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.

Apr 102014
 

wheelscameoffthebus
It came an inning later than the previous night, but the wheels came off the bus with another big inning in the early going as Lynchburg pummeled Potomac, 9-1.

It only took three batters for the Hillcats to score in the 1st as Josh Elander served up a two-run shot to the opposite field to give the visitors an early 2-0 lead. Things would not go much better in the second with a leadoff triple and a grounder to 1st plating the third Lynchburg run.

On a night where P-Nats highlights were few and far between, Brandon Miller broke up the no-hitter and the shutout with a solo homer to right (yes, the wind was blowing that way, but it was only 5 m.p.h.) with one out in the 2nd. Tony Renda collected the second hit for the Woodbridge nine with a liner 3-4 hole into right field in the fourth and took second on a wild pitch.

Alas, Potomac would have just one more baserunner — a one-out walk by Mike McQuillan in the 6th — before McQuillan and Renda would lead off the 9th with their second walk and hit, respectively. Veterans Oscar Tejeda and Kevin Keyes couldn’t cash them in though as they hit into double play and struck out to end the bid for a second run.

Ronald Pena (0-0, 12.27) will take the hill for the P-Nats this morning in front of hundreds of screaming girls. Unfortunately, they’ll be middle schoolers there for the annual Science Day promotion. Lynchburg will be going for the sweep with Mauricio Cabrera (0-0, 2.25) on the bump for the Hillcats.

Apr 092014
 

The game was not as close as the final score would suggest, as the Hillcats defeated the Nationals, 10-7 in Potomac’s home opener.

As is often the case in April games, it was cold and it was sloppy. The two teams combined for four recorded errors, three wild pitches and two passed balls. Consequently, runs came easy, early and often.

The difference was the one really big inning, which knocked P-Nats starter Nick Lee from the box with two outs in the 2nd inning. Lynchburg would send ten men to the plate, six of them would hit safely and six of them would score to take an early 7-1 lead.

Lee, who struck out three of the 13 batters he faced, was (obviously) not sharp despite just walking one. As the old saw goes, the batters will tell you when you’re not hitting your spots as they belted three doubles against the southpaw, jumping on his curve when bent instead of broke.

He would finish with seven runs, all earned, on seven hits over one and 2/3rds.

The P-Nats offense answered the Hillcats with three runs in the second, but like the last single at the bar at closing time, it wasn’t pretty. A walk, a hit batsmen, and an error opened the frame to allow Stephen Perez (RBI single), Tony Renda (sacrifice fly) and Kevin Keyes (RBI single) to cash in the mistakes.

Indeed, walks, errors and misplays led to the next two Potomac runs in the 3rd and 5th innings before they strung together a relatively clean two-out rally in the 6th. Tony Renda reached infield hit, Oscar Tejeda singled, and Keyes delivered another single for the final Potomac run.

Pedro Severino launched a triple off the base of the centerfield wall with two outs in the 7th for the last P-Nat hit. Tejeda led the nine-hit offense with a 3-for-5 night, followed by Keyes with a 2-for-4 effort.

While Brian Dupra and Bryan Harper kept things close for five and a 1/3rd innings, Travis Henke was not as effective, giving up two runs in the 8th to give Lynchburg a 10-7 cushion.

Veteran Hillcats reliever Brandon Cunniff slammed the door on the P-Nats with a pair of 1-2-3 innings, striking out the side in the 8th and four total for the save.

The series continues tonight with Brian Rauh (0-0, 1.80) making his second start, opposed by Lynchburg’s 19-y.o. Lucas Sims (0-1, 6.75).