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.

Jul 032013
 

Bumped from his spot on defense, Adrian Nieto put on a show on offense last night, having a hand in all five runs in a 5-3 Potomac win over Winston-Salem.

The 23-year-old Floridian backstop went 2-for-2 with three runs scored and two runs driven in, batting as the designated hitter* for the second straight night with Wilson Ramos catching on a rehab assignment. Ramos went 0-for-3 but threw out a baserunner and ran well when he took to the bases after getting plunked in the 5th.
* Whoever let told PA guy to stop that “hitter by designation” crap, thank you.

Nieto drew walks in each of his first two plate appearances. The other Adrian, Sanchez that is, drove him in with a two-out single in the 8th and cue-shot on a hit-and-run play in the 4th. (As an aside, Sanchez played shortstop last night and racked up six assists, showing some fire on defense that’s been missing for most of this season. Perhaps someone told him about Tony Renda?)

After ripping an RBI single to RF in the 5th, Nieto was on his way to his third walk in his fourth plate appearance, even going so far to toss his bat on a 3-0 count, which unfortunately, was a strike. Perhaps he realized the error of showing up the umpire, taking a little extra time to dry off his bat.

Winston-Salem’s Bryan Blough, however, opted not to see if Nieto would be punished for his faux pas by throwing something on the edges. Perhaps he forgot that first base was open, vacated by Mike Gilmartin who was on second after a slow roller moved him up after leading off the inning with a single and Michael Taylor grounded out to short for the second out of the 7th.

Instead, Blough fed Nieto a 3-1 fastball that he did not miss, smacking long home run off the third level of signage above the right-centerfield wall. The blast put Potomac on top 5-3.

Robert Benincasa came on in the 8th, the third Potmac pitcher of the night. Brian Rauh had started and turned in five innings with three runs allowed on six hits, walking none and striking out none. Richie Mirowski, who seems to have found his niche as a setup man, struck out three and let up a single while pitching the 6th and 7th. He would get his team-leading seventh win for his efforts.

Benincasa gave up a leadoff single to Dash No. 2 batter Adam Heisler, but bore down and showed why it’s actually possible, if not advisable, to have your “closer” pitch the 8th as he retired the meat of the Winston-Salem order then mowed down the next three in the 9th (six in a row) for the two-inning save, his fourth in as many appearances since his promotion last month.

Weather permitting, the two teams will conclude their three-game series tonight. Ivan Pineyro (0-0, 9.64) takes the hill for Potomac with Myles Jaye (5-2, 4.96) his counterpart for Winston-Salem.

Jul 022013
 

In a battle of the top two offenses in the Carolina League, No. 1 Winston-Salem beat No. 2 Potomac with three runs in the 8th for a 5-3 win.

Rob Wort took the loss, his first for Potomac this season. After retiring the first two batters on weak flyballs to second and right field, a walk followed by three long hits — a double to left-center, a double to right, a triple to right-center — broke open the 2-2 game and gave the Dash a 5-2 lead.

It’s tempting to write this one off as just another bullpen implosion — which it was — but the ten runners left on and the 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position also bears mention. Indeed, three of the ten were left on in the final two frames as Potomac could only get back one run with a sacrifice fly in the 9th.

Early on, it looked like Potomac was going to have its way with Jake Cose, getting five hits in the first two innings. But the damage was limited to just the one run, which came in on a wild pitch, though Michael Taylor did rip a liner into left that would have plated the run anyway.

Meanwhile, starter Blake Schwartz was doing his part as the starters have for the most part since Kylin Turnbull was sent packing in April. Schwartz gave up a solo shot in the 1st and an unearned run in the 4th for a quality start of two runs over six innings with no walks and four strikeouts.

Cose, as you might have guessed, settled down in the middle innings, allowing a pair of two-out runners in the 4th. Kevin Keyes broke up the Dash pitcher’s modest streak of five batters retired with his seventh HR of the season in the 6th, a not-so-modest blast to left-center that tied the game at 2-2.

Dash reliever Joe Dvorksy would get the benefit (i.e. the win) of the Winston-Salem 8th for pitching a scoreless 7th, allowing a one-out double to Billy Burns.

The two teams meet again tonight with Brian Rauh (0-0, 4.00) facing off against Joe Blough (7-4, 3.92).

Jun 272013
 

Bryce Harper steps to the plate in the bottom of the 1st

Perhaps it was the season in microcosm — minus the rehab appearance by Bryce Harper, of course — as the P-Nats got good starting pitching, uneven bullpen work, and timely hitting in a 6-5 win over Myrtle Beach.

All eyes of course were on the 20-year-old Bryce Harper and he did not disappoint, launching a towering flyball in his second at-bat that hit the first level of signage above and beyond the right field wall. He was originally scheduled to play LF, but switched to DH shortly before gametime as storms swept through the region, though it did not appear as if any significant rainfall had accumulated.

Harper’s HR was the second of the evening. The first was Adrian Nieto’s, a solo blast that cleared all three tiers of signage in the second inning.

Brian Rauh got the spot start in place of Taylor Hill, and filled in admirably with four innings of one-hit ball, walking none and striking out three. He was to be followed by Brian Broderick, who warmed up in the bottom of the 4th and took the mound in the 5th but left during warmups, clutching his right forearm.

David Fischer was summoned on short notice to take over and seemed none the worse for wear in his first inning of work, walking two and striking out two but allowing no hits. The second inning, however, was another story as a hit batsmen, a generously scored single, a walk, a triple, and another single sent him to the proverbial showers with no outs.

Greg Holt let in the runner he inherited with an errant pickoff throw and a sacrifice fly to finish the 6th and pitched around a leadoff single and one-out double — thanks in no small part to Nieto gunning down the leadoff hitter — in the 7th for two scoreless innings.

Down 5-2 in the 8th, the P-Nats began one of their patented runs. Three straight singles by Michael Taylor, Nieto (who went 4-for-4), and Caleb Ramsey cut the deficit to 5-3. Following a Cutter Dykstra strikeout, Adrian Sanchez beat out a double-play ball while Mike Gilmartin drew the two-out walk to load the bases.

Francisco Soriano tied the game with a two-run single up the middle while Billy Burns plated the go-ahead run with a double to left, with Soriano getting thrown out at the plate to end the inning.

Richie Mirowski, who had taken over for Holt in the 8th, set ‘em down 1-2-3 in the 9th to get his 6th win of the season.

The series and homestand concludes tonight with a matchup of Ivan Pineyro (0-0, 9.64) vs. Victor Payano (5-4, 4.41)

Jun 232013
 

The bullpen came through for Potomac with four and 1/3rd scoreless innings and a bases-loaded escape in the 5th as the P-Nats fileted the Mudcats, 7-5.

The offense wasn’t too shabby, either, scoring six times with two outs to give Ivan Pineyro, the newest member of the rotation, a cushion to work with. Adrian Nieto homered in the first inning to complete a three-run rally that begun with a Michael Taylor double to right, while Jason Martinson followed Taylor’s second opposite-field double with his second RBI single to left.

Turns out the 21-year-old would need the padding, as he gave up single runs in the first two innings and long hit in the third. He struck out the side in the fourth, but issued a walk.

While he featured a nasty changeup, Pineyro left way too many pitches up and the Mudcats collected three straight hits to open the 5th and cut the lead to 6-3. It’s always a matter of debate how much leeway the manager has in lifting a starter in the minors, but only an idiot would argue that Pineyro wasn’t hung out to dry.

Instead, Pineyro walked three of the next five batters as Carolina scored twice more. Greg Holt was finally summoned with two outs and the bases loaded to face the inning’s ninth batter, and he got the final out of the 5th to preserve the 6-5 lead.

Potomac got the insurance run in the 7th thanks to an error on a would-be 3-6-3 DP off the bat of Kevin Keyes following a walk and a stolen base by Martinson and a single to center by Nieto.

Holt would dance around two singles in the 6th to get the win, while Brian Rauh came within a two-out triple of two perfect innings in the 7th and 8th to deliver the ball the new closer, Robert Benincasa.

The Mudcats’ Jerrud Sabourin singled to open the 9th, completing a 4-for-4 night with a walk. Benincasa, however, worked around him to strike out the side and earn his first High-A save.

The win moves Potomac to 2-0 on the season as all-star Robbie Ray takes the mound in the series finale, opposed by Carolina’s Nick Pasquale (0-4, 4.31).

Jun 222013
 

Good pitching and timely hitting were the keys to the 5-1 win Potomac posted to open the second half of the 2013 campaign.

Taylor Hill picked up where he left off prior to the break with seven strong innings, allowing one run on a homerun and five hits total. He walked none and struck out one to become the team’s first six-game winner.

Hill gave up a hit in each of the first five frames, leaving the impression that Carolina was justabouttosolvehim, which is always a concern when a pitcher isn’t getting strikeouts. Instead, he retired the last six batters he faced, getting the important shutdown inning after the P-Nats took the lead.

That happened in the bottom of the 6th. The rally started slowly, with Jason Martinson drawing a one-out walk and taking third on a Kevin Keyes double that Carolina left fielder Luigi Rodrgiuez misjudged but nearly caught anyway. Adrian Sanchez steered a single into the 3/4 hole for the go-ahead to plate Martinson and chase Mudcat starter Shawn Morimando.

Francisco Gimenez came on in relief and got an out immediately when Keyes was thrown out trying to score on a grounder to 1st, but walked Cole Leonida to load the bases then hit Randolph Oduber to give the Groovin’ Aruban the Homer Simpson RBI. Billy Burns completed the rally with a bunt down the third base line, taking advantage of the lefthanded pitcher and third baseman having to play back with two outs.

Perhaps sensing an opportunity to surprise, the P-Nats No. 3 batter Michael Taylor led off the 7th with a bunt single and took third on what was initially ruled an error as Carolina shortstop Francisco Lindor stabbed and missed at a grounder off the bat of Martinson. Keyes grounded into a double play to send in Taylor for the P-Nats fifth and final run.

Richie Mirowski followed Hill to finish the game, working around a leadoff walk in the 8th and a leadoff double in the 9th for two scoreless innings.

21-year-old Ivan Pineyro makes his High-A debut tonight in Game 2 of the series, with Michael Peoples (0-2, 6.35) opoosing him for the Carolina Mudcats.

Jun 092013
 

It took nearly five hours to play 13 innings of baseball, but the folks that endured the Potomac bullpen woes were rewarded with a pair of one-run victories — 8-7 in the opener, 4-3 in the nightcap as the P-Nats won their ninth and tenth consecutive games.

Ross Detwiler took the hill on a rehab start in Game One and went four innings. Shaking off the rust is the point, of course, and the southpaw scattered seven hits (all singles) over three and 2/3rds innings. Thirty-eight of sixty pitches went for strikes, as the 27-year-old struck out four but walked none.

The offense, which has shown a proclivity for the big inning, got started early with a four-spot in the 1st, highlighted by a triple-double-single sequence from the 4-5-6 batters Jason Martinson, Adrian Nieto, and Kevin Keyes.

Brian Dupra followed Detwiler out of the ‘pen, but was lit up for multiple runs for the third time in his last four appearances as Frederick rallied for two in the 5th and two in the 6th to tie the game at five.

Since this unbeaten streak has begun, the dirty little secret is that Potomac has been able to hit their way out of any pitching mistakes. In 11 games, they’ve scored 74 runs (that’s counting the five scored in the suspended game on Thursday), an average of 6.72 runs per game.

That trend continued as the P-Nats rallied for three in the last of the 6th, as Adrian Sanchez singled, took third on an errant pickoff and trotted home on a Billy Burns triple. Michael Taylor sent in Burns with his big fly that went deep into the woods beyond left field to put up Potomac, 8-5.

The rally helped make a winner out of Richie Mirowski, who had blown the save (his 5th) by letting in two runners he had inherited from Greg Holt, though he served up a two-run homer following an error to make things close, 8-7.

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Having used three relievers in seven-inning game, the P-Nats needed strong start from A.J. Cole in the second game of the doubleheader… and got one. The 21-year-old put on a show, striking out 11 over six innings with just two walks allowed. He allowed just three hits, but one of them left the yard for a solo shot that gave Frederick a 1-0 lead in the 3rd.

Frederick’s Trent Howard, who’s mostly been used as a reliever, kept the Potomac bats quiet for four innings before turning over the ball to Matt Price in the 5th. Price let up a double and a walk in the 5th, then walked Martinson to lead off the 6th.

As is so often in single-A ball, one mistake can turn an ordinary inning into something special (or awful, depending on your point of view). A grounder to third that looked like a 5-4-3 DP with the lumbering Keyes was dropped at second. Instead of two out and nobody on, it was two on and nobody out.

The Keys called on David Walters to clean up the mess, but the 25-year-old veteran only made things worse. He got Sanchez out on a tapper to the mound that was hit too slowly for a twin-killing, but then had trouble hitting the backstop (well, the one with the glove) as he let in Martinson with the first of four wild pitches, then gave up an RBI triple to Justin Miller, an RBI double to Cole Leonida.

After Oduber flied out to right for the inning’s second out, the second wild pitch moved up Leonida. Billy Burns broke his bat and rolled one to short that never saw the infield dirt, as Burns easily beat it out to cap the four-run binge.

Up 4-1, Derek Self was given the ball in the 7th and struck out the first batter. Then, like last call at a singles bar, things got ugly fast. Self walked three of the next four batters, with a single interrupting the string while throwing a wild pitch. (If you’ve lost count, that was the seventh of the game between the two teams).

Rob Wort was summoned with the bases loaded and a 4-2 lead and promptly issued the fourth bases on balls to cut the lead to one at 4-3. He narrowly avoided the fifth walk with a strikeout on a full count then got the grounder to short that Martinson gunned across to end it.

With the doubleheader sweep, and a split between Lynchburg and Salem, Potomac’s magic number is now six with nine games to play in the first half. Taylor Hill (4-2, 3.78) has the dial and will try to set the amp for 11 with Frederick’s Tim Berry (3-3, 4.63) opposing him in the series finale.

Jun 012013
 

Potomac sent nine men to the plate in the first two innings to rack up nine runs en route to a 10-1 win over the first-place Lynchburg, the third straight win for the Woodbridge nine.

Much of the damage was self-inficted. Hillcats thrower A.J. Holland walked the bases loaded to start the game, then gave up a one-run single to Jason Martinson and a two-run safety to Adrian Nieto. A wild pitch brought in the fourth run, a fourth walk ended Holland’s night after just six batters faced.

Veteran reliever James Hoyt got out of the first inning with a flyball, groundout and a strikeout. But the second inning was nearly a repeat of the first. A pair of walks sandwiched around a Jayson Werth single (you did know he was playing, right?) got the bases drunk and Jason Martinson sobered ‘em up with a three-run double.

Adrian Nieto doubled in Martinson, Kevin Keyes got a hometown single as the Hillcat third baseman waved at it and missed for an unruled error to move up Nieto and Caleb Ramsey capped the rally with sacrifice fly to left field.

After two it was 9-0.

The unfortunate side effect of the two crooked numbers was the time Robbie Ray spent cooling on the bench. After the four-run first, it didn’t seem to faze him as the 21-year-old struck out the side. But following the five-run second, his command wavered badly as turned in a Nuke LaLoosh inning of three walks and three strikeouts that ended his night early — the second time this month he was done after just three innings with seven strikeouts.

Colin Bates took over for Ray in the 4th got the win with four innings of scoreless relief, followed by single frames by Rob Wort and Richie Mirowski. After Hoyt, the Lynchburg ‘pen matched their counterparts five goose eggs, but the pressure will be on tonight’s Hillcats starter to go deep.

That’ll be the task for Ryan Weber (3-1, 2.61), with Sammy Solis (0-0, 1.50) making his third trip to the hill since missing 2012 after elbow surgery.
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With the end of the first half in sight (two weeks from tomorrow), the Carolina League North is in for yet another photo finish.

Lynchburg leads Potomac and Frederick by a half game but is in the driver’s seat in that they play those two teams for the next six games, then finish with 10 games against the Southern Division’s second- and third-place teams.

Frederick is playing last-place Wilmington tonight and tomorrow, but it doesn’t get easier for them as they play first- or second-place teams the rest of the way, including eight games against Potomac, though the last five will be at Harry Grove.

On paper, Potomac’s schedule is a little easier than Frederick’s but just five of the next 17 games are at the Pfitz. Whatever “break” they get from playing last-place Carolina for three on June 10-13 is more than offset than four games against the first-place Myrtle Beach.

Which leads us to Wilmington, which could sneak up on everybody by simply splitting with Frederick, then making hay against the Southern Division’s also-rans while the rest of the Northern Division plays each other.

Stay tuned to this space as we track the stretch run.