Jun 012012
 

Justin Bloxom’s two-run moonshot in the sixth inning plus decent pitching from start to finish were the elements for success in Potomac’s 4-2 win over Myrtle Beach.

After getting pounded by the Blue Rocks and clawed by the Hillcats in his last two starts (six runs apiece), starter Matt Swynenberg set down the first seven batters in order to begin the contest before he showed signs of reverting to bad form in the third. A double to left followed by a double to right two batters later plated the first Pelican run.

Meanwhile, the P-Nats picked up where they left off the night before: getting runners on, but getting themselves out. Adrian Sanchez led off the game with line drive down the left field line and coasted into second. Ricky Hague followed with a grounder to short, that Sanchez inexplicably tried to advance to third and was caught for a 6-5 putout. Rehabbing Michael Morse lined out to second, sharply enough for Hague to be doubled off. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am and the P-Nats were done for the first inning.

Zach Walters, who was 4-for-4 on the night, was caught stealing in the second, which Michael Taylor followed with a line-drive single to center — eliciting not cheers from the crowd of 1,429, but a collective groan at what might have been. Through four innings, Potomac had four hits and three left on.

They broke through in the fifth to take a 2-1 lead, as Bloxom doubled to left and went to third on a on opposite-field single by J.P. Ramirez. Randolph Oduber grounded to third to erase Ramirez but beat the relay to get the RBI as Bloxom came in to score. Two batters later, Hague drove in the Groovin’ Aruban to give the P-Nats a 2-1 lead.

Swynenberg couldn’t keep the Pelicans from answering in the 6th, giving up a single and another double (that’s four) to tie the game at 2-2 but bore down to get the next three batters, two by way of the K to finish his night with quality start: two runs allowed, on seven hits and no walks and four strikeouts.

He would get the “W” when Bloxom cleared the Bud Light sign in right field with two outs in the 6th (hence the pic).

Say what you want about the starting pitching, which is starting to come around with three quality starts during the homestand thus far, but the late-inning relief has been a force most of the season; it’s just harder to notice when the team is not in the lead, natch.

Ryan Demmin threw two perfect innings of relief to hand the ball over to Cameron Selik in the 9th. An error started the frame (Walters, his team-leading 14th) but the former Jayhawk rock, rocked the next two batters for caught-looking strikeouts and induced a grounder to second to chalk up his 8th save, the third-best total in the Carolina League.

With the win, Potomac earns a series split and improves to 21-29. First-place Lynchburg comes to town for the weekend, with Adam Olbrychowski (1-4, 6.62) set to take the hill tonight, weather permitting.

May 312012
 

Potomac picked up where it left off on Tuesday night with a run in the 5th and a run in the 7th and held on for a 5-3 win.

Paul Applebee got the win in relief, but continues to struggle with the long ball. It was just a solo shot, but the fifth the lefty has surrendered in just 27⅓ innings. Cameron Selik was shaky in the 9th, giving up a leadoff double and a walk before bearing down to get the next three batters out for his 7th save, the double coming around to score on a passed ball and a groundout to second.

In the second game, the score was 1-0. For baseball purists, that’s supposed to be something special. This was not.

Potomac wasted numerous chances on offense (eight runners left on) and was sloppy on defense (three errors), wasting the efforts of Trevor Holder (an unearned run on five hits and no walks over six innings).

This (the uneven offense, shaky defense) is particularly frustrating because the starters are, um, starting to show signs progress, with quality starts starting to come every other game instead of (seemingly) every other week. Against a younger, less experienced offense, Holder did precisely what a Carolina League veteran was supposed to: shut them down.

Even worse, is that this happened despite the presence of a major-leaguer on rehab. Likewise, Michael Morse did what you’d expect him to have done: collect a couple hits, including a double off the RF wall.

With the split, Potomac falls to 20-29 for the first half and still trails Lynchburg by 7½ in the Carolina League North division. Matt Swynenberg (3-3, 4.94) is set to pitch the series finale, opposed by Kyle Hendricks (1-5, 2.67).

May 302012
 

It’s a hell of a way to lose a streak.

Matt Grace — win or lose, for better or worse — had gotten the “W” or “L” in every start until last night, which he began strong: retiring eight of the first nine batters he faced and picking off the first batter to get a hit off him to end the third.

This was big because Potomac had scored in the inning prior and old-time baseball folks will always tell you that not letting the other team answer in the next half inning is what a pitcher strives for.

For three straight innings, the P-Nats had scored a single run — posting a picket fence, another old-time term I’m trying to keep alive — but by the time J.P. Ramirez had knocked a grounder off the Pelican pitcher’s ankle for his 2nd, it was apparent that there would a race to end the game before the rains came.

For two batters in the top of the fifth, Grace looked like he was going to make it to the finish — a popup to short right that 2B Adrian Sanchez snagged despite the swirling winds, a grounder to third for the second out.

But baseball is a funny game, and wouldn’t you know, the ninth-place batter — .154-hitting Josh Richmond — singled to prolong the inning. The scorecard was already starting to get wet and when I looked up after penciling in _8, the downpour had begun. Odubel Herrera worked the count to 2-0, but wisely took his time and sure enough, the umpires halted play and eventually the game got called.

It’ll be continued tonight at 6:05 p.m. followed by a seven-inning game. Michael Morse, who drawn a first-inning walk, and struck out in the third (though his presence enabled Sanchez to steal second and third without much resistance, leading to the game’s second run) is expected to play again.

May 292012
 

So far this season, a return to the Pfitz has been the cure for Potomac’s road woes but last night the home cooking had the same recipe: good pitching coupled with bad luck and worse hitting in a 3-2 loss to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Robbie Ray’s third home start was the best of the three so far, and almost as good as his last time out in Wilmington. He went six and 2/3rds and gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks. But he struck out just two versus eight, and still has not fanned a left-handed batter thus far this season. This is always troubling because southpaws are supposed to negate the other team’s lefties — especially when the lineup had five of them.

Of course, Ray’s counterpart was the Rangers’ #6 prospect Cody Buckel and the undersized righty lived up to his billing, flashing low-90s heat, a 12-6 curve that he reportedly learned from Barry Zito (sure looked like it) and devastating change.

Last time he pitched here (April 28), Potomac touched him for three runs in the second pass through the lineup, but the best that you could say is that they were able to make the 19-year-old work hard for his nine strikeouts, as they managed just three hits against him in six innings.

Ray gave up single runs in the 2nd, 4th, and the 7th. That last run was the most painful, not just because it was the margin of victory but because it came when it was obvious that Buckel was done and with the 4-5-6 men coming up, this was their chance to make some hay. Instead, the defense faltered again (the 4th inning run came after SS Zach Walters threw a bullet 5′ over Justin Bloxom’s glove) unable to snag a flyball to short RF for a leadoff double.

But Ray was not blameless, as it was his wild pitch that sent in the run with runners on 1st and 3rd and one out.

Potomac finally got on the board in the last of the 8th, as Justin Bloxom shattered his bat for broken-bat popup to CF that fell in for a single and Adrian Sanchez tripled him home. But as mentioned previously, luck was not on the Woodbridge Nine’s side as strikeout and a line drive back to the mound (for a 1-5 double play) ended the 8th.

J.P. Ramirez led off the 9th with nifty piece of place hitting, as the noticeably trimmer left-fielder legged out an opposite-field double. He showed off that newfound average speed to take third on a deep flyout to CF and slid home safe on ball that went off the Pelican pitcher’s glove that David Freitas lumbered to first for an infield single.

Francisco Soriano was called upon to pinch-run for Freitas and was promptly picked off 1st for the inning’s second out while Walters compounded his fielding miscue with his third strikeout to end the game.

The loss put Potomac back in the Carolina League North cellar, 8½ games behind division-leading Lynchburg and tied with Frederick. Matt Grace (2-6, 6.70) takes the hill for Game Two of the four-game series while the offense should get a badly needed jolt of energy with the addition of Michael Morse in the lineup on a rehab assignment.

May 202012
 

It’s tempting to write this as a valiant ninth-inning comeback, the third during this homestand. But the reality is that the Potomac Nationals had numerous opportunities to win this game sooner and took advantage of a very, very critical mistake.

Going into the 9th, the P-Nats had drawn four walks, stolen five bases, and left on 10 baserunners. They got off to a good start as Mudcats closer Jesus Flores committed the one of the cardinal pitching sins by walking the leadoff batter, Ricky Hague.

Hague stole second to reduce the odds of another double play, as the Woodbridge nine had done in the 7th and 8th innings. But David Freitas struck out for the inning’s first out. Zach Walters worked another base on balls, Potomac’s sixth, to set up 1st and 2nd with one down.

Michael Taylor drove in the tying run with a single to left while Carolina’s LF Anthony Gallas airmailed it past the catcher to allow Walters to take third, Taylor to take second.

Here’s where the critical mistake took place.

With first base open, the Mudcats decided to take their chances with Kevin Keyes, rather than issue the intentional pass and see if they can get another twin-killing with Adrian Sanchez, who had already hit two infield grounders.

The big man from Texas does indeed strike out quite often. And after getting ahead 1-2, the gamble appeared to be on the verge of paying off.

But Keyes also hits a fair amount of flyballs and that’s all that the P-Nats would need as he connected for a drive to medium center to send in Walters with a sacrifice fly with the gamewinner and a 6-5 final.

Keyes’ 23rd RBI (and yes, he does have 23 hits) made a winner out of Cameron Selik, the last of three relief pitchers that combined for six and 2/3rds innings of stellar relief.

Early on, this game had the feel of three of the previous four Carolina-Potomac matchups: A big inning in the 3rd that should have been much smaller that turned a 1-0 lead into a 5-1 deficit.

Spot starter Trevor Holder gave up a leadoff double to left-center followed by a single to left and a stolen base. Holder got the first out on grounder to second with the IF drawn in halfway, and should have had the second out on another grounder, but Freitas was late with the tag on a ball that beat the runner by 10 feet for the first Mudcat run. Another single and an error plated two more runs and another double followed for a fourth, and Holder was out — his scoreless inning streak snapped at 11.

Paul Applebee gave up the fifth Carolina run on a two-out double, but sporting a funky new motion, retired nine of the next 10 for a line of three and 2/3rds with one walk and one strikeout.

Meanwhile, Potomac answered the five-run Mudcat rally with back-to-back RBI singles from Freitas and Walters in the 3rd and a nifty double steal in the 4th that enabled Francisco Soriano to ease Potomac to within one at 5-4 with a grounder to 2nd. Potomac would leave on two in the 5th, one in the 6th, and as previously mentioned, hit into DPs in the 7th and 8th innings.

Rob Wort followed Applebee and worked around a one-out triple by striking out the #3 and #4 batters before turning in a 1-2-3 eighth for his sixth straight appearance without allowing a run of his own, all of them with three or more Ks. Selik worked around his own error (plunking the baserunner on a tapper back to the mound) with a pair of strikeouts in the ninth.

With the win, Potomac improves to 17-22, percentage points behind second-place Wilmington but still 4½ games behind division-leading Lynchburg. Ryan Demmin (0-1, 4.67) gets another turn in the rotation as the P-Nats shoot for the series win and attempt to close out the homestand with a 5-2 mark.

May 182012
 

For the second straight night, it’s a walkoff in Woodbridge, with David Freitas driving in two with two down in the 9th for a 10-9 Potomac win over Frederick.

While the outcome was pretty, the game was ugly — ten walks, six unearned runs, four errors, two passed balls over nearly three and a half grueling hours. Never mind the loudmouth lout with a face made for radio heckling the umps and the Keys.

Potomac rallied three times for three runs, with the first two aided by three Frederick errors for five of the six unearned runs. Still, staked to a 6-2 lead, it should have been smooth sailing in the middle innings for Kyle Winters.

Instead, he labored to get through five innings and turned it over to Shane McCatty, who blew the save in the 7th with back-to-back walks, a single, and a would-be sacrifice bunt that he fielded then air-mailed over Justin Bloxom’s head and bounced into the stands. It was the fifth time in six appearances he had been scored upon.

The four-run seventh was the fourth straight inning in which the Keys scored, turning that 6-2 deficit into a 9-7 lead.

Potomac would go in order in the 7th and 8th innings, thus the few that gutted out the 9th were in for an unexpected treat. Randolph Oduber singled to lead off the inning and took second on Blake Kelso’s one-out single. Oduber took third on flyout to right. Bloxom singled for third time to drive in Oduber, sending Kelso to third.

Bloxom took second on defensive indifference, a critical move because despite having first base open, the Keys decided that they might get Freitas for a fourth time versus taking their chances with Michael Taylor (3-for-4, 2B, 3RBI). The big backstop lined one into left to send home Kelso with the tying run and Bloxom with the gamewinner.

With the win, Potomac took the series 3-1 and won their third straight. Tonight, LHP Matt Grace gets the start against Carolina, looking to improve over his last outing last Saturday night in Zebulon.

May 172012
 

After losing seven of eight, the Potomac Nationals took a pair of one-run contests from the Frederick Keys, taking the first game 5-4, and capped by a walkoff in “extra” innings, 4-3.

Robbie Ray took the hill in the first game, coming off a six-run smackdown in Salem in his previous start and a position-player’s ERA of 16.50. The rest-or-rust question was answered rather quickly as Ray set down the Keys in order three times with three quick innings — 20 pitches, 17 for strikes.

But the second time through the lineup is always a big test for any starter, and Frederick drew blood in the 4th — three straight singles, a sharp lineout, then a two-run double, and an RBI single. Ray got the second out on a sac fly and then got out of the inning with a grounder. But it took 24 pitches.

Prior to the big inning, the P-Nats had built a 3-0 lead on a two-run HR by Adrian Sanchez in the first and a two-out RBI double by David Freitas. After the big inning, three straight singles in the bottom of the 4th produced the tying run, with Kevin Keyes atoning for his ill-advised attempt to score from second on a single in the 2nd with an RBI single.

Ricky Hague homered in the bottom of the 5th to put Potomac up 5-4. Ray would bounce back from the four-run fourth with 1-2-3 fifth and worked around a single and a hit batsmen with a inning-ending DP. Cameron Selik flirted with disaster, giving up a pair of two-out singles but bore down to get the save (his 5th) and preserve the win for Ray (his 1st).

In the nightcap, Francisco Soriano produced twice in the clutch — tying the game with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the 7th, and doubling home the gamewinner with two down in the last of the 9th for a 4-3 win.

Wilson Eusebio was the pitcher of record and got the win, but the pitcher of the night was Rob Wort. After starter Matt Swynenberg tired in the 6th, giving up a single and a double to put runners on second and third, Wort came on and struck out the first batter for the first out, then got the second with a grounder to second that Frederick inexplicably decided to try to score on Soriano’s arm.

While it’s true that an RBI single followed, for which the casual fan may place blame, what’s lost in the quick glance at the box score is that Wort then dispatched the next six batters straight — that’s three innings with nine outs to nine batters faced.

Potomac would actually score all four runs with two out last night. Blake Kelso, who scored three of the four Potomac runs on a 3-for-5 game and a 4-for-8 night, scored the first on a Frederick throwing error. Justin Bloxom followed with an RBI double to tie the game at 2-2 in the 3rd. Kelso would double in the last of the 7th and score on Soriano’s single. Then (guess who?) after reaching base safely on a grounder in the 9th, Kelso came around from first on Soriano’s gamewinner, a double to down the RF line.

With the win, Potomac improves to 15-21, percentage points behind second-place Wilmington, but still 6½ back of first-place Lynchburg. Kyle Winters (1-5, 6.99) toes the slab tonight for the P-Nats, opposed by Scott Copeland (1-3, 5.91).

May 062012
 

Capped by a three-run shot, the Blue Rocks hung a four-spot on the P-Nats in the 9th to ice an 8-3 win and reclaim second place in the C.L. North.

Leading 4-3, Wilmington was content to play small ball to get the insurance run, sacrificing a leadoff walk off Shane McCatty to set up the Blue Rock’s top hitter (and sole switch hitter), Angel Franco.

With first base open, manager Brian Rupp elected not to bring in a lefthander to turn Franco around nor order an intentional walk. Franco delivered the insurance run with a double down the left-field line that Kevin Keyes boxed around but recovered in time to gun down Franco at third.

Thus, with two out and the bases empty, back-to-back singles set up Brett Eibner’s 4th HR of the season and put the game away.

The P-Nats actually led this game at one point, 2-0, after Zach Walters’ two-out, two-RBI single in the bottom of the first. Starting pitcher Kyle Winters coughed up the lead in the second with a three-run four-hit second. Winters would strike out a career-high 10 over six innings and finish with four runs allowed on seven hits.

The fourth run, however, was unearned — a cricket wicket by Ricky Hague in the third — and after Michael Taylor’s RBI double (#11, which leads the Carolina League) in the 4th, that was the difference in what was a 4-3 ballgame until the 9th. Twice Hague had a chance to redeem himself, with Adrian Sanchez (3-for-4 in his return from the DL) advancing from first to third both times on passed balls and wild pitched, but tapped out to short and struck out instead.

The loss halted a modest three-game win streak for Potomac, returning the P-Nats to third place in the Carolina League’s Northern Division. LHP Matt Grace (1-3, 7.36) faces off against Leondro Perez (2-1, 3.66) in rubber match of the series finale.

May 052012
 

On a night where hits were plenty but runs weren’t, Ricky Hague’s fourth single of the evening in the bottom of the 9th was the difference in a 5-4 Potomac win.

The two teams combined for 26 hits, but 23 of them were singles. Potomac turned four double plays, Wilmington one, but the difference was two-out hitting. The P-Nats got seven of their 14 hits and three of their five runs with two down; the Blue Rocks had just two-out hits and no runs.

This was Matt Swynenberg’s first start since his Sunday masterpiece, a three-hit, one-run complete game, but he was under the gun of the “GBI curse” — a little-known affliction that seems to affect players once they get recognition here in the weekly edition of “Good, Bad, and Interesting.”

With 11 hits given up over six innings, Swynenberg was not as sharp, but his penchant for the grounder saved him — twice he got the DP to end the inning, another to squelch a rally. Alas, the fourth DP came just one batter too late.

Wilmington opened the 6th with a single, double, and another single and had runners on second and third. The Potomac ‘pen got up, and appeared to be ready after Swynenberg issued a walk to load the bases.

But manager Brian Rupp was either slow on the trigger or was gambling that Swynenberg could get the batter, Jake Kuebler, to ground into another DP — just as he had done the inning before. Swynenberg got the DP, but one batter too late as Kuebler steered one to the 3/4 hole to drive in two and give the Blue Rocks a 4-3 lead.

Potomac would tie it in the 7th after threatening in the 6th as — you guessed it — Hague ripped a single to left to drive in Francisco Soriano.

Like the day before, stellar relief made the comeback possible Neil Holland needed just four pitches to get through his first inning and allowed just one hit over the final three frames. He also struck out three.

Soriano swung from his heels to open the 9th, but Randolph Oduber, who had homered to lead off the 3rd, used his eyes (walk on a 3-2 count) and his legs (stolen base) to get into scoring position for the Hague gamewinner.

The win was Potomac’s 11th of the season, but thanks to the league’s power clubs being clustered in the Southern Division, that 11-14 mark is just 2½ games behind the first-place Lynchburg Hillcats. Kyle Winters (1-3, 5.74) takes the hill tonight to try for the team’s fourth straight “W” with Greg Billo (1-3, 5.32) as his counterpart for Wilmington.

May 032012
 

Three Potomac pitchers combined on six-hit shutout, beating Winston-Salem for the first time in seven games, 5-0. The loss also halted the Dash’s nine-game win streak.

For the second straight outing, Adam Olbrychowski pitched into the seventh inning — a just-as-welcome development, given the toll on the ‘pen over the previous two nights — but against a much more potent offense. The 25-year-old showed no fear, working the ball inside (three HBP) and keeping the Dash batters off balance with his slow curve.

Though he allowed a baserunner in every inning, Olbrychowski also kept the ball on the ground, letting his defense help him with double plays in 3rd, 4th, and fifth innings and getting 12 of 20 outs on the ground total. He would give up just one extra-base hit, a double to leadoff hitter Marcus Semien with two outs in the 7th.

Meanwhile, the Potomac offense put together an impressive string of hits in the 2nd inning: five in a row, with three runners going from first to third and three crossing home plate. Were it not for a baserunning blunder by Kevin Keyes, it might have been a bigger inning.

The P-Nats would tack on one more run in the 5th as Francisco Soriano doubled, took third on a botched sacrifice, and came around to score on a double-play ball. They would finish the scoring in the eighth as Kevin Keyes launched yet another bomb to deep CF that could only score one of the two runners on base because with one out, they had to hold up in case it were caught.

Ryan Demmin took the ball from Olbrychowski and got the last out of the 7th, then turned it over to Cameron Selik. Though it wasn’t a save sitation, Selik closed out the game with five straight K’s before issuing a walk with two out in the 9th and then retiring the last batter on a popup.

With the win, Potomac improves to 9-14 and back into a tie for third place with the Frederick Keys. It’s a day game today with all signs pointing to Robbie Ray making his 2012 debut against Steve McCray.