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.

Jun 262012
 

After two shaky innings from rehabbing Cole Kimball and five strong innings from veteran Adam Olbrychowski, folks started to wonder if the zero under the “H” column would remain. After a single and two walks loaded the bases, thoughts quickly went from “can they get no-hitter?” to to “are they gonna lose this?”

With three in the 8th and four in the 9th, the P-Nats ‘pen answered that question, turning a 2-0 shutout into a 7-3 blowout

Rob Wort took the loss, blowing his third save opportunity of the year and failing to record a strikeout for just the second time this season. Neil Holland, who hadn’t allowed a run in 12 of his 13 previous appearances, gave up a three-run shot in the 9th.

In fairness to Wilmington’s 21-year-old flamethrower Yordano Ventura, he basically made one mistake: throwing one too many fastballs to Kevin Keyes, who turned on the third straight heater and deposited it over the LF wall for his second big fly in as many games. He retired the leadoff batter in all seven innings pitched and allowed just one baserunner over the final four.

As aforementioned, Cole Kimball got the start as part of his rehab and while effective, he was not dominant. The righthander did not break 90 mph consistently (if at all) and if he did, it was his signature throw in the dirt. The command, which has never been his hallmark, was spotty at best.

Olbrychowski’s efforts were easy to overlook because there were three baserunners in his first five innings of work, two by a walk and a third by a virtue of a passed ball by rehabbing Carlos Maldonado (the first of two). Even with the bullpen blowup, the 25-year-old still posted a decent line of two runs on a hit and three walks over five and a 1/3rd innings.

With the loss, Potomac falls to 3-2 in the second half, a game off the pace in the Carolina League North. Robbie Ray (3-3, 4.84) gets the start tonight, his second of the homestand, opposed by the Blue Rocks’ Brookes Pounders (0-2, 5.25).

Jun 242012
 

It wasn’t until the ninth inning and the fifth Potomac pitcher that Winston-Salem couldn’t put up a run last night, as the Dash demolished the P-Nats, 16-6.

The Dash pounded out 20 hits over the first eight innings, including three doubles and four home runs. Perhaps the biggest mystery might be why cleanup hitter Dan Black only went 1-for-6.

Starter Matt Grace suffered the worst of the beating, giving up 10 runs — all earned — on 12 hits over three and 1/3rd innings. The outing pushed his ERA from 5.24 in 6.27 in little more than an hour.

The team’s other Matt (Swynenberg) didn’t fare much better, taking a boot to the [prosterior] with four runs over two innings, but answering the question as to which starter was the odd man out when Potomac dropped from a six-man rotation to the usual five after playing multiple doubleheaders in the last two weeks before the All-Star break.

Joe Testa and Ryan Demmin were both roughed up before Rob Wort, who hadn’t pitched in eight days, was summoned for the final frame. The closer struck out the side in a 1-2-3 ninth.

Offensively, Potomac fared fairly well, especially with a pair of rehabbing major-leaguers that brought the donuts (0-for-7 combined) and hustled like DMV clerks. Conversely, Randolph Oduber and Adrian Sanchez each had three hits, with the Groovin’ Aruban beating out two infield hits and tripling to the right-center gap and Sacnhez doubling to the left-center gap.

Jason Martinson capped off the Potomac scoring with a solo shot in the last half inning.

The loss drops Potomac to 2-1 in the second half and back into second place behind Lynchburg.

Wilmington comes to town for four, with today’s start time pushed from 1:05 to 4:05 to accommodate the Blue Rocks’ coming in from Zebulon, NC after a doubleheader. Nathan Karns (1-2, 4.15) is slated to take the hill against Tyler Sample (1-8, 5.86).

Jun 232012
 

With 13 walks given up, there wasn’t much doubt that Winston-Salem would lose, the only question was by how much.

The answer was 6-2 as Potomac only mustered five hits but got seven strong innings from starter Trevor Holder and a scoreless inning apiece from sidewinders Jimmy Barthmaier and Joe Testa.

It was the second straight start that Holder pitched seven or more innings as the 25-year-old veteran has become the anchor, if not the ace, of the P-Nats rotation. He didn’t walk a single batter but more importantly (for him), he kept the ball down. Thirteen of the 21 outs he got came via groundballs, which is his hallmark when things are going well.

Winston-Salem did get to Holder early, with Dan Black roping a two-out single to right that plated Marcus Semien, who had led off the game with a double down the LF line. Black would be next batter to reach base as Holder retired nine in a row.

Potomac left ‘em loaded in the first (would you believe on three walks?) but tied it in the second. Michael Taylor led off with a bunt single and took third when the catcher’s throw to first ended up in the bullpen down the RF line. Kevin Keyes made the error moot with a wall-ball double that would have scored Taylor from any base.

The P-Nats took the lead in the third as Jason Martinson singled in Rick Hague who had… wait for it… walked earlier in the inning.

Raindrops began to fall in the fourth, and for a few moments, it seemed like it was only a matter of time that game might be called. But strangely, once the game became official as Holder worked around a one-out single in the fifth, that’s when things took a turn for the worse for the Dash pitchers.

Winston-Salem’s Jon Bachanov issued walk nos. five, six, and seven to load the bases and get the hook. J.R. Ballinger struck out rehabbing Carlos Maldonado for out #2 of the frame, then walked in a run to put Potomac up 3-1. Taylor drove in two more with a single to left.

It would be tempting to write “and the rout was on,” but lost in all these walks were the 11 strikeouts the P-Nats piled up — on a night when the Dash pitchers couldn’t find a Starbucks in Seattle, much less the strike zone. Potomac left 12 baseunners on, and should have broken into double digits in the “R” column.

With the win, the P-Nats improve to 2-0 in the second half. The chance for a sweep is in the hands of Matt Grace (4-6, 5.24), opposed by Jake Petricka (4-4, 5.34).

Jun 222012
 

With a bases-loaded error, Potomac completed an unlikely comeback from a 4-0 deficit for a 5-4 walkoff win over Winston-Salem to start the second half.

Early on, it looked like an early night for LHP Robbie Ray, who was tagged for three runs on five very hard-hit balls in the first inning, including a leadoff HR by Marcus Semien.

But the southpaw survived the first and got in each of the next two innings, retiring eight of ten batters before the Dash got to him in the fourth, making Ray pay for his second hit batsmen with an RBI double to left to open up a 4-0 lead. Ray would labor through six innings, giving up four runs (three earned) on eight hits and two walks.

Rehabbing Mark DeRosa started the game at third base, but was an uneventful 0-for-2 with a strikeout (looking) and line-out to right field. Defensively, he started the first of the two double plays.

His replacement, however, was the player of the game. Blake Kelso came in for DeRosa in the top of the 6th and broke up the Winston-Salem shutout bid with an RBI single in the bottom of the same inning. In the 7th, Kelso cleared the bases to tie the game at 4-4 with his team-leading third triple of the season.

After Ray, surgically repaired Adam Carr came on in the 7th for his first appearance north of Florida in more than a year. The burly righthander looked a little tentative at times, but allowed just one baserunner (a walk) over an inning and 2/3rds while hitting 92 on the gun with the heat, the low-to-mid 80s with the breaking stuff, and mid-’70s with his hair.

Neil Holland followed Carr with two outs in the 8th and stranded Carr’s baserunner, then tossed two 1-2-3 frames in the 9th and 10th innings to set up one of the more bizarre walk-offs in recent memory.

David Freitas smacked a one-out double down the LF line and was promptly replaced on the basepaths by Francisco Soriano. The next batter, Jason Martinson grounded one to third, but Soriano’s stop-start-stop baserunning helped induce the third Winston-Salem error of the night. A wild pitch moved up the runners and after challenging Michael Taylor, the Dash walked him to load the bases for Stephen King.

King, who had singled and doubled earlier in his first game as a P-Nat since last May, had a shot at redemption for running himself into an out at third following his double. Instead, he chopped the ball slowly to the mound. But the throw from the Winston-Salem reliever was high and wide, and the plate umpire ruled that Francisco Soriano had slid under the catcher’s foot when he lunged after the ball, giving Potomac the 5-4 win on the fourth Dash error of the night.

The three-game series continues tonight (weather permitting) with Trevor Holder (3-2, 3.83) as the starter for Game Two, opposed by Jon Bachanov (5-1, 3.71) for Winston Salem.