Aug 032012
 

Kevin Keyes gets congrats after his three-run HR in the 8th

After dropping the continuation from Wednesday by a 5-3 count in 10 innings, a quartet of Nationals pitchers combined for a five-hit, 8-0 shutout of the Salem Red Sox to claim sole possession of first place in the Carolina League’s Northern Division.

Nathan Karns got the win, his eighth, with five scoreless innings, which lowered his ERA from 1.84 to 1.70. But at the risk of sounding spoiled, this was not his best outing. This is not the Salem squad that finished the first half 41-28 — no Jackie Bradley Jr. (1.002 OPS), no Travis Shaw (.957).

The unofficial pitch count was 81 pitches, 45 for strikes. Three walks and a hit batsmen over five innings meant just one 1-2-3 inning and more than a couple of prolonged at-bats. The six strikeouts were nice, but Karns could have set down eight or nine against this lineup in five frames (he struck out 11 in seven in June).

Offensively, Potomac got started early for the second straight game. Three straight hits to go up 1-0, a sacrifice fly to go up 2-0, then another single to make it 3-0. With a little hesitation from J.P. Ramirez, it might have been 4-0 as the first ended with Stephen King slicing a double to right field. The two would get it done in the fourth with King ripping a double down the left field line, an error helping Ramirez to score.

As the pic above shows, the P-Nats busted the game wide open in the 8th as Adrian Sanchez singled, Ricky Hague walked, and Kevin Keyes deposited a fat fastball to left for home run #16 and RBIs 56, 57, and 58 (both team-best). Jason Martinson singled and scored on Blake Kelso’s RBI double to finish the four-run barrage.

Aaron Barrett followed Karns in the 6th and struck out the first two batters en route to his two goose eggs. Joe Testa worked around a single and a walk in the 8th to put up another zero. Rob Wort gave up a leadoff double to start the ninth then set down the next three, finishing with the strikeout to complete the team shutout.

With the win, Potomac evens its record at 20-20, a frac12; game better than Frederick and Wilmington and a full game better than Lynchburg. Salem did take two-of-three for the first opponent to win a series at the Pfitz since April. Tonight, it’s the start of a six-games-in-seven-nights stretch against the current co-leaders of the Southern Division, the Winston-Salem Dash and the Myrtle Beach. Rob Gilliam (0-0, 1.69) makes his second start.

Aug 012012
 

It took six innings for the P-Nats bats to show signs of life, but it was too little, too late as the Salem Red Sox withstood four runs late to win this one, 5-4.

Of course, credit for the offensive coma should go to Salem’s Keith Couch, who tossed six scoreless innings and allowed just three hits, no walks, and struck out seven to even his record at 8-8. In his previous start, he’d scattered ten hits over nine innings for a one-run complete game.

Conversely, Matt Grace was charged with the loss and ended a modest two-game win streak. The 23-year-old southpaw was charged with five runs on seven hits and two walks over five innings.

The bulk of the damage came in two big innings, as Grace’s propensity to give up long, loud hits returned — a home run and a double in the three-run 3rd, a double sandwiched between two sharp singles in the two-run 4th.

Potomac awoke in the 7th as the team’s two Steves (Souza and King) combined to break up the shutout bid. Souza had pulled up lame in Sunday’s contest, but the strain was not evident when the big fella (6’3″, 220) launched a shot to the warning track in center and cruised into third with an easy triple. Two batters later, King bounced one back up the middle to push Souza across the plate for a 5-1 tally.

The P-Nats added two more in the 8th when Michael Taylor singled to center and came around to score on an RBI double by Ricky Hague. Reliever Pete Ruiz gift-wrapped the second run by botching a tapper back to the mound that was incorrectly ruled a hit, then threw past the first baseman for an error that sent in Hague and took away an RBI chance for Souza, who singled for his third hit of the night (he had doubled in the 5th).

Following Grace from the ‘pen, and helping to make this drama possible, was a solid relief outing by Matt Swynenberg: Four scoreless innings, one hit, two walks, and one hit batsmen. It wasn’t pretty — just one 1-2-3 inning — but it got the job done.

Potomac rallied for the third straight time in the final frame, as Kevin Keyes lined a single to left and J.P. Ramirez hit a flyball that was ruled a single despite the shortstop standing flatfooted and missing the catch. Taylor struck out and Sanchez bounced one to second that erased pinch-runner Francisco Soriano. Hague drove in Keyes with another hit, an RBI single to left that cut the lead to one.

It was everything that a fan could hope for: a comeback from five runs down, two men on, two man out, and the cleanup hitter at the plate. Well, except for the strikeout by David Freitas that ended it .

With the loss, Potomac falls to 19-19 in the second half, but remains tied with Lynchburg for first place and a ½ game ahead of second-place Wilmington and 1½ games ahead of third-place Frederick in the Carolina League’s Northern Division

Jul 192012
 

Lynchburg’s Gus Schlosser was on last night, tossing eight shutout innings in a 6-2 win over Potomac.

The 23-year-old allowed just a leadoff single to Adrian Sanchez, who stole second and took third on an error after a Ricky Hague flyout. Sanchez was erased on a 5-2 putout at the plate, with Xavier Nady reaching first on the fielder’s choice.

After Nady, it was nada. Twenty-two straight batters were retired — six by way of the K, ten on groundouts, and six flyouts.

Thus, while it’s tempting to go off on a rant about the foibles of Chien-Ming Wang (the Taiwanese John Patterson?) and Nady (0-for-3), it’s unfair to Schlosser. Even Nathan Karns would have probably lost last night.

Wang gave up three runs on three hits and two walks. His apologists, who are legion, will take comfort in the 10 groundball outs. But the three hits were two doubles and a triple, and none of them would have been turned into outs by a major-league outfield.

Robbie Ray, the originally scheduled starter, followed Wang on the mound and turned in three serviceable innings, working around a leadoff doubles in the 5th and 7th and a hit batsmen in the 6th before giving up a run in the 8th (home run) and two in the 9th (back-to-back singles and a double).

Ray had trouble locating his fastball and by the 9th, his fifth inning of work, the Hillcats were keying on his breaking pitches, with several fouls ripped into the third-base stands. He finished with three runs allowed on seven hits and no walks, though he did set down six on strikes.

Potomac broke through with two runs in the 9th against reliever Blaine Sims, as Kevin Keyes led off with an opposite-field double down the right field line, Adrian Sanchez singled and took second on an error (sending in Keyes). Ricky Hague followed with an RBI double, though the umpire saw it differently and called him out at second on throw in from left field.

With the loss, Potomac missed an opportunity to tie Lynchburg for the division lead, instead falling back to two games behind, tied with Wilmington and Frederick at 12-14.

The series finale is this afternoon, with Matt Grace (4-9, 5.91) starting for the P-Nats, facing off against Cody Martin (10-6, 2.80) for the Hillcats.

Jul 182012
 

Five times the Lynchburg Hillcats scored in the second inning, but five times the Potomac Nationals scored after the second out of the inning, including once in the 9th and once in the 10th for a thrilling 7-6 win in extras.

Francisco Soriano drove in a lumbering Kevin Keyes from first base for the deciding run with a double to the right-centerfield wall to complete the comeback from deficits of 5-0 and 6-1. Keyes led the 15-hit attack with a single, double, and a home run, while also drawing a walk.

As with any comeback win, often unsung is the effort of the bullpen, which threw eight and a 1/3rd innings with just one run allowed on four hits, no walks, and eight strikeouts. Ryan Demmin was the first man out and finished off the second inning without throwing a pitch, catching an ill-advised steal of third with a five-run lead, the first of two critical baserunning blunders.

The big southpaw turned in four innings of solid relief, retiring the first seven batters he faced before giving up back-to-back doubles in the 5th. Another single came after that, with Michael Taylor ever-so-slightly overrunning the ball, but staying on his feet to unleash an off-target bullet to the infield. Steven King laid out to cut it off and keep it from skipping past Freitas. The defensive sequence wasn’t technically pretty, but the runner stayed put.

After single runs in the 4th and 5th innings — David Freitas RBI double, a Soriano sac fly to drive in Keyes — the P-Nats came up big in the 6th with three runs, highlighted by Keyes’ 14th HR to pull within one.

Demmin gave way to Drew Storen in the 7th, and the rehabbing closer set down the side in the 9th. He still looks deliberate and tentative, but it was nice rebound after rough outing on Sunday in Harrisburg. Jimmy Barthmaier hit a batter but retired the the other six batters he faced in the 8th and 9th innings.

Potomac went down in order in the 7th, and left ‘em loaded in the 8th, but as pictured above, got the tying run that made the 10th inning heroics. With two outs, Xavier Nady finally showed proof that he has played above the level with his second single of the game. Adrian Sanchez pinch-ran and took third on a Freitas single to left. Jason Martinson delivered nearly the same hit to the same place to plate Sanchez.

Neil Holland got the win, thanks in part to the aforementioned second baserunning blunder. After giving up a leadoff single, Lynchburg elected to bunt over the go-ahead run. Perhaps it was a calculated gamble that Ricky Hague, who had covered for King vacating first to field the sacrifice, would be slow to notice or maybe it was the hubris that comes with a leadoff man’s speed. In any case, like a Monty Python character in drag, nobody was fooled as Freitas directed Hague to fire over to third for the 1-4-5 double play.

Game Three of the four-game series is scheduled to have Robbie Ray (3-6, 5.11) take the mound against Gus Schlosser (9-4, 3.45), though multiple reports have Chien-Ming Wang pitching tonight as well.

Jul 172012
 

A leadoff walk, a stolen base, and three singles and things were looking bleak for the pitcher in the first. Then, a grand slam. In the space of just a few minutes, it’s a 5-0 deficit.

Rolling your eyes, are you? This happened in the bottom of the first.

Highlighted by Michael Taylor’s first home run of the season (the grand slam), the Potomac Nationals started strong with a five-run first and cruised to a 14-0 pummeling of the Lynchburg Hillcats.

Of course, it was a baker’s dozen more runs that Nathan Karns needed as the 24-year-old continues to roll through the Carolina League, lowering his ERA to 2.12 with six shutout innings, one hit and two walks allowed, and six strikeouts.

Karns has yet to be tested against the class of the Carolina League (Winston-Salem), but as P-Nats play-by-play man Tim Swartz tweeted last night, Karns is making the case to be the best prospect in the system at this moment. His last six starts: 40IP, 19H, 10BB, 50K, and a 0.75ERA. As written previously, the twin trends of reduced walks and increased (and improved) use of his breaking pitches have been the keys to this string of success.

Potomac did lose steam after the grand slam, but credit should go to Lynchburg’s pitcher Aaron Northcraft for bearing down. The Hillcat righty retired 15 of 16 batters before Jason Martinson’s single to right opened up a three-run rally in the 6th, as Taylor ripped a double down the left field line to send the shortstop to third and Stephen King plated the two with a single up the middle against the drawn-in infield.

The 7th inning also started slowly, with the Lynchburg left fielder muffing a Ricky Hague flyball. After Xavier Nady grounded to short to complete his 0-for-4 night, David Freitas drew a walk, Martinson sliced a liner to right for a triple to drive in Hague and Freitas. Following a walk to Taylor, a King RBI single, Kevin Keyes completing the scoring binge by putting a coat on hanger by Hillcat reliever Caleb Brewer for his team-leading 13th homer and RBI nos. 48, 49, and 50.

With the outcome of the game certain, Karns was lifted and the Potomac ‘pen given a chance to get some work done. Joe Testa delivered a 1-2-3 frame in the 7th while Adam Carr finished the game with just a walk allowed over the final two innings to complete the shutout, the fourth of the season for Potomac.

The win pulls the P-Nats to within two games of the ‘Cats for first place in the Carolina League Nothh, though they still inhabit the cellar of the four-team division. Veteran Adam Olbrychowski (4-7, 5.54) gets the start tonight, opposed by Lynchburg southpaw Dimasther Delgado (5-4, 3.62).

Jul 102012
 

With some luck, some timely hitting, and great pitching, the Potomac Nationals closed out their six-game homestand with a 2-1 victory that featured a scary/bizarre finish.

Anthony Gallas stroked a two-out single to left fielder J.P. Ramirez, who like most LFs, doesn’t have the plus arm. Barrelling in from second base, however, was Giovanny Urshela, a stocky infielder who doesn’t have plus speed. Urshela beat the throw. Though he went in feet first, Urshela collided head-to-helmet with catcher David Freitas, and crumpled at the point of contact.

Freitas, who had dropped the ball, picked it up and tagged Urshela out. Game over. A few minutes later, Urshela got up amid the surreal scene of the Potomac players celebrating the win while coaches, umpires, and fans nervously waited to see if the 20-year-old was okay. He received the respectful cheer as he walked up and away.

It was sour moment amid an otherwise sweet pitcher’s duel. The Indians’ #29 prospect Matt Packer was a late insert, recently recalled from the Arizona League after a couple of rehab outings. He thew three perfect innings with three strikeouts.

Nathan Karns took the hill for Potomac and turned in his fourth quality start in his last five appearances, giving up the lone Mudcat run on three hits and a walk while striking out five. He retired the leadoff batter in six of seven innings.

As the lede hinted, Potomac got a little luck in this one. After a J.P. Ramirez single in the sixth (the first of two on the night), Francisco Soriano launched a would-be flyout to left-center that Carlos Moncrief lost in the twilight. It fell in for a triple that tied the game. Blake Kelso would follow with a sac fly for what proved to be the gamewinner.

These two teams meet again on August 20-23, which bears mention because in addition to the play at the plate in the 9th, tempers flared in the 7th when shortstop Jason Martinson upended his counterpart Tony Wolters to break up a double play. While certainly rough, the play looked clean. Perhaps Wolters took exception to Martinson NOT saying something as he walked away.

Drew Storen made his third appearance in the 8th, working around a one-out error by Kelso with a little help from Carolina baserunner Delvi Cid, who kept going from first to third on a groundout to first baseman Stephen King, apparently missing either that the ball didn’t go through or the coach signalling him to retreat to second. Instead, King fired across the diamond for your “routine” 3-A-5 double play.

Neil Holland, fresh from his return from Syracuse, pitched the ninth and gave up the two hits that created the play at the plate, but got the save.

With an off day today, the P-Nats head up 95 to visit the Blue Rocks for a four-game set from Wednesday to Saturday before returning to the Pfitz next Monday.

Jul 062012
 

This one was a laugher. With 13 runs in their final three turns at bat, the Potomac Nationals turned a 3-1 deficit into a 14-3 blowout.

To your right, that’s David Freitas getting congratulated for the first of his two home runs, a three-run shot in the 6th that put the P-Nats up 4-3.
Two innings later, he stroked a two-run blast that capped a five-run eighth.

It’s tempting to get giddy but the reality is that the tables were merely turned. The Keys ‘pen let in two inherited runners and gave up 10 runs just like the two and four the Potomac ‘pen did the night before. (Hey, that rhymes!)

Until the first Freitas homer, it looked like Frederick was one hit, pitch, or misplay away from doing to Potomac what was done to them. In the 5th, the #8 batter led off with a double. The #9 batter sacrificed but had the bunt turn into a single when pitcher Adam Olbrychowski slipped and fell on his (rhymes with grass). After a steal, it was runners on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out.

But the Keys didn’t get the break. Olbrychowski bore down, striking out the #1 batter, inducing a popup to the #2 man, and got Frederick’s .326-hitting second baseman to fly out to left. No runs, two hits, two left on. If you’re a Frederick fan, you’re thinking: “Just one run in that frame, and things might have gone differently.”

Olbrychowski earned the win with all three Keys runs allowed on five hits and a walk. He came on in relief of a rehabbing Drew Storen, who started and set down the side in the first on eight pitches: a popup to rehabbing Chad Tracy (0-for-2), a flyout to center, a grounder to second. Jimmy Barthmaier followed with hit and a walk given up in the 7th and 8th innings while Joe Testa pitched a scoreless 9th.

Aside from Freitas’s heroics (2-4, 2HR, 5RBI), Rick Hague and Francisco Soriano were both a home run short of the cycle while going 4-for-5 and 3-for-4 respectively.

The series concludes tonight with Robbie Ray (3-5, 5.22) on the hill for Potomac, opposed by Scott Copeland (3-7, 5.99) for Frederick.

Jul 052012
 

Like a lot of uber-matchups, neither Potomac starter Nathan Karns nor Frederick starter Dylan Bundy figured in the decision for this one.

Instead, it was the battle of the bullpens, which the Potomac Nationals lost by turning a 4-0 lead into a 6-4 loss, the fourth straight for the P-Nats.

The disintegration began in the sixth inning, when Karns was beginning to tire but had a 4-0 lead. He had given up a two-out double followed by an infield single before he was lifted. Matt Swynenberg came in and promptly gave up a single, walk, and another single to center that sent in two runners. Suddenly, it was 4-3, and things looked much less certain.

In the bottom half, Potomac got a two-out single from Adrian Sanchez. With major-league rehab Chad Tracy coming up, Frederick went to the ‘pen to summon southpaw Trent Walters to face the lefthander. Instead, Sanchez was picked off to end the frame.

The collapse was completed in the ninth inning. Rob Wort was in his second inning of work, but the first wasn’t particularly stressful — a leadoff single, then a dropped fly to shallow center that was turned into an out, a strikeout, and then a flyout to right — but simply looked flat. A walk, a single, and then a towering shot over the RF wall gave the Keys a 6-4 lead.

As a former starter, Walters was fine to begin a fourth inning of relief. Erick Fernandez led off with sharp single up the middle to bring up the tying run, but Sanchez struck out and both Tracy and Rick Hague flew out to deep center to end the game.

Walters would finish with just two hits and no walks given up over three and 1/3rd innings. Swynenberg and Wort would combine for the same three and a 1/3rd, but with four runs on seven hits and two walks while letting in both inherited runners.

Offensively, Potomac would rap out 12 hits but struggled in the clutch (1-for-7 with RISP). Fernandez, Sanchez, and Stephen King would combine for nine hits, two doubles, and a triple, while Jason Martinson hit his fourth HR for Potomac off the LF light tower.

With the loss, Potomac falls to 6-8 in the second half, two games off the pace in the Carolina League North. Adam Olbrychowski (3-6, 5.43) gets the start tonight for the Woodbridge nine opposed by Frederick’s Tyler Wilson (4-3, 3.80).

Jun 282012
 

Strong pitching? Check.
Decent offense? Check.
Solid defense? Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

The Potomac Nationals closed out their seven-game homestand with a 4-3 mark and a 7-4 victory over the Wilmington Blue Rocks to earn a series split.

Trevor Holder pitched into the eighth inning for the second time in his last three starts and did not issue a walk while striking out six, tying a season high. The veteran righthander now leads the staff in wins and has the lowest ERA, WHIP, and FIP among the starting pitchers.

Donning their red alternates for good luck, the P-Nats posted a picket fence in the first three innings, scoring on a wild pitch (1st), two-out single by Kevin Keyes (2nd), and a solo HR by Rick Hague (3rd). They broke through with three in the fourth when Randolph Oduber smacked a triple into the LCF gap and
came in when the relay made its way into the Blue Rock dugout.

As the lede suggests, the defense was porous — three errors in the first five innings, which, if you’ll recall is even worse than it looks when you consider that most minor-league scorekeepers (read: I’ve seen this tendency elsewhere across multiple levels, not just the Pfitz) have a hazy idea as to what “ordinary effort” means in Rule 10.05(3).

Despite taking a line drive to the gut in the 5th, Holder would retire eight of the last nine batters he faced and was lifted with two outs in the eighth after throwing 106 pitches, 72 for strikes, and gave way to Adam Carr.

This time out, Carr looked more comfortable and much more like his old self — especially when he dialed up to 94 to strike out the first batter he faced (Wilmington cleanup hitter Brett Eibner). The 28-year-old then set down the Blue Rocks in order for his first save of the 2012 season.

Potomac now hits the road for a pair of three-game series against the Salem Red Sox and the Carolina Mudcats before returning home for the annual Fourth of July festivities (you know, in case you hadn’t heard ;-).

Jun 272012
 

With three straight three-run innings, Wilmington broke open a 2-1 game and pummeled Potomac for an 11-2 win.

Robbie Ray took the loss, walking a season-high six batters over four and 2/3rds innings and giving up five runs on just four hits. For the second start, Ray struggled early, allowing two first-inning runs and walking the leadoff batter in each of the first three innings. But as the six walks suggests, he struggled to find the strike zone.

It would be tempting to blame this one on a botched double play, with Stephen King failing to scoop out a low throw from Adrian Sanchez that would have ended the 5th with just one run in. But this was King’s seventh career game at 1B and his misplay was hardly the only one as each of the infielders had similar hiccups.

Instead, blame/credit needs to go the offense, which seems to have taken its first-half road show home, scoring just two runs and stranding six runners over the first five before going lifeless over the last four frames — a pair of singles, with the last eight batters retired in order.

The loss drops Potomac to .500 at 3-3 in the second half. The two teams finish their four-game series tonight with Trevor Holder (4-2, 3.67) the scheduled starter for the P-Nats versus the ubiquitous To Be Determined.