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.

Jun 102012
 

Shut out 3-0 in the opener, but a 6-1 bounce back in the nightcap, the Potomac Nationals split the doubleheader with the Salem Red Sox, snapping a five-game home win streak.

Nathan Karns took the hill in Game One, having been hammered in his High-A debut on Tuesday, and gave folks an immediate jot of hope by striking out the side — the last two looking. But the second inning, Salem drew a one-out walk then a single and double plated the game’s first two runs. After another walk, Karns got the break he needed with a soft line drive that the baserunner badly misread for a 4-6 double play.

Karns would right himself in the third with another 1-2-3 inning in the third, and got the first two in the fourth before loading the bases (two singles and a walk). He struck out the #9 batter to escape that jam, then walked the leadoff batter in the 5th before getting another double play that would end his second start.

Paul Applebee came in with the bases empty and lived up his billing on the latest GBI, surrendering a solo shot (#7 in 33 IP), then back-to-back singles before finally getting an out.

Offensively, Potomac was anemic, more like the road version of this team and managed just five hits off Salem’s Matt Barnes, who threw a complete-game shutout.

Chris Marrero provided the lone extra-base hit — an opposite-field smash to right field that he lumbered in to second for a double. Suffice it to say, it looks like his leg injury suffered in the winter leagues this past offseason is still bothering him, a negative sign for a guy that could easily lose a footrace to catcher (or a coach) before he got hurt. Defensively, it did not appear to affect him.

Marrero may not be able to run very well, but he can still hit. His second safety of the doubleheader required just a trot, a line-drive shot over the left-field fence that gave Potomac a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first in Game Two of the twinbill.

Potomac put the game away in the second in what Twitter followers know as “This is A ball.”

A walk by Michael Taylor, followed by a sacrifice bunt and an error by the pitcher, then a bunt for a base hit by recently activated Brent Greer that the pitcher misplayed, then a wild pitch. Two batters later a drag bunt up the first-base line by Francisco Soriano, which the Salem first baseman gloved than shotputted over the head of the catcher, enabling two runs to score for a 5-1 lead.

Justin Bloxom launched his 11th home run in the fifth to cap off the scoring.

The tines were in the spine of Salem because Grace was on last night. After giving up moonshot in the first inning, he allowed just one baserunner (a walk in the third) over the next four and a third innings, helping his own cause with three assists, two of which required some catlike quickness to make the play.

Despite taking a line drive off the leg with one out in the sixth, he finished with a three-hit complete game, just the third thrown by Potomac this season.

With the split, and a Lynchburg sweep of Frederick, the elimination number for Potomac dropped to six with nine games to play (the magic number for the P-Nats to overtake the Hillcats is 12).

Trevor Holder (3-1, 4.42) gets the ball today, the final home game of the first half for Potomac.

Jun 032012
 

Zach Walters (2) congratulates Justin Bloxom on his two-run HR


With three HRs total and a two-hit complete game in the opener, the Potomac Nationals swept a doubleheader from the first-place Lynchburg Hillcats, 6-1 and 4-2.

The wins (Potomac’s third straight) and losses (Lynchburg’s fifth straight), have tightened the race in the Carolina League’s Northern Division. Last weekend, the two teams met in Lynchburg with the Hillcats taking two of three to build an eight-game lead. Since then, Lynchburg has gone 1-5 and Potomac has gone 5-2, shaving the lead to 4½ games. With a win today, Potomac’s chances go from slim to some, but better than a week ago when it was nil and none.

In Game One, Adam Olbrychowski turned in precisely what the team needed: A complete game — especially with this being the first of four doubleheaders in eight days. The 25-year-old veteran gave up just two hits and retired the last 10 batters he faced for his first career complete game.

Zach Walters, who went 4-for-4 on Thursday, continues to swing a hot bat. His first homerun (righthanded) capped off a four-run third that would provide all the support Olbrychowski would need.

In Game Two, Bobby Hansen Jr. made his first start in five weeks and battled through some wildness (three walks) and some long hits (three doubles) to keep the team in the game with a final line of two runs allowed over four innings. He gave up single runs in the second and third innings, but also stranded four baserunners, firing a 90-mph heater for his sole strikeout to end the second and getting a groundout and popup to end the third.

Like Thursday night, the P-Nats put up crooked numbers in consecutive innings to overcome an early (2-0) deficit. Walters homered again (lefthanded) to get the rally going while Michael Taylor singled, took second as Kevin Keyes got hit by a pitch, and scored on Francisco Soriano’s RBI single to tie at 2-2 after four innings.

Justin Bloxom, who was named the Offensive Player of the Month by the Booster Club between games, lived up to the billing with another two-run homer, a pulled shot 15′ fair, 250′ high and 350′ over the right field fence.

Sidewinders Joe Testa and Neil Holland got the win (Testa’s 1st) and save (Holland’s 2nd) as they combined to pitch three shutout innings to complete the doubleheader sweep.

Robbie Ray (1-2, 6.66) has the start this afternoon as Potomac guns for its first three-game series sweep and a chance to slice the Lynchburg lead down to 3½ games, opposed by soap-opera-named Blaine Sims (0-0, 5.26).

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).