hit and second RBI of the night.

Matthew Spann took over for Dickson in the 6th and gave up back-to-back singles before getting a flyball to medium center, which Narciso Mesa airmailed past the cutoff man, perhaps too eager to show that he’s a worth successor to the CF arms that came before him (Michael Taylor, Chris Curran).

Spann would erase the threat with a double-play ball with a 6-3 DP by Perez, the second of five batters Spann set down in a row before giving up a leadoff double and a one-out single in the 8th. Spann would go self service this time, striking out the next two batters to end the threat and catching all three Keys looking in the 9th to earn the save.

With the win, Potomac improves to 17-10 and opens up a 4½ game lead over second-place Lynchburg in the Carolina League North. John Simms (0-0, 1.80) make his second start tonight for the P-Nats with Brady Wager (2-2, 6.12) taking the hill for Frederick.

Apr 272014
 

The fireworks after the game got cancelled by the intermittent rain, but there were plenty during the contest as the P-Nats pounded the Hillcats, 6-2 for their fourth straight win over their divisional rival.

Ronald Pena got the start instead of last night’s scheduled pitcher Brian Rauh, which may be part of an upcoming rotation realignment for Potomac, thanks to injuries both actual and perhaps phantom to teammates Nick Lee and Pedro Encarnacion. Today’s rehab starter Doug Fister is also part of the equation, as the P-Nats have yet to replace either pitcher on the roster.

Pena, who’s received the most run support of any Potomac starter as reflected by the team’s 4-0 record despite his 8.04 ERA, would have to work from behind this evening as erratic defense put him in an early 1-0 hole. Lynchburg’s Alejandro Piloto got a gift triple with one out as recently activated Narciso Mesa badly misjudged his flyball to medium center.

With the infield drawn in, Khayyan Norfork laid out to knock down a grounder to the 3/4 hole and keep Piloto on third. But just one batter latter, Jose Peraza’s high-but-shallow fly fell safely between LF, CF, and SS as nobody seemed to call for it, thus nobody got it.

The rain began to fall just as the game became official in the 5th and after a strikeout by Mike McQuillan and back-to-back walks by Stephen Perez and Cole Leonida, for a moment it looked like the elements would win.

Instead, Adrian Sanchez, who’s seen his batting average go from .045 to .189 with an eight hits over his last five games, singled in the tying run with one out while Randolph Oduber got the groove line between 3B and SS for a two-out, two-run single and a 3-1 lead.

Pena started the 6th for the first time this season, but gave up a leadoff hit and was lifted after recording his only stgrikeout of the night in favor of Rauh, who stranded that runner and retired eight of nine batters and seemed poised to finish the game for the long save.

It was put in doubt the good way — by big rally in the bottom of the 8th. Shawn Pleffner, who was making his High-A debut, singled to center for his first hit of the season. He trotted home in front of Brandon Miller’s fifth home run of the season, a rocket to the left of the scoreboard for which the only doubt was how far it went.

Mike McQuillan was hit by pitch and took second when Perez tried to lay down a bunt single. The 24-y.o. DH had to jog a little to score the final run when Leonida hit one off the base of the left field wall for his fifth double in just eight games this season.

With Bryan Harper warming up during the rally, Rauh was still sent out to start the 9th but hit the only batter he faced. The elder Harper brother gave up back-to-back singles to let in the run but rolled a double play ball.

Manager Tripp Keister called on Gilberto Mendez, who hadn’t pitched in a week, to get the final out and did it as efficiently possible without pickoff: one pitch, one out, albeit a deep fly to the warning track in LF to nail it down.

As aforementioned, Fister is the scheduled pitcher for the P-Nats in this afternoon’s game, with Brett Mooneyham (1-1, 3.21) most likely to follow on the mound. The Hillcats will send Greg Ross (1-1, 2.84).

Apr 252014
 

There was a perfect game for three innings. There were four stolen bases. There were five errors and five extra-base hits. And there was a six-run inning.

In other words, it was just another game of “A” baseball.

The Potomac Nationals used that six-run outburst to break a 2-2 tie and even the three-game series with an 8-2 win over the Winston-Salem Dash.

Early on, if you can believe it, this was a pitcher’s duel between Nick Lee and Braulio Ortiz. Lee set down the first nine batters in order without the ball leaving the infield, striking out two in each of the 2nd and 3rd innings. Ortiz allowed just a pair of two-out baserunners in the 2nd.

In the 4th, things got messy.

Dash SS Tim Anderson tripled to the right-center gap to lead things off and break up the perfect game. Lee notched his 5th K on a dropped third strike that Pedro Severino held onto while trying to look back Anderson instead of throwing on down to 1st. It was incorrectly ruled as a wild pitch instead of a fielder’s choice.

Winston-Salem would score when that batter who reached took off for 2nd and Severino threw the ball into centerfield. Anderson, who did not take off until the ball sailed over second base, trotted home for the game’s first run. Severino was not charged with an error, despite Rule 10.07(b)’s explicit instruction.

Lee would leave the game with an unspecified injury after warming up to start the 5th inning, and Dakota Bacus was brought on to relieve on short order. He would turn in three hitless innings of relief with no walks and one strikeout.

Things got worse for Severino when the P-Nat backstop was plunked on the helmet with one out in the 5th, but as is often the case with young pitchers, Ortiz got rattled by the mistake. He would pitch away to Justin Miller and induce a foul pop to first base but when he went inside again to Randolph Oduber, he was tentative. A middle-in fastball became more middle than in and the Groovin’ Aruban drilled it to right-center for a triple to send in Severino, then scored on a dropped relay throw for the 2-1 lead.

Robert Benincasa followed Bacus in the 8th inning but gave up a run on a walk, a two-out single, and a wild pitch to blow the save and let Winston-Salem tie it at 2-2.

Oduber would lead off the bottom of the 8th. Manager Tripp Keister ordered up a sacrifice bunt, which Khayyan Norfork delivered but Dash pitcher Kyle Hansen sailed it up the line, enabling Oduber to take 3rd. Hansen would commit a second error on an errant pickoff throw to score Oduber and give the P-Nats a 3-2 lead.

Kevin Keyes singled in Norfork for the fourth Potomac run and the floodgates opened as Brandon Miller walked, Mike McQuillan bunted his way on, Stephen Perez cracked a two-run double to score Keyes and Miller, Severino hit a sacrifice fly, and Justin Miller doubled to left to plate Perez.

Benincasa pitched a 1-2-3 ninth with two strikeouts to earn the (dreaded) blown-save-win.

The series concludes tonight, weather permitting, with Brian Rauh (1-1, 4.58) getting the ball for Potomac against Winston-Salem’s Mike Recchia (1-2, 4.11)

Apr 242014
 

On a cold, blustery night the Winston-Salem doubled up Potomac, 4-2 as the Dash’s Tony Buccifero outpitched the P-Nats’ Pedro Encarnacion.

The 24-year-old Buccifero, who led all starters in affiliated baseball with an FIP of 1.74 in 2013, tossed a career-high of eight innings while scattering nine hits but walking none to limit the damage to just two runs. He struck out eight.

Potomac did, however, connect for three doubles of the Dash starter, two of which came around to score: Oscar Tejeda’s two-out double in the 1st, on which he pulled up lame and was lifted for a pinch-runner, and Will Piwnica-Worms’s leadoff double in the 5th.

However, Potomac was only able to manage back-to-back hits twice last night: Kevin Keyes’s two-out RBI single following Tejeda’s double and Pedro Severino’s infield hit that Dash 3B Nick Basto was able to knock down but not field cleanly.

While it’s tempting to attribute Buccifero’s success to luck — there were a handful of “at ‘em” balls to infielders — Chicago’s 14th Rd. pick in 2012 has a track record for this, most notably in his ability to generate ground balls (12 groundouts last night) which stands at 61.5% this season and has risen from a 50.9% rate last season.

His counterpart, Pedro Encarnacion continues to have an up and down season, but the one constant is that he’s had trouble making it to the fifth. For third time in four starts, the 22-y.o. Dominican was knocked out in the 5th after giving up a homer-single-single sequence with two outs for the third Winston-Salem run. He gave up eight hits total, two walks and four strikeouts.

Ian Dickson finished the game for Potomac, turning in four and 1/3rd innings of one-run ball, which makes him a candidate — as he did a year ago — to slide into the rotation if/when needed, which is certainly possible as the no-quality-start streak was extended to 19 games.

Potomac got the tying runs on in the 9th against Dash reliever Bryan Blough with a pair of one-out singles by Severino and Piwnica-Worms, who both went 2-for-4 on the night, but couldn’t push either runner over or across as Randolph Oduber flew out and Khayyan Norfork popped out to end the game.

With the loss, Potomac drops to 11-8 but maintains a two-game lead in the Carolina League North. Tonight, Nick Lee (0-2, 13.06) gets the start for Potomac against Braulio Ortiz (0-2, 4.38) for Winston-Salem.