May 282013
 

For six and a third innings, the Potomac Nationals pitchers flirted with a no-hitter. Leading 3-0, the game seemed relatively secure. A single, walk, a fielder’s choice and a two-run double later, the focus rapidly shifted from the statistical anomaly to the more basic task of winning the game.

Matt Grace stranded the tying run at second in the 7th as the P-Nats rallied in the 8th to get some breathing room. Rob Wort mowed ‘em down 1-2-3 in the 9th to secure the 5-2 win that gave Potomac its third straight “W” and kept pace with the first-place duo of Lynchburg and Frederick in the Carolina League North.

It was the first start in Woodbridge for Sammy Solis since August 23, 2011 — a four-inning stint against Wilmington as Washington’s 2nd Round pick of the 2010 Draft was finishing up his first full professional season. Solis would pitch another four innings last night, this time while pitching his way back from Tommy John surgery in March 2012.

Like many “TJers,” Solis struggled with his command, racking up a lot of deep counts and walking three over his four innings. The velocity, however, was as advertised — consistently in the 91-93 range, occasionally touching 94 or 95. Unusually, his touch with the secondary stuff was quite good; the 11-5 curve breaking late and over and the changeup sneaking by batters with good separation from the heat.

Solis struck out four, including the the side in the 3rd, and left the game without a hit as the league-worst Salem offense onlt hit one ball solidly, which third baseman Cutter Dykstra snared in self-defense to end the first inning.

Potomac got on the board in the next half-inning with a sloppy first as Billy Burns, returning after a 12-day absence, “singled” and took second on the throw that hit him in the back prior to touching first base, then advanced third on Michael Taylor’s opposite-field single.

Following a Dykstra popup, Taylor was caught leaning towards second and Burns, who scampered home on a similar rundown in his previous game, couldn’t repeat the feat and was thrown out between third and home. Taylor, however, did move up to second and scored on Adrian Nieto’s two-out single.

Burns teamed up with No. 9 man Randolph Oduber in the 5th for the second and third P-Nats runs, with the Groovin’ Aruban walking and Burns dropping down an actual bunt single. The lineup bookends executed a double steal after a Taylor flyout and both scored on Dykstra’s two-run single to extend the Potomac lead to 3-0 after five.

David Fischer got the benefit of the offense, taking over for Solis in the 5th and turning in two hitless innings with two walks and an error before running into trouble in the 7th, letting up a single to end the no-hit bid, walking the next batter, and throwing a wild pitch to set up Salem’s Jose Garcia for a two-run double that sliced the margin from 3-0 to 3-2.

As aforementioned, Grace got the final out of the 7th and retired the side in 8th, getting an assist the hard way with a grounder up the middle that went off his leg and rolled on over to first baseman Kevin Keyes for the third and final out.

Potomac put it away in the bottom of the 8th as Keyes singled with one out, Adrian Sanchez walked with two outs, and Francisco Soriano tripled them home for the 5-2 edge that Wort secured with a pair of strikeouts for the save. The win went to Fischer while the hold went to Grace — the first of the season in each category for both relievers.

The series continues with A.J. Cole (1-2, 4.98) taking the hill tonight against Salem’s Kyle Stroup (2-3, 4.86).

May 172013
 

The offensive onslaught carried over from Wednesday as the Potomac Nationals closed out their seven-game homestand Thursday at 5-2 with a 7-4 win over the Wilmington Blue Rocks.

The P-Nats wasted no time getting things going. Kevin Keyes, who went 6-for-21 with eight walks during the week, blasted a two-out, two-run home run into the woods past the left field fence to erase an early 1-0 deficit in the first.

Two innings later, also with two outs, the linebacker first baseman drilled a single up the middle to send in Michael Taylor (again) and increase the lead to 3-1. Taylor walked in the first and been hit by a pitch in the third for a burst of five straight PAs reaching base.

In the fourth, Potomac demonstrated its newfound penchant for stringing together base hits as Adrian Nieto, Caleb Ramsey, and Adrian Sanchez each singled to load the bases while Justin Miller doubled in two to extend the lead to 5-2. Like Keyes, Miller enjoyed the home cooking with a 10-for-24 stretch with two doubles, two homers, and eight RBI for the week.

Meanwhile, Taylor Hill turned in a quality start with two runs allowed over six innings to earn his team-leading fourth win. However, three of the seven hits went for extra bases and it was the fourth start in which he gave up more hits than innings pitched — a bugaboo from last season when he allowed 161 in 139⅓ innings between Hagerstown and Potomac.

Christian Meza followed Hill and was charged with two runs on a double and two walks, with Adrian Nieto’s passed ball problems continuing as the backslow was charged with nos. 10 and 11, making the second of the two run scored in the Wilmington 7th unearned. He followed with a two-strikeout eighth.

Richie Mirowski set ‘em down 1-2-3 in the ninth for his second save of the season.

The win combined with a Lynchburg loss puts the P-Nats back into a tie for first place, percentage points behind thanks to two fewer contests played by the Hillcats (21-17, .553 vs. 22-18, .550) with Frederick just a half-game back at 21-18 in the Carolina League North.

Potomac takes to the road for nine games in 10 days with a trio of three-game series against Winston-Salem, Frederick and Lynchburg as they return to the Pfitz on Memorial Day for a seven-game homestand versus Salem and the Hillcats once again. Tonight, it’s RHP Blake Schwartz (3-1, 0.82) versus Ryan Buch (0-0, 4.91 at AA).

May 162013
 

After scoring just three runs in the previous 20 innings, the Potomac Nationals tripled that output in one game in a wild 9-6 win over Wilmington.

The offensive resurgence featured 12 hits, including three doubles, a triple, and a Justin Miller home run that bounced halfway up the LF light tower that served as an double exclamation point (a two-run shot, natch) as the P-Nats scored the last seven runs without an answer from the Blue Rocks.

The highlight of the night was the 7th inning, in which Potomac rallied from four down to score five. It began with a whimper, not a bang, as Randolph Oduber took one off the left ankle and had to leave the game in favor of Wilmer Difo. Michael Taylor followed with a rocket to right-center that easily pushed Difo to third.

A wild pitch pushed across Difo and moved up Taylor, but a shallow flyout by Miller and a strikeout by Cutter Dykstra left it up to cleanup man Jason Martinson. The two-time Carolina League Player of the Week delivered Taylor with double to dead center, the second in as many nights, for the fourth Potomac run.

Kevin Keyes continued his walking ways with his seventh BB of the homestand while Caleb Ramsey delivered the fifth P-Nat run with a single to left. Adrian Sanchez capped off the rally with two-run triple to right-center, reminiscent of Taylor’s shot six batters earlier.

Unfortunately, the comeback was made necessary by another uneven outing by A.J. Cole. The 21-year-old was torched for six runs on six hits and two walks and just three strikeouts. The latter matters because it’s his go-to when the going gets rough, and the escape route wasn’t there last night.

That’s because Cole couldn’t get his breaking stuff over enough to keep hitters honest. Too much gets made about velocity nowadays and it cannot be repeated too often: Even in single-A, a batter can hit a 95 m.p.h. fastball when he knows it’s coming.

Hence, a pair of two-run home runs that accounted for four of the six runs Wilmington hung on his pitching line, one preceded by a double, the other by a walk. He would be lifted with no outs in the sixth.

Tyler Herron came to relieve Cole and promptly loaded the bases with a walk and two singles. He cleaned up his own mess with help from Dykstra on a tapper to third for a force at home, then two strikeouts.

Greg Holt would get the win for his two innings and also a little help from the 23-y.o. third baseman as he raced across the diamond to corral a slow roller and gun down the Blue Rocks leadoff man to end the 8th inning, helping Holt strand two runners in scoring position.

Derek Self tossed a 1-2-3 ninth for his third save.

With the win, Potomac returns to second place, a game behind Lynchburg in the Carolina League North. Jayson Werth, who went 1-for-2 with a sharp single to center and threw out a runner at the plate as part of a 9-2 double play to end the 2nd, is expected to rehab for a second night.

The rubber match of the series will feature a matchup of “northpaws,” with Taylor Hill (3-1, 2.21) going for Potomac and Kyle Zimmer (0-2, 4.09) pitching for Wilmington.

May 152013
 

For one inning the Potomac offense broke out of its funk, but the bullpen remains offbeat, giving up six runs in five innings in a 7-3 loss to Wilmington.

The bottom of the lineup did the bulk of the damage, as nos. 7-9 batters Adrian Sanchez, Randolph Oduber, and Wilmer Difo went back-to-back-to-back with singles to lead off the 5th, with Difo flashing some speed as he turned a would-be sacrifice into a bunt single.

Billy Burns sent in Sanchez with a sacrifice fly and Jason Martinson got the clutch double over the head of Blue Rocks CF Lane Adams to complete the three-run rally.

Rob Gilliam, making his first start of 2013, went the first four innings and allowed just one run on a home run by veteran Wilmington 1B Jared Schlehuber. He struck out five and allowed three hits total while walking two — a solid first outing. He left down 1-0.

Working on five days’ rest, Brian Dupra should have been much sharper. Instead he gave up consecutive singles to open the 5th. A botched bunt enabled Adrian Nieto to easily throw out the lead man at third and for Dupra to escape the inning without a run scored.

No such luck in the 6th as Dupra was unable to retire the four batters he faced, giving up three singles and a walk before being lifted. This was arguably at least two innings less than what was probably expected from him, given his usage this season as a long reliever and spot starter. He left with a 3-2 lead and the bases loaded.

Matt Grace was the second man in from the ‘pen and was also well-rested (five days). After getting a badly needed double play ball, which tied the game at 3-3, he served up a single to center that plated the go-ahead run. Like Dupra, his second inning of work was worse than the first. Unlike Dupra, he got two outs before letting up two singles and a two-run double that pushed the Blue Rocks advantage from 4-3 to 6-3.

Richie Mirowski repeated the pattern with a scoreless 8th and a run in the 9th as the leadoff man reached first on a strikeout that wasn’t caught and came around to score on two-out single for the game’s final run at 7-3.

The offense broke a 15-inning scoring drought with the three-run 5th but failed to score the rest of the way with just three baserunners over the last four frames.

The loss drops Potomac to 20-18 for the season and into third place in the Carolina League North, a game behind division-leading Lynchburg and a ½ game behind second-place Frederick.

RHP A.J. Cole (1-1, 3.65) takes the hill in Game Two of the three-game set, opposed by Wilmington RHP Spencer Patton (3-1, 1.88).

May 142013
 

About the only thing colder than the weather were the P-Nats bats, held to just six hits in a 7-0 shutout by the Dash.

Coming into the game, Potomac was riding a five-game win streak and attempting its first four-game sweep at the Pfitz since 2007. With a matching of a low-2′s ERA prospect versus a high-6′s ERA journeyman, the odds seemed stacked in Potomac’s favor.

After Robbie Ray struck out the side — all three times looking — in the first, and two more in the second, the odds looked even better. Unfortunately, these were not nine-pitch innings so all those K’s came at a cost.

Indeed, the bill came due in third when Winston-Salem sent seven men to the plate, beginning with a walk and ending with, yes, another strikeout. In between, however, was a double, a strikeout, another walk, and a single. While Ray was able to minimize the damage to just two runs, the inning took its toll as Christian Meza was spotted warming up before Ray registered the third and final out.

With long counts on every man, Ray easily cracked 30 pitches and may have hit the 40-pitches-in-one-inning limit that famously shortened several Ross Detwiler outings in 2008. (Sorry, tracking pitches is the line between fun and work when it comes to keeping score). Thus, he was done after just three innings with two runs allowed on two hits and two walks with nine strikeouts.

Meza was no more effective than Ray, giving up three over the next three on six hits and two walks with three strikeouts. Colin Bates followed with two scoreless innings while Derek Self coughed up a two-out, two-run homer in the 9th to erase any doubt of the eventual outcome.

Of course, as aforementioned the offense was frigid and flat. Except for a leadoff double by Adrian Nieto in the 2nd, there was hardly a hard-hit ball on the night. Billy Burns’s one-out bunt single followed by Michael Taylor’s slap through the 3/4 hole in the 3rd were the only consecutive base knocks, which gave fleeting hopes of tying the game when it was only 2-0.

The chance to answer the Dash was, um, dashed with a 5-C-3 double play off the bat of Cutter Dykstra, who reached based three times with a walk and two singles. It was the first of two double plays turned by Winston Salem, as Dykstra’s leadoff walk was erased in the 6th with a 6-4-3 DP.

Kevin Keyes was the last leadoff man to reach, as the big man drew his sixth walk of the series (and ninth for the year) in the 7th as the next three batters went down in order with a pair of grounders and a popup to end Dash starter Bryan Blough’s winning night with seven strong innings that lowered his ERA from 6.94 to 5.82.

The loss drops Potomac into second place, one game behind Lynchburg in the Carolina League North. Rob Gilliam is scheduled to make his 2013 season debut tonight against Wilmington’s Aaron Brooks (0-3, 4.99) as the last-place Blue Rocks come to Woodbridge for a three-game series.

May 122013
 

The rain that stayed away on Friday came back on Saturday, just three outs before becoming an official game.

It was just moments after the Potomac turned a Winston-Salem no-hitter into a 4-1 lead by sending nine men to the plate and stringing together four straight two-out hits. Adrian Nieto got the rally started with a one-out double and took third when Kevin Keyes grounded to first.

Down 1-0, the hope then was to tie the game before rains came. After a two-run homer by Justin Miller, an infield single by Randolph Oduber and an RBI double by Billy Burns, it became a matter of “OK, let’s get back out there and get three outs to make this game official.”

Michael Taylor, however, would not “cooperate” by drawing a two-out walk. The team’s two fastest baserunners then showed as much with a double steal to give Cutter Dykstra a chance to push the lead to 6-1 with the inning’s sixth hit.

Alas, it did not come; instead, a deep line drive right to the Dash centerfielder that ended the frame. The Woodbridge nine had barely gotten on to field in the top of the 5th when the downpour started, going from lawn sprinkler to car wash in less than a couple minutes.

After 92 minutes, officials called it a night. The game will be continued at noon followed by a seven-inning game.

May 112013
 

For the third straight game, Potomac won in its final at-bat. This time, however, it was the reclamation of a lead lost and a swift finish as Jason Martinson led off the bottom of the 9th with a solo HR for a 5-4 win over the Winston-Salem Dash.

The blast, which was the Texan’s seventh, took Richie Mirowski off the hook and “earned” the reliever the dreaded blown-save-win as he gave up the lead with two-out, two-run shot to dead center off the bat of Chris Curley. It was the fourth home run Mirowski has surrendered in just 14⅓ innings.

Early on, this was an exercise in frustration for the opposing offenses. It’s tempting to call a 1-1 game a pitcher’s duel, but the combined 15 baserunners left on through the first five innings beg to differ.

Both A.J. Cole and the Dash’s Chris Bassitt got themselves into and out of jams. Cole walked three, hit a batter, and balked a baserunner but got the final batter out with the strikeout four innings out of five. The lone run he allowed was by no means “cheap,” as Kevan “Don’t Call Me Silent Bob” Smith led off the 4th with triple to the right-center gap and scored on a sacrifice fly.

Twice Bassitt let up back-to-back singles with two outs, but twice the P-Nats were unable to hound him for a third hit as Adrian Nieto tapped out to short in the 1st and Cutter Dykstra popped out with the bases loaded in the 4th.

Potomac needed a couple of miscues to score against Bassitt as Kevin Keyes stole third as part of a double steal with two out and chugged home with the run when toss to first on the dropped third strike was botched for an error.

Both starters were done after five, with Cole finishing his night with one run on five hits and striking out seven. Bassitt gave up seven hits, but just one unearned run with five K’s.

After leaving on nine runners through five, Michael Taylor ended that streak with a two-run home run off the left field foul pole to give Potomac a 3-1 lead. Colin Bates, who set ‘em down in order in the 6th, was touched for a run in the 7th as he was unable to strand a one-out triple, giving up a two-out double to plate the second Winston-Salem run.

Potomac got it back in the 8th as Francisco Soriano led off with a triple and came around to score after Billy Burns walked and stole second (no, I don’t have that on autofill, but I maybe I ought to). The double play taken away, Michael Taylor got the RBI on a fielder’s choice as Soriano sacmpered home with the fourth Potomac run.

Christian Meza, who had pitched a scoreless 8th following Bates to earn the hold, gave way to Mirowski in the 9th. The 24-year-old got the first two on a whiff and a grounder to first but issued a two-out walk that set up Curley for the game-tying blast.

With the win, Potomac improves to 18-16 but remains a game behind Frederick and percentage points behind Lynchburg in the Carolina League North. Weather permitting, game two of the four-game series will feature a matchup RHP Taylor Hill (3-1, 2.21) for the P-Nats and RHP Chris Beck (2-4, 1.50) for the Dash.

May 052013
 

Potomac scored in each of its first three turns at bat but couldn’t keep up with Myrtle Beach, as the Pelicans scored the last eight runs of the game to hand the P-Nats an 11-5 defeat.

Brian Dupra took the hill in a spot start created by Monday’s rainout, but fell victim to his own mistakes. With a little luck, one or none of the first three runs might not have scored.

Tip your cap to Myrtle Beach for making him pay for a two-out walk with a two-out double in the 1st. Gnash your teeth at the wild-pitch strikeout that put the leadoff man on in the 3rd. But give the Pelicans credit for stealing second to take away the double play, and exploiting the extra out with a two-run home run to the fourth batter of the inning.

At the time, neither mistake seemed critical. Three extra-base hits in the bottom of the 1st erased the 1-0 deficit as Michael Taylor doubled with one out, Jason Martinson tripled with two down, and Adrian Nieto plated Martinson with an opposite-field, ground-rule double that might have gone for an inside-the-park job had it not bounced out of play. Pelican RF Preston Beck dove and missed and was slow to get up and was eventually removed from the game, though three K’s in three AB’s might have been a factor as well.

Back-to-back two-out RBI singles by Billy Burns and Taylor (set up by Burns’s 13th SB) extended the lead to 4-1. Adrian Sanchez served up the fifth and final run with an opposite-field liner to right, which has become something of a trademark for the Venezuelan this season.

Potomac put two runners on in the 4th but it was the last true threat as starter Victor Payano stranded them and turned in two more scoreless for an ugly line of five runs on nine hits over six innings, but got the win nevertheless.

Dupra hit the wall in the 5th, giving up a single, walk, then a double and leaving with runners on second and third. Matt Grace was the first man out of the ‘pen but couldn’t strand either and was charged with three runs of his own over three innings on six hits and no walks.

Greg Holt followed Grace and retired four straight batters before giving up a single with one out in the 9th and was on the verge of finishing the night with two scoreless frames until Kellin Deglan took him deep for a two-run shot that capped off the Pelicans onslaught.

With the loss, Potomac falls to 14-15 and two games off the pace in the Northern Division of the Carolina League. Taylor Hill (3-1, 2.43) gets the start in this afternoon’s rubber match and a chance to win both the series and close out the homestand with a 5-2 mark. Myrtle Beach will send Jerad Eickhoff (2-2, 4.44) to stop him and go for win no. 18 in game no. 30.

May 042013
 

Don’t look now. But these P-Nats are starting to gel into something that might just be a contender.

Of course, that’s easy to think when, for a third straight night, the starting pitcher turns in a stellar outing and the offense breaks into double digits in both runs and hits.

It was A.J. Cole’s turn to shine as the 21-year-old struck out nine over six shutout innings. He walked none and allowed just four hits, retiring the leadoff man five times out six.

That one time the first batter wasn’t retired was a pool-cue single that skipped past Cole and Adrian Sanchez couldn’t scamper in and sling it over in time. Another single put runners on first and second, but Sanchez, who wasn’t really to blame for not getting the 80-foot dribbler, teamed up with Jason Martinson for the 4-6-3 DP to clip the Pelicans’ rally with Cole delivering the killshot with a strikeout.

Backup catcher Cole Leonida, who usually spells Adrian Nieto (the DH last night) behind the plate, made the case for more playing time with a three-run blast in the bottom of the second that started the P-Nats scoring binge.

It was also the first of three innings in which Potomac had multiple runners reach base, albeit with a little help. A hit batsmen in the 6th got the bases loaded for Randolph Oduber, who cashed in the second big chance as the Groovin’ Aruban drilled a three-run triple to right-center. In the 7th, a Sanchez and Leonida went back-to-back with RBI singles to take advantage when Caleb Ramsey reached on an error following a one-out single by Nieto.

Potomac would get their tenth run in the 8th when Myrtle Beach once again couldn’t quite execute (it should be noted that the Pelicans have just eight players that aren’t 22 or younger, a byproduct of the Rangers tendency towards HS players and IFAs, not to mention being Thirsty-Thursday-Night loaded with talent) as Michael Taylor scored on a wild pitch on a Nieto strikeout with runners on the corners.

Christian Meza followed Cole with two innings of relief, allowing an unearned run on a double that followed a missed catch as Sanchez attempted to complete a 6-4-3 double play without the baseball. Colin Bates finished out the game, giving up two unearned runs on a Ramsey error in the 9th.

The win evens Potomac at 14-14 for the season, one game behind Lynchburg (14-12) and Frederick (15-13) as the Carolina League remains bunched up like a cheap pair of und…er, tube socks with all eight teams within five games of one another.

Thanks to Monday’s rainout, Brian Dupra (1-2, 3.72 at Hagerstown, scoreless IP for Potomac on Wednesday) makes the spot start tonight. Victor Payano (1-2, 4.76) is his counterpart for Myrtle Beach.

May 032013
 

Who’s the ace of Potomac Nationals staff? Taylor Jordan made his case with eight shutout innings to lead the P-Nats to a 5-1 victory and a 3-1 series win over the Carolina Mudcats.

Facing a Carolina lineup with three lefties and three switch hitters, Jordan pounded the inside the corner all night long, producing 13 outs on the ground — thanks to some nifty defense by Khayyan Norfork, who had seven assists at 2B and combined twice with SS Cutter Dykstra on double plays — and keeping the Mudcat batters.

Indeed, the highlight of the night for Jordan might have been the matchup with the penultimate batter, Zach MacPhee. Jordan fell behind 3-0 with a runner on 2nd and just one out. A fastball inside got the mercy strike. MacPhee twirled the bat as if he were tossing it to the bat boy for ball four but didn’t let go (a rather adept move: a one-handed windmill over the shoulder and back up to the hitting position), which certainly didn’t help his case.

Jordan threw the same pitch to the same location on the 3-1 count. Though the last offering may have been ball four, this was closer, as Nieto made no effort to frame the pitch. MacPhee made the same yes-no-okay-we’re-still-here twirl with with the bat. Jordan threw the same pitch, another inch inside and lower.

Called strike three.Complain if you must about an “ump show,” but there’s not much sympathy for a guy who gets two “warnings.”

Offensively, Potomac would give Jordan all the support he would need early.

Billy Burns beat out an infield tapper despite a Omar Vizquel-style grab and sling from 19-year-old Francisco Lindor (remember that name, kid’s got the Motts), got balked to second and took third on a too-sharp line-drive single to left by Dykstra. Jason Martinson plated him a with a single literally off the pitcher (he stayed in the game) for a 1-0 lead after one.

In the 2nd, Caleb Ramsey, Adrian Sanchez, and Norfork went back-to-back-to-back with singles, with Sanchez executing a sweet hit-and-run to the right side to move Ramsey to third while Norfork got the RBI and took the extra base when Carolina missed the cutoff man. A sacrifice fly by Burns sent in Sanchez and Norfork easily came home on a leg double by Michael Taylor.

Three innings later, Norfork would complete the Potomac scoring by turning around a high fastball to dead center for his first home run of the season.

With the win, Potomac improves to 13-14 and remains two games behind Lynchburg in the Carolina League North. A.J. Cole (0-1, 4.85) takes the hill tonight for the P-Nats against Myrtle Beach’s Luke Jackson (3-0, 1.27) as the Pelicans come to town for the weekend.