Sep 052013
 

No pressure, Blake, but we kinda need you to go all nine innings tonight.

OK, so maybe nobody said that to the Potomac ace last night, but this morning, that’s what P-Nats fans are thinking after last night’s 2-1 win in 14 innings over Lynchburg. At least this one.

Potomac rallied with two outs in the bottom of the 9th to tie it, as Randolph Oduber grooved a 1-1 pitch into the right-center gap to score pinch-runner Will Piwinica-Worms all the way from first base. Michael Taylor won it with a two-out RBI single in the 14th, ending the four-hour-and-30-minute marathon.

But where the game was really won was in the nine shutout innings that the quintet of Travis Henke, Colin Bates, Robert Benincasa, Rafael Martin, and Brian Dupra turned in. As a group, they walked four, struck out eight and allowed just four hits. As noted yesterday, these guys had been worked hard in the final week of the season but you’d have never known it if you seen ’em in action last night, Colin Bates in particular (nine up, nine down in innings seven through nine).

Both teams, truth be told, pitched a hell of a game. Sammy Solis nearly lost despite giving up just a run over five innings on three hits and a walk (care to guess which was the run that scored?) while fanning five.

Lynchburg’s Greg Ross struck out 10 P-Nats, primarily by pitching backwards: throwing change after change then spotting an average fastball once he’d gotten ahead. No doubt Hillcats fans are wondering why an almost 24-y.o. journeyman wasn’t asked to go an inning or two longer after giving up just two infield hits and a walk over six shutout innings.

As the lede suggests, Blake Schwartz takes the hill tonight for Potomac with a chance to advance to the Mills Cup Finals. Schwartz was 3-0 vs. the Hillcats during the regular season, including a pair of wins 10 days apart in July. He’ll be opposed by veteran southpaw Ryan Hinson, coincidentally, the opposing pitcher in Schwartz’s last two starts against Lynchburg.

Aug 222013
 

Rained-Out-2012The second ten-game win streak for Potomac came to an end with a rain-shortened 3-1 loss in five innings to Winston-Salem.

Starter Paul Demny took the loss for the second time in six starts since his demotion from Harrisburg. He gave up all three runs (two earned) on four hits, three of which went for extra-bases. The difference came in the two-run fourth as Kevan Smith took the 24-y.o. Texan deep with a solo shot to right-center with one out while Joshua Richmond connected for the second double of the game with two outs to build a 3-0 lead.

Rain began to fall in the top of the 4th but a double play ended things quickly in the bottom of the 4th and Demny retired the side in order in the top of the 5th. Brandon Miller led off the bottom of the fifth with a triple and came in to score on a groundout to short. Cutter Dykstra struck out to end the inning, which also ended his 29-game on-base streak.

Play was halted after the 5th and the game called 92 minutes later.

The loss combined with Lynchburg’s eighth straight win keeps Potomac’s magic number at six to clinch the Carolina League North division again. Both Frederick and Wilmington have been eliminated from the second-half title race. The Hillcats lead the Keys by eight and the Blue Rocks by 10½ games in the overall standings that determine the second playoff team in the event of a double-half winner.

Potomac, however, still has good incentive to beat the Dash tonight and tomorrow, as Winston-Salem’s best chance of making the playoffs is to beat out Salem for the best overall record behind Myrtle Beach, if the Pelicans can win both halves (they lead the Red Sox by 1½ games after a 5-0 win last night). The P-Nats have won just once in six games at BB&T this year and would play the deciding games there in the event of both teams making the Mills Cup Finals.

Tonight, Brett Mooneyham makes his High-A debut after earning a promotion with a 8-2, 1.88 mark since the Sally League All-Star break. He’ll be opposed by Myles Jaye (7-6, 4.66) for Winston-Salem.

Aug 172013
 

Potomac scored seven times with two outs as they completed a three-game sweep of Frederick with a 7-3 win.

Ross Ohlendorf made the rehab start but was not sharp. The 31-year-old journeyman gave up all three Keys runs on eight hits, including three hard-hit doubles.

While he walked just one, the former Diamondback farmhand faced multiple long counts as his command was spotty. For the velo who..er, enthusiasts, peeks at the guns were in the 89-91 range.

His counterpart, however, would need a vehicle to hit that speed. Frederick’s knuckleballer in training Zach Clark had the Potomac lineup fooled for about seven batters before Justin Miller knocked a flutterball off the left field wall in the 2nd, then Randolph Oduber put one over it for a two-run shot that gave Potomac a 2-1 lead.

Potomac would add three more in the third with three doubles by Caleb Ramsey, Kevin Keyes, and Adrian Sanchez. Clark would finish the evening by retiring the last seven in a row, but lost his sixth decision for the Keys while lowering his ERA from 14.06 to 13.19.

Greg Holt relieved Ohlendorf after he gave up his eighth hit to the leadoff batter in the 5th and earned his seventh win with two innings of scoreless relief, though he walked three — including the first two batters of the 6th. A grounder to third, a popup to third and strikeout enabled the 24-y.o. to escape the jam.

Colin Bates pitched the 7th and 8th and Rob Wort the 9th, as both relievers worked around multiple base hits (two in each inning) and combined for three scoreless innings.

The win was the fifth in a row for the P-Nats, who hit the road for four games in tax shelter Delaware against the Blue Rocks before returning home for their final regular-season homestand on Wednesday.

Aug 162013
 

Overcoming deficits of 1-0 and 2-1, Potomac sent eight men to the plate in the 5th to take a 3-2 lead and held on for a 5-4 win.

It was the fourth straight win for Potomac on the current homestand, and the first “W” for starter Paul Demny in five starts since his demotion from Harrisburg last month. The 24-y.o. allowed seven hits and walked two but allowed just two runs while striking out five.

To the naked eye, Demny’s velocity seemed diminished since he last pitched for the P-Nats in 2011, an observation also made by the Senators beat writers. Demny was placed on the DL in early July with “arm soreness” and removed from the Harrisburg rotation in late June. Last night marked the first time he had pitched more than three innings since June 23.

Offensively, the P-Nats notched 12 hits, with Cutter Dykstra, Justin Miller, and Caleb Ramsey each collecting three but struggled in the clutch — 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position and a total of 10 men left on base in eight innings.

Adrian Nieto got the scoring going with his 11th HR of the season, a bomb to right-center while batting lefthanded. Justin Miller, Dykstra, and Ramsey singled to load the bases in the 5th. After a Michael Taylor whiff, Nieto drove in the second Potomac run with a grounder to first. It would require back-to-back walks by Brandon Miller and Kevin Keyes to take the lead.

Ramsey bunted his way on in the 7th and took second on a wild pitch, but scored without a base hit thanks to a Taylor roller to 1st and a sacrifice fly by Brandon Miller, which ended his hit streak at 15 games, but pushed the score to 4-2 in favor of Potomac. Dykstra’s RBI single in the 8th gave the P-Nats a 5-3 lead.

Brian Dupra followed Demny out of the ‘pen and worked around a leadoff single in both innings he pitched to earn his fifth hold. Travis Henke was knocked around in the 8th a run while Robert Benincasa served up a long homer to the Keys’ Johnny Ruettiger before setting down the next three in the 9th to qualify for his 13th save.

With the victory, Potomac extended their lead to eight games over Lynchburg and reduced the magic number to 13.

LHP Sammy Solis (2-0, 3.12) is officially listed as the starter for tonight, however, on Wednesday multiple Washington beat writers reported that RHP Ross Ohlendorf would be pitching five innings in his final tuneup before replacing former P-Nat RHP Taylor Jordan in the big club’s rotation.

Aug 132013
 

It wasn’t as pretty as the box score might indicate, but it was just what Potomac needed.

Blake Schwartz and newcomer Travis Henke combined on a six-hit shutout as the P-Nats stopped a four-game slide with a 2-0 win over the Mudcats.

Schwartz became the first 10-game winner at a single level in the Nationals organization with seven scoreless innings, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out one. He had, however, just one 1-2-3 frame (the 5th) as Carolina put on a runner six times against the ace of the P-Nats staff.

But, as any pitching coach will tell you, getting the leadoff man out in any inning is the key to success and Schwartz did that in six of seven opportunities. The one time he didn’t was the only true scoring threat that Carolina mounted on the night.

That’s also when it’s a good reminder that there are seven guys behind you and Schwartz got some help from both corner OFs in the 3rd. No. 9 batter Todd Hankins drew a leadoff walk, stole second, and took third on a line drive to right that Randolph Oduber snared on the run for the inning’s first out.

After walking the next batter, Schwartz induced a flyball to medium left. Down 1-0, Carolina gambled that newcomer Brandon Miller’s jitters from the night before would be enough to risk a play at the plate. The decision proved to be unwise as Miller’s throw had Hankins beat by six feet for the inning-ending double play.

Miller had gotten Potomac on the board in the 1st with an RBI groundout, cashing in back-to-back singles by Cutter Dykstra and Caleb Ramsey for the 1-0 lead. After walking in the 3rd with two outs, the 23-y.o. Georgian extended his hit streak to 13 games with a wall-ball double to left-center in the 6th that turned out to be Potomac’s final hit of the night.

The fifth hit was Cole Leonida’s tenth HR, a solo shot in the 4th that put the score to its eventual final of 2-0.

Travis Henke made his High-A debut in the 8th. After a shaky eighth, in which he gave up a pair of singles, Henke went 1-2-3 in the 9th, handling two comebackers to the mound for the save.

The win was Potomac’s 70th of the season and improved them to 28-20 in the 2nd half, reducing the magic number to clinch to 17 over Lynchburg with 22 games left to play. The Hillcats are the P-Nats likely first-round opponent as the second-best team in the Carolina North with a 56-59 mark, three games ahead of the Keys and four in front of the Blue Rocks.

Weather permitting, Rauh (3-1, 3.02) will take the hill today in a noontime start against Carolina RHP Robert Whitenack (0-1, 4.30).

Aug 122013
 

That Potomac will win both halves of the 2013 season still seems pretty certain. Whether they’ll advance to the Mills Cup Finals is not.

Playing flat on offense and sloppy on defense, the P-Nats lost 5-2 in 10 innings to the Mudcats for their fourth straight defeat.

Sammy Solis got the start, essentially his 10th as his lone relief appearance was a continuation of a suspended game, and set down the side in order in the 1st. It should have been four in a row but newcomer Brandon Miller, who’s been on a tear on offense, looked like the second coming of Chris Marrero in left field on defense as he misplayed a flyball into a leadoff double in the 2nd.

Solis nearly pitched around the mistake but a two-out double to right-center plated the first Carolina run. It happened again in the 3rd: a flyball that a stronger defender would have caught fell in for a double, Solis getting two outs before giving up the RBI hit.

At the plate, Potomac didn’t get a hit until Cole Leonida led off the 3rd with a single to right and didn’t get a runner into scoring position until the 5th, when Carolina’s defense returned the favor with a passed ball and two errors by second baseman Joe Wendle to allow the P-Nats to tie with just one clean hit, coincidentally a single by Brandon Miller.

Solis was pulled after five innings, finishing with two runs on six hits and a walk and four strikeouts. Colin Bates was summoned from the ‘pen, which has been asked to pitch four or more innings in seven straight games, and turned in two scoreless innings. He couldn’t make it three, giving up a single and a double to open the 8th.

Rafael Martin bailed out Bates by striking out the side in the 8th and worked around a one-out single in the 9th.

As you might have already guessed, after the 5th, the Potomac offense threatened just once more — putting runners on 1st and 2nd with a one-out walk by Justin Miller and Leonida’s second single in the 7th only to have Randolph Oduber strike out for third time.

Robert Benincasa took over from the Martin in the 10th and was tagged for three runs on a walk, single, triple, and another single to suffer his third loss and the third straight outing with a run allowed.

The P-Nats would go down in order in the 10th for their sixth loss in seven games — all to the Carolina League South’s top two teams, Carolina and Myrtle Beach, which are separated by just a 1/2 game in the race for the 2nd half title.

Blake Schwartz (9-4, 2.92) will be tasked with breaking Potomac’s losing streak tonight, if not giving the bullpen some badly needed rest. He’ll be opposed by Nick Pasquale (4-6, 4.56) for Carolina.

Jul 192013
 

Kevin Keyes’s three-run double, mixed with a little fortuitous wildness, were the, um, keys to Potomac’s four-run sixth as the P-Nats scored five unanswered runs in a 5-3 win over Lynchburg.

Like many do, the big inning started with a whimper, not a bang as Caleb Ramsey drilled a grounder off the leg of Hillcats starter A.J. Holland for an infield single. Holland hit Michael Taylor, then gave up a single to Adrian Nieto to load the bases.

The Lynchburg bullpen had been busy since the Ramsey single, but Holland was left in to face the P-Nats first baseman, hoping that the right-on-right matchup might yield the badly needed double play.

Instead, Keyes looped one over the third baseman that rattled around by the left field corner, enough for Nieto to score all the way from first. Holland was still left in to face Cutter Dykstra, who singled to left, too shallow for Keyes to score, but an errant throw allowed Dykstra to take second as Holland backed up the play to keep Keyes in place.

After a pitching change, Keyes finally came in on a wild pitch by lefty Carlos Perez. The miscue loomed larger when Perez struck out the next three batters to quash the rally.

The next inning, Billy Burns led off with a triple to right-center and scored two batters later on an RBI single by Taylor. After a walk to Nieto, Lynchburg switched pitchers again, and again the fireman, John Cornely, struck out the side.

The four runs in the 6th and 7th innings gave David Fischer the vulture win, as he turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-0 hole with a run on a walk and two hits. Brian Dupra settled things down with two scoreless frames in the 7th and 8th and Richie Mirowski pitched around a single in the 9th for his sixth save.

Brian Rauh made the start and went the first five innings, allowing two runs on second-inning HR and five hits total. The 21-y.o. walked one and struck out five in his sixth start and seventh appearance since his promotion from Hagerstown.

The win was Potomac’s third in a row since ending a four-game slide on the road. Matt Purke (0-2, 8.56) is slated to make his second home start (and second Friday start) tonight, opposed by Greg Ross (5-4, 3.50) for Lynchburg.

Jul 072013
 

A three-run 6th broke open a 2-2 game as the P-Nats fell again to Wilmington, 8-3.

It was the first time the same opponent had beaten Potomac consecutively since May 18-19, which was part of a three-game sweep in Winston-Salem. The last time they had lost to back-to-back games was nearly a month ago, when Frederick beat them 7-6 in Woodbridge on June 9 and Carolina won 11-3 in Zebulon.

This, of course, is the problem with such a prolonged streak of winning baseball — especially at the minor-league level in an eight-team league. It’s a wonder that this hasn’t happened sooner with such frequency and familiarity between the seven other teams. It’s hard to dominate the same seven teams, especially when it’s not unusual to play each other on back-to-back weekends.

Blake Schwartz took the loss for this one, giving up five runs (four earned) on eight hits, no walks, while striking out just one over five and a 1/3rd innings. The one K is always a troubling sign, as it’s extremely difficult to succeed with that much contact, especially for a pitcher that relies heavily on the gap in speed between an average fastball and plus changeup.

Suffice it to say, the bullpen wasn’t any better (three runs over three and 2/3rds innings) but neither was the offense. In the aggregate, eight of nine batters hit safely and collected 11 hits total. But it when it mattered most? Not so much — just 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position, resulting in 10 men left base.

Adrian Nieto continues to be as hot as the weather, going 2-for-5 with a run scored to extend his hit streak to six games and on-base streak to 14 games. Perhaps he’s nursing some small injuries, but since Wilson Ramos has come and gone the 23-y.o. Floridian has been the DH, thus one cannot help but wonder if this is to help him maintain this success.

The four-game series (and seven-game homestand) concludes this evening with a matchup between Brian Rauh (0-0, 3.86) and Kellen Moen (1-1, 4.35), with Potomac looking for the series split and stay in first place, as the consecutive losses have shaved the lead over Wilmington to just a ½ game.

Jul 052013
 

Ivan Pineyro tossed seven scoreless innings, the bullpen held the lead, and Adrian Nieto smacked a three-run home run to break up a 0-0 game and lead the P-Nats to a 3-1 Independence Day victory over the Blue Rocks.

It’s been a familiar theme, even with the more-than-occasional bullpen implosion, as the P-Nats have been on ’14 Braves-like run since Memorial Day weekend with a 28-8 record, even as they continue to push up players (Taylor Jordan, Robbie Ray, Jason Martinson) to Harrisburg.

Pineyro and Nieto, of course, are examples of how when things are going well, a minor-league team can absorb the “losses” and continue to thrive. Five seasons ago was the most extreme example, with some 70 players passing through while the 2008 edition won both halves and the Carolina League championship.

Pineyro came into the contest with a 9.64 ERA officially, 7.04 if you count his work in the suspended game last week against Myrtle Beach. But that’s just one (two?) starts and in his third outing, Pineyro showed a deft combination of heat and change of pace to keep the Wilmington batters unsettled.

The 21-year-old let up just three hits and walked one over seven frames, retiring the leadoff man six times and keeping the ball down. The latter is particularly important as that was his undoing in his debut against Carolina, leading to hard contact and multiple walks (just one last night).

Nieto, who’s moved into the cleanup spot vacated by Martinson, has been red-hot since the second half began, clubbing five of his eight HRs over the last 10 games along with slow-pitch softball numbers of .515/.579/.970 with 13RBI.

Colin Bates followed Pineyro out of the ‘pen and set ’em down in order in the 8th. Richie Mirowski got the save, his first since May, but gave up his sixth HR in just 40 innings pitched.

The two teams resume their four-game series tonight with A.J. Cole taking the hill for the P-Nats, opposed by the Blue Rocks’ Kyle Smith (4-4, 2.89).

Jul 042013
 

With the threat of a suicide squeeze, the Winston-Salem infield had to play in with two outs in the 9th inning against Potomac leadoff man Billy Burns. The extra step or two in gave the speedy outfielder the margin he needed to shoot one past the Dash third baseman for a 2-1 walkoff win last night.
mattpurkedebut
It was the fifth walkoff win, and the 50th win overall for the P-Nats this season, but almost an afterthought considering who the starting pitcher was.

The announced pitcher had been Ivan Pineyro, who had pitched last Thursday in a game suspended by rain. With four pitchers throwing in the interim, it was his turn in the rotation. To your right can see that that is not a righthander warming up but a lefty.

Starting a day earlier than what sources had said, was one Matthew Taylor Purke, the Nationals’ 3rd Round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.

It continues the Nationals’ pattern of minimizing the exposure and scrutiny of high-profile prospects (e.g. preventing Stephen Strasburg from starting in MD or VA, skipping Bryce Harper from Low-A to AA in 2011) as today is one of the few times the paid attendance listed in the Potomac box score will be closer to the number of people versus the number of limbs or bones.

With the caveat that you see in the header, here’s my scouting report on Purke’s first High-A start.

There’s an obsession with velocity nowadays. It’s invariably the first question I get asked via Twitter. Perhaps I’m feeding the beast, but the reports of low-to-mid-90s heat are true.

What struck me more was the movement on his pitches. Rare was the fastball that came in straight. More often was the heater that had what Ryan Kelley from Baseball Newshound described here as “spin…with razor-sharp slider movement.” The southpaw also unleashed a handful of both his slurve and the 11-5 curve, but stayed mostly with the fastball in the early going.

The command last night, however, was spotty. Purke ran up long counts to five of 22 batters faced, with 20+ pitch* innings in the 1st and 5th. But let’s not forget who he was facing — Winston-Salem is the cream of the crop offensively in the Carolina League. They get some credit for working the count, too.

The lone run Purke gave up came in the 1st, on sacrifice fly following a triple to right-center that Justin Miller, a utility player, couldn’t track down. Had he gotten the next two out, the narrative might have been “well, with Caleb Ramsey or Randolph Oduber out there, they go scoreless” but he gave up a single and hit a batter so it’s not that simple.

The second inning was perhaps his best, even though most would say the fourth, in which he dispatched the 7-8-9 batters on less than 10 pitches. Winston-Salem got a break on an error by Cutter Dykstra and ambushed Purke on first-pitch fastball to put two runners on. The count went to 3-0 but Purke bore down to get it to 3-2 and got the first out on a grounder to short, then ran the next batter to 0-2 and got the double play on a grounder to second to escape further damage.

The third saw Purke get two quick outs then give up a single and a five-pitch walk before retiring the fifth batter on a flyout to center.

After the aforementioned 1-2-3 4th inning, Purke got the leadoff man in the 5th on three pitches but walked the second batter on six and needed more than seven pitches to put away Dash SS Chris Curley. He got the final batter on routine flyout to right to finish his night, roughly 70 pitches thrown over five innings with one run given up on four hits with two walks, two strikeouts, a wild pitch, and a hit batsmen.

All in all, a decent outing.