May 012013
 

After an hour’s rain delay to a game that had been postponed the night before, the Potomac Nationals shut out the Carolina Mudcats by a 5-0 count in the opening game of a doubleheader.

Blake Schwartz was making his second start in High-A but against the same team. Last week, Schwartz tossed six shutout innings against Carolina but was overshadowed by Kevin Keyes’s display of lights-out power.

Just as it’s important to not get too excited when a pitcher breezes through the lineup the first time through — watch how often mediocre-to-bad pitchers get hammered in the middle innings, you’ll see what I mean — it’s a good idea to temper expectations when a team gets to see him for a second start.

Well, Schwartz only went five shutout innings this time, giving up the same number of hits and walks (three and one) but striking one more (six vs. five). Early on, it looked like things might be different. A couple of long counts to the tablesetters (doing their job), resulting in a walk and a strikeout. But a popup behind home plate and a little help from speedster Billy Burns quashed that rally.

Indeed, the next few batters seemed to be trying to ambush Schwartz, jumping on first pitches, hoping for a fastball. Instead, they popped up or fell behind.
He didn’t throw particularly hard… or straight, with both cutting and sinking movement spotted. But he mixed in a change that had serious separation (at least 10 mph slower) and a curve that broke more like a southpaw’s.

Meanwhile, Carolina’s Shawn Morimando, who was Schwartz’s opponent last week, was nearly as good the last time out, setting down the first six with ease. But an opposite-field flare from Adrian Sanchez followed by a wall-ball RBI double to right-center by Caleb Ramsey put him in a 1-0 hole in the Potomac 3rd. After retiring two of the next three batters, Cutter Dyktra’s two-out slice through the 5/6 hole produced all the offense the P-Nats pitchers would need.

Potomac would tack on three in the 5th with back-to-back singles from Ramsey and Randolph Oduber, with Michael Taylor plating two on a single to left (though Oduber ran through manage Brian Daubach’s stop sign and the throw in was 10′ off the plate) and Jason Martinson hitting a sacrifice fly deep enough for the two runners on the corners to move up.

Matt Grace came on in the 6th and closed out the game, working out of a 1st-and-2nd with one out jam with a little help from the “D” on double-play ball in his first inning and stranding a two-out single with a flyball to center to end it.

With a win in the nightcap, Potomac evened its home record to 6-6 and its season record to 12-13, two games off the pace in the Carolina League North Division. Robbie Ray (2-1, 1.55) is slated to pitch tonight’s game against Carolina’s Joseph Colon (0-1, 4.15). Ryan Zimmerman, who bowed out of last night’s doubleheader due to less-than-optimal field conditions, is expected to appear tonight on a rehab assignment.

Apr 212013
 

It was the best of pitching and the worst of pitching all in one night, as Taylor Hill spun a one-hit shutout for a 6-0 win in the opening game while Kylin Turnbull couldn’t make it out of the second as Potomac fell 8-2 in the nightcap.

Hill was sensational — hitting his spots, changing speeds, mixing it up, and working fast to keep the Frederick lineup off-kilter for the first 14 batters before switch-hitting first baseman Connor Narron steered a grounder past the dive of Adrian Sanchez with two outs in the 5th.

The 23-year-old Vanderbilt product has a reputation for getting groundballs and inducing contact, but instead struck out seven and got seven flyouts to the outfield. For the season, he’s now 3-0 in as many starts with a 1.42ERA and 0.79WHIP with 16K in 19 innings.

On offense, Potomac got things started in classic fashion as leadoff man Billy Burns walked and stole second and trotted in to score when the P-Nats #2 batter put a coat on a hanger for a double. You might even say it was a Taylor made.

A wild pitch sent Michael to third and came around when Cutter Dykstra got the first of his two RBI groundouts, sacrificing average to fulfill his mission of scoring runs.

Justin Miller’s Potomac debut was highlighted by a leadoff single in the third and an RBI double in the fifth. He would come around to score on a balk

Kevin Keyes was the second P-Nat with multiple hits, and scored the 6th and final run in the sixth on sacrifice fly by Caleb Ramsey.
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It wasn’t so pretty in the second game. Starter Kylin Turnbull lost for the third time in as many starts, turning in his shortest outing with more walks (five) than outs (four), including four straight in the 2nd.

Relievers Christian Meza and Tyler Herron showed their Mr. Hyde side after Dr. Jeckyll outings in Salem, with Meza giving up five hits and two walks in an inning and 2/3rds and Herron hitting a batter and walking two while striking out the side in the 4th. Colin Bates settled things down with three scoreless innings, allowing just a single.

Frederick opted to have its bullpen cover the game, pushing the originally scheduled starter Eduardo Rodriguez to this afternoon. Potomac actually outhit the Keys 9-8 but couldn’t get the big hit when they needed it, the four-single, one-run 4th emblematic of their struggles. Will Piwinica-Worms and Cole Leonida both went 2-for-3, with Leonida doubling and Piwinica-Worms collecting an RBI.

With the doubleheader split, the P-Nats remain in the Carolina League cellar, albeit with a 7-8 mark. Robbie Ray (1-1, 2.12) gets the start this afternoon as the P-Nats aim for .500 and a series split.

Apr 192013
 

Allan de San Miguel’s second home run of the night put an end to nearly four hours of not-so-pretty baseball as the Frederick Keys defeated the Potomac Nationals, 9-8 in 12 innings.

The two teams combined for 27 hits and 16 men left on base and five errors — four by the Keys, which rendered four of the last five P-Nats runs scored as unearned.

Early on, this looked like it would be a laugher. A.J. Cole struck out two in the top of the first, then Billy Burns led off the Potomac half with an opposite-field single and easily scored on a Michael Taylor double to the left-center gap. Jason Martinson doubled with one out. Kevin Keyes singled with two out.

After one inning it was three runs in on five hits. Cole would set down the next six straight, though his command was shaky and five of the outs were flies to the outfield. Meanwhile, Frederick starter Zach Petersime settled down to retire nine of eleven.

As is often the case, the middle innings are where a starter should really be evaluated and on their second look at Cole the Keys broke up both the perfecto and the shutout in the space of two batters with a leadoff triple and an RBI groundout in the 4th. In the 5th, Cole got four grounders and three outs and appeared en route to emerge from an uneven start with a decent line, if not a win, after a strikeout and a popup in the 6th.

Instead, with two outs Cole issued a walk, unleashed a wild pitch, and gave up the first of de San Miguel’s circle clouts to turn a 3-1 Potomac lead into a 4-3 advantage. He was lifted for a reliever and finished with a disappointing four runs on four hits and two walks over five and 2/3rds.

After that, things got ugly. A double, a dropped infield pop for an error extended the Keys lead to 5-3. Frederick returned the favor in the 7th with an error on a sacrifice that extended the inning and enabled Martinson to smack a three-run shot that gave the P-Nats their final lead of the night at 7-5.

Frederick went back on top in the 8th when a dropped third strike was the, um, key to the three-run rally that reclaimed the lead at 8-7. Potomac tied it at 8-8 in the last of the 9th on a Burns infield single, a Taylor single to left that pushed the P-Nats leadoff man to third, and a sacrifice by Cutter Dykstra.

Taylor stole second and took third on the fourth Frederick error to set up the chance for the win in regulation. Martinson, however, couldn’t repeat his 7th inning heroics and struck out to send the game into extras.

Potomac had a second chance at a walkoff win when Norfork led off the 11th with flare to no man’s land in left center but consecutive popups on bunt attempts by Burns and Taylor killed the rally, which ended with another Martinson whiff.

Following the second de San Miguel shot in the 12th, Potomac went quietly in their half with a popup and two grounders to short as Frederick reliever Eric Beaulac tossed the third of his three scoreless frames to get the “W.”

The series continues tonight, weather permitting, with a matchup of Kylin Turnbull (0-2, 12.00) vs. Zach Davies (1-0, 3.27).

Apr 092013
 

Photo Credit: Gary Dize (Potomac Nationals)

The good news is that the P-Nats scored six runs for the third straight game. The bad news is that wasn’t enough to stop them for suffering their third straight loss, as Salem edged Potomac 7-6 on Monday.

The bullpen wasn’t to blame for this one — Ben Hawkins and Richie Mirowski hosed the Sox for four and 2/3rds of scoreless relief… with a little help from Michael Taylor, who gunned down top prospect Deven Marrero from shallow centerfield to end the top of the 7th.

Instead, it was the struggles of starter Kylin Turnbull, who had difficulty locating his fastball and was touched for nine hits — five going for extra bases — over just four and a 1/3rd innings. The big blow came in the top of the second when he gave up singles to three of the first four batters he faced before surrendering a three-run shot to the No. 9 batter Felix Sanchez.

The Salem right fielder also figured in the first and last Potomac runs, unable to track down a wind-blown flyball off the bat of Kevin Keyes in the 2nd and dropping a drive to the warning track off the bat of Jason Martinson in the 8th.

Those miscues, however, were something of a wash as the P-Nats ran into two outs that minimized the damages in the 5th as the Red Sox played like a team that was up big (7-1) and used the P-Nats aggression against them.

Singles by Cutter Dykstra, Adrian Sanchez, and Randolph Oduber loaded the bases with one out (a strikeout by Caleb Ramsey). Billy Burns doubled to left to plate Dykstra and Sanchez but Oduber was gunned down for the second out, trying to score from first. Likewise, Taylor followed with a single to right that sent in Burns for the third run but ended the rally when the Sox catcher reversed a throw to the on-deck circle with a seed to second get Taylor for the third out.

Ramsey atoned for his whiff with a homer in the 7th while Martinson cashed in the Salem Sanchez’s error by scampering home on a wild pitch.

Adrian Nieto would lead off the 9th with a walk, giving way to pinch-runner Francisco Soriano but a Dykstra strikeout and a Sanchez GIDP ended the game.

With the loss, Potomac falls to 1-3 on the young season. Taylor Hill, who apparently was doing his side session as a relief appearance (unusual, but not unprecedented) on Friday, gets the start tonight against William Cuevas for Salem.

Apr 062013
 

Ten men came to the plate in the Potomac second, which saw eight straight hits as Potomac crushed Lynchburg for a 12-1 win in the 2013 season opener.

If this were softball, beers were on Kevin Keyes as the big man was the sole P-Nat to not get at hit as the Woodbridge nine pounded out 16 hits total, with Cutter Dykstra and Randolph Oduber both going 3-for-5. Michael Taylor drove in three to lead the RBI column.

Jason Martinson drew three walks and got the hit parade started with an opposite-field home run in the bottom of the first. He narrowly missed a second big fly as his second-inning blast went off the wall for a double. He finished the night 2-for-4 with two walks (the box score is wrong).

Early on, it looked like Robbie Ray had picked up where he left off in 2012 — which, as most folks will remember, wasn’t good. An infield single up the middle and a botched sacrifice put the first two runners. The sole Hillcat run came in on the third batter on a hit & run play that went 6-3 in the books as the leadoff man beat the relay throw home to score the way from second.

Ray picked off the runner at second, which proved to be the key to escaping the inning with minimal damage as the next batter walked, and he gave up another single. A passed ball put runners on second and third with two out but Ray caught the No. 6 hitter David Rohm looking to end the threat.

That would be it for Lynchburg as Ray’s habit of settling down after a rough start also kicked in. The 21-year-old retired the next 10 batters in a row, the streak of 11 straight broken up by the third and final hit off him with one out in the 5th.

He finished with the one run (unearned), one walk, and five strikeouts — four to end the inning, three times looking as Ray flashed a much sharper breaking ball than last season. Before folks get too excited though, his command was still a little spotty, especially in the first frame. Still, after a disappointing finish in 2012, this was a great way to start 2013.

A trio of relievers followed Ray out of the ‘pen, beginning with Taylor Hill for one inning — perhaps a tipoff that Matt Grace is indeed still a starter — followed by Greg Holt for two and Richie Mirowski to close out the game. They combined for three scoreless innings and six strikeouts.

Taylor Jordan is slated to make his High-A debut tonight in Game 2, as will his counterpart for Lynchburg, A.J. Holland.

Aug 262012
 

It wasn’t pretty, but it counts just the same.

Potomac scored three times in the rain with two outs in the bottom of the sixth before the umpires ordered the tarp drawn. Forty-seven minutes later they called it to give Potomac its fifth straight win, 3-0.

The rally began with a leadoff walk to Matt Skole, and after a Kevin Keyes strikeout and a Steve Souza Jr. flyout, it looked like yet another runner would be stranded. With the wind blowing in, Jason Martinson launched a drive to center that Frederick centerfielder Glynn Davis couldn’t hold onto, plating Skole with a triple. A wild pitch sent in the second run, sailed shot that banged off the backstop like Wednesday night. Jeff Howell homered to center to finish the binge.

Matt Swynenberg got the win despite putting a baserunner (or two or three) on in every inning, issuing four walks and giving up five hits. The secret to stranding eight Frederick runners was two, um, key double plays that ended the first and fourth innings — the latter started Swynenberg himself for a 1-6-3 mark in the scorebook. Ten of the 18 outs he recorded came on grounders as the 23-year-old won his sixth game and was credited with his second complete game.

With Wilmington idle, Potomac crept to within two games of first place and can tie Frederick for second place with a win tonight. Robbie Ray (4-11, 4.52) is scheduled to pitch against Tim Berry (4-5, 4.52)

Aug 242012
 

With six strong innings from top pitching prospect Alex Meyer, the Potomac Nationals took their third straight win with a 7-5 decision over the Carolina Mudcats, setting up a weekend showdown with the first-place Frederick Keys.

Potomac scored in each of the first four innings, highlighted by Steven Souza Jr.’s fourth home run, a light-tower shot that comfortably cleared the 400-foot marker over the centerfield wall with two outs in the top of the first. It was 23-year-old’s 21st roundtripper between Low-A and High-A. He would total two walks and two stolen bases and kept his cool when Carolina starting pitcher Michael Goodnight, who did not have one, plunked him in his third plate appearance.

Meyer turned in a quality start for the sixth time in seven starts, rebounding from a six-run shellacking last Friday night in Salem. The lone Mudcat run came in the third as Todd Hankins doubled to center, then was sent in on a sacrifice hit and a sacrifice fly.

With Nathan Karns likely on the shelf for the rest of the season, the towering 22-y.o. has become the staff ace. Like Karns, he has shown that he doesn’t necessarily need to blow guys away to be effective, as his first strikeout did not come until the 18th batter he faced with one out in the 5th — though he would need it and another whiff to escape a bases-loaded jam in the 5th, then stranded two more in the 6th with his third and final K.

Potomac scored its seventh run in the 7th after a Blake Kelso single, the second Souza walk, and a Ricky Hague single to left that was hit so sharply that the fleet-footed Kelso could only advance one base. Jason Martinson fell behind quickly on a pair of curves, but didn’t bite on the 0-2 fastball on the outside corner. Instead of offering something in the dirt, Carolina southpaw J.D. Reichenbach went back to the bender, but Martinson was not fooled this time and looped it into left for the RBI and a 7-1 lead.

After two shutout frames from Aaron Barrett, Rob Wort took the mound for what should have been an easy inning in the 9th. Instead, Carolina did not roll over and made him work. After following a leadoff walk with a strikeout, the slender righty gave up four straight hits — triple to right-center, double to left, a two-run homer off the second tier of signs in right field, then a single to right.

Wort would catch the next batter looking then get the cleanup hitter, 24-y.o. veteran Anthony Gallas, to fly out to shallow left to finally put the game away.

As aforementioned, one of the two teams that Potomac needs to catch and pass to make the playoffs comes to town for three this weekend. Frederick leads Potomac by three, thus the P-Nats need no less than two out of three to have a chance at postseason play and probably need to sweep, given that they will have to face second-place Wilmington on the road as well as these Mudcats for another four as part of the their seven-game road trip to finish out the 2012 season.

Tonight, the P-Nats will send Rob Gilliam (0-1, 5.48) out to the mound against Frederick’s Kevin Gausman (0-0, 12.00), the No. 1 draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles this past June.

Aug 232012
 

After falling behind 7-3 after three and a half innings, the Potomac Nationals took advantage of four errors and four wild pitches to score the last five runs in a 9-8 win in extra innings.

The comeback began in the 8th, Potomac down 8-4, with a Stephen King double to the right-center gap that might have been a triple. Adrian Sanchez followed with a slow tapper to second that got past the first baseman for a hit and an error and the fifth Potomac run. After Sanchez got caught stealing, Ricky Hague blistered a ball to short that Carolina shortstop Ronny Rodriguez decided to backhand for the second error of the inning. Matt Skole ripped a single to right, which the the rightfielder booted for the third error of the inning and the second P-Nat run, as Hague scored all the way from first.

In the 9th, after hitting the leadoff batter (Steve Souza Jr.) then striking out the next two batters, a two out walk drawn by J.P. Ramirez set up King to deliver another double, with pinch-runner Francisco Soriano easily scoring from first to tie the game at 8-8.

The comeback was completed in the 10th as Skole lofted his second opposite-field double to left, took third on a groundout, and scampered home when Fabio Martinez hit the backstop — the one without the glove behind home plate — as the wild pitch thudded with a report loud enough to be heard over the roar of the crowd.

The improbable comeback masked what was an otherwise awful debut by Taylor Hill, who gave up seven runs on eight hits and two walks over three and 2/3rds innings, including three doubles and a long home run by Rodriguez. Three of the runs were unearned, with two errors by Skole and a couple of misplays by Souza in his fifth game as a centerfielder as a pro, but the balls were hit hard because they were up and/or over the plate.

Ryan Demmin, Adam Carr, and Neil Holland combined for six and a 1/3rd innings of one-run relief, with Demmin surrendering the run (a home run by Anthony Gallas), Carr dispatching the Mudcats on six pitches in the 7th, and Holland striking out five over the last three innings for his sixth “W” of the season.

The win keeps Potomac’s playoff hopes alive, as they trail first-place Wilmington by three and a 1/2 games, second-place Frederick by three games (Lynchburg is also ahead of them, but in the event of a double-half winner, it’s the second-place second-half team that gets the berth).

The series concludes tonight with Alex Meyer (2-2, 2.35) taking the hill against Carolina’s Michael Goodnight (2-12, 4.73).

Aug 142012
 

For eight innings, the Potomac lumber was in a slumber but awoke in the ninth for two runs. They needed three, and lost 4-3 to the first-place Wilmington Blue Rocks.

Nathan Karns was tagged with his second straight loss, giving up three runs on eight hits and three walks over six innings. And it could have been worse. Twice Wilmington ran into outs at home plate, the first coming in the 2nd inning when Nick Van Stratten attempted to score from second on groundout to short, the second when Van Stratten attempted to score from first on a one-out double to right-center in the 4th.

Karns had but one clean inning, and it didn’t come until the 5th. Much will be made of the 10 strikeouts, but more should be made of how hittable Karns was. Command and control are not the same thing, but poor command will often lead to fat fastballs and that’s what the Blue Rocks were feasting on last night.

Like too many pink drinks on Ladies Night, the Potomac offense made a big ugly look good. For seven innings, the aptly surnamed Brooks Pounders (6’4″, 270, 5.43ERA) held the P-Nats to just four hits and one unearned run, walking none and striking out five. The portly starboarder retired the last nine batters he faced, but did not appear to have overpowering stuff.

Matt Swynenberg followed Karns from the bullpen and turned in three solid innings of relief, with one run on two hits, no walks and three strikeouts. The lone mistake was a dropped third strike to lead off the 8th. A steal and a two-out single plated the extra runner for Wilmington’s fourth run and it turned out to be the difference.

Anthony Rendon started the 9th-inning rally with one out with a grounder steered between first and second with two strikes. Kevin Keyes followed suit with Rendon going to third. Ricky Hague sent Rendon in with a single to left. After a Jason Martinson strikeout, Jeff Howell drove in Keyes with a single to center and snuck into second on the relay throw trying to get Hague at third.

Stephen King, however, couldn’t cash in either runner and struck out to end the game.

The loss drops Potomac to 3½ games back in the Carolina League North. The P-Nats and Blue Rocks are scheduled to play tonight with Rob Gilliam (0-1, 7.04) facing off against Leondy Perez (3-4, 4.26).

Aug 122012
 

What a difference a day makes.

The P-Nats bats came to life last night. The defense made the game closer than it should have been. But the pitching carried the game.

It took a couple of innings, but once the hitters figured out the soft-tossing Winston-Salem righthander, the offense came to life. The P-Nats struck for a pair of runs in third, highlighted by singles by Blake Kelso and Francisco Soriano and an Adrian Sanchez double that the Dash defense misplayed into a triple with both poor route running and a missed cutoff man.

Potomac hounded Chris Bassitt for another pair of runs in the fourth on four hits, as J.P. Ramirez fisted a one-out single over the shortstop to start the rally, took third on an errant pickoff throw, and scored as Kelso, Erick Fernandez, and Soriano connected for consecutive two-out singles.

Meanwhile, southpaw Matt Grace retired the first nine batter he faced, getting a little help from the defense as Jason Martinson erased a hit batsman in the 2nd with a 6-3 DP. On the second pass through the lineup, though, it was a tougher go — self-inflicted with a pair of walks in the 4th with a single sandwiched in between, but Grace erased the first free pass with a pickoff and Martinson helped again with a nifty 6-5 force at third on a grounder to his right.

Grace wasn’t so fortunate in the 5th as a leadoff walk and a double to left after a strikeout put two runners in scoring position. Grace got another strikeout and was on the verge of stranding another pair of runners when Stephen King botched the would-be groundout to let in two runs. He would put on another pair of runners in the 6th but worked out of the jam with another couple of K’s, for a season-high of eight strikeouts.

Potomac would score single runs in the 6th and 7th innings, with an error on a Fernandez grounder to third after a Kelso double in the 6th and a triple to right by Anthony Rendon that was hit so hard that the Dash outfielder, Brandon Short, a triple-A guy on rehab, got spun around and fell trying to track ti down.

Winston-Salem would make this a ballgame again with a two-run blast to right-center by veteran 1B/DH Dan Black off reliever Neil Holland in the 8th inning.

In the 9th, Rob Wort did his best imitation of Chad Cordero by loading the bases on a pair of doubles and a walk, but this 23-year-old can get the K when he needs it and struck out the side, including the final batter on a 3-2 count with two outs to bring his team-leading total to 81.

With the win, Potomac keeps pace with the rest of the Carolina League’s North Division as all four teams won on Saturday night. They remain 1½ games back.

The Dash and P-Nats conclude the series and the regular-season slate — Winston-Salem has won 14 of 19, and all 10 in North Carolina — with a matchup between Alex Meyer (2-0, 0.78) and Erik Johnson (1-2, 2.13).