Jul 312011
 

Missed opportunities was the theme of the night in a 6-2 loss to Frederick.

Potomac had baserunners in eight of nine innings on offense, including a leadoff walk in the 1st by Eury Perez and a leadoff double in the 2nd. Both runners were erased or stranded.

Meanwhile, Adam Olbrychowski and the strike zone weren’t on friendly terms, with four walks issued during his three innings. Amazingly, none of them scored. But the net effect was that when he was around the plate, the 24-year-old got hit hard — a double and homer in the second and three singles in the 3rd, which chased him from the game.

Mitchell Clegg came on in relief and finally had what’s eluded him all season long: a strong appearance at home. In his eight previous appearances at the Pfitz, he’d given up 34 runs and 43 hits and walked nine over just 22⅔ innings. Instead, the lefty from UMass turned in three scoreless innngs with just two hits allowed, no walks, and four strikeouts.

Down 4-0 after three innings, Potomac broke up the shutout with a run in the bottom of the fourth, But it should have been more. Steve Souza was picked off first after drawing his team-leading 54th walk. Adrian Nieto singled, took second on on error, and scored on J.R. Higley’s ground-rule double to dead center.

Two innings later, Potomac’s night was summarized in the 6th. Destin Hood led off with a single to center, Bloxom ripped a liner to right to send him to 3rd and Steve Souza doubled to score Hood. With runners on second and third, and nobody out and down just two at 4-2, the P-Nats appeared poised to tie the game, if not take the lead.

Instead, Frederick went to the ‘pen and got precisely what they needed to stop the momentum from Chris Petrini — three straight strikeouts by Nieto, Higley, and Sean Nicol. The lefty would strike out five in his two innings of work for his 11th hold of the season.

If that wasn’t the kill-shot, then the two runs in the top of the 7th off Neil Holland put the proverbial bullet to the brain. As if they didn’t do enough damage on defense (with two double plays and seven assists for the night), the keystone combo of Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop led off the inning with a single and double respectively and came around to score on a sacrifice fly to right and an error by Jeff Kobernus that prompted the usual treatment from manager Matt LeCroy: A seat on the bench for the rest of the night.

Potomac stranded four more over the last three innings, with Bloxom striking out with runners on first and second in the 7th, Machado and Schoop turning a Sean Nicol grounder into a 6-4-3 DP to end the 8th, and Hood’s last-gasp flyout to deep right-center ending the 9th.

The loss extends the Keys’ lead over the P-Nats to four games and narrows the gap between Potomac and third-place Wilmington to seven games. Staff ace Danny Rosenbaum (5-5, 2.61) will be tasked with stopping the losing streak and salvaging the series this afternoon. Frederick’s Nathan Moreau (10-7, 3.92) will oppose him, with a shot to tie teammate Bobby Bundy for the Carolina League lead in pitching wins.

Jul 302011
 

The first inning is not the friend of Cameron Selik. Four runs by Frederick in the frame, plus another lull from the P-Nats bats, put another “L” in the books for both Potomac and Selik on Friday night.

It was the fifth time in 13 starts that Selik had been scored on in the first inning, the second in as many starts against the Frederick Keys. There wasn’t much doubt about it, either: a leadoff home run, single, single, ground-rule double to the first four batters (with a wild pitch just before the double) before the first batter was retired.

The problem is a fairly common one. Selik simply doesn’t have the stuff to live up in the zone, and that’s where the pitches were early on. To his credit, he made the adjustment and settled down. He would retire 10 in a row after the ground-rule double before giving up his sixth and final hit in the fourth (another double), and then the last 11 batters he faced.

Of course, none of this would be dissected in that kind of detail had the Potomac batters done more than just five hits and a walk on offense. Just two batters reached second: J.R. Higley via a double (the only extra-base hit) and Jeff Kobernus on a fielder’s choice. This was the second time in three starts against the P-Nats that Frederick’s Bobby Bundy had stifled them, and the smart money says that he’ll be skipped this time next month if the two teams are still in line to meet in the first round of the playoffs.

The loss drops Potomac three games behind Frederick in the Carolina League North division. Lynchburg and Wilmington both won to narrow the gap between second and third place to eight games.

The series continues tonight with Adam Oblrychowski (no word as to why he was bumped back one night) toeing the slab for Potomac against Frederick’s Jake Pettit.

Jul 162011
 

Behind a pair of Francisco Soriano two-run HRs and eight strong innings from Danny Rosenbaum, the Potomac Nationals returned to action with a 4-3 win on Friday night.

Enjoy this while it lasts because if history serves, Rosenbaum’s time in Woodbridge may be coming to an end.

One of the most common questions* is when will Player X get promoted. For position players, I keep telling folks, the new world order is that it’s a level a year below AA. Pitchers are the most likely to get in-season moves. Tonight, Brad Peacock makes his first AAA start. Next week, Nathan Karns will be likely to start for the first time north of Florida. *Answerable; I know nothing about incriminating pictures or information that’s keeping a given player active or on the 40-man roster.

With his one-year anniversary of his high-A debut coming next week, Rosenbaum’s AA debut could be on deck in the next three or four weeks. He certainly made the case with his performance: eight innings pitched, a season-high eight strikeouts and eleven groundball outs. His fastball command was a little shaky but hitters couldn’t touch his changeup, as several times he was able to fool them with it on back-to-back pitches.

Walks have been his bugaboo this year — something I believe has come with a jump in his top velocity from the high 80s to the low 90s — and though he walked just one, wouldn’t it figure that the lone walk would lead to the lone run? It came in the fourth inning with one out and was followed by a single that pushed the runner to third. Eury Perez snagged the flyout in medium center, waving off J.R. Higley and launched missile to home plate… just up the line enough for the runner to score.

The sacrifice fly was the first of five straight batters retired before a leadoff single in the sixth. That would be the last Indian to reach base against Rosenbaum, who retired the last eight batters he faced, including a 6-4-3 double to erase that single.

Not to bury poor Francisco Soriano, who was the story on offense. It’s one thing to hit two home runs in a game, it’s quite another to do it from both sides of the plate. Soriano drove in all four runs for Potomac, including a shot off the LF foul pole in the 7th to put the P-Nats up 4-1. As P-Nats broadcaster Will Flemming tweeted last night, his four HR in 41 games this year matches the four HR he had hit in the 245 games he had played previously.

The 4-3 final correctly suggests that Hector Nelo was less than stellar in the ninth. He walked the leadoff batter and his deliberate delivery enabled not one but two Kinston baserunners to steal against Sandy Leon (55% CS rate). An error “helped” make one of the two runs unearned with the runs coming in on single over Jeff Kobernus into right-center and groundout to Kobernus for the second out. Soriano gunned down the last batter with the tying run at third to end it.

The win improves Potomac to 12-8 for the second half, still a ½-game ahead of the first-half winner Frederick in the Carolina League’s Northern Division. Sammy Solis (2-0, 2.08) makes his second Pfitz start in the opener of tonight’s doubleheader against Kinston, with Evan Bronson (2-3, 3.77) pitching the nightcap.

Jul 062011
 

No Mercy! This is Wilmington!

The regulars know this is the battle cry from Steve Stevens, an otherwise mild-mannered grandfather, and last night the Potomac Nationals paid heed to the former Marine, blasting the Wilmington Blue Rocks by 12-3 score and taking the series three games to one.

The P-Nats scored often and early, though the bulk of the damage came in an eight-run second inning, one in which 12 men came to bat and highlighted by Sandy Leon’s first big fly of the season and a grand slam from J.P. Ramirez. Potomac “only” had 12 hits for the night, led by Jeff Kobernus’s 3-for-5 effort, with four other batters (Ramirez, Leon, J.R. Higley, and Eury Perez) collecting two.

Let’s Go Big Pitch!

It was also the Carolina League debut of 2010 Washington Nationals 2nd Round Draft pick Sammy Solis, who turned in a quality start of six innings pitched, three runs allowed on seven hits, one walk, and five strikeouts. Stevens wasn’t on hand to belt out another one of his familiar admonitions, but Solis wouldn’t need much encouragement with the huge lead.

Solis struggled early, with three-ball counts to nearly every batter in the first inning, and gave up a walk and two singles to fall behind early. He would settle down and settle in to retire 13 of the next 15 batters after giving up the first-inning run, allowing just a two-out single in the third and a swinging bunt single with one out in the 5th.

The velocity was there, as the “big pitch” (6’5″, 230) touched 96 on occasion, but what was more impressive was the huge separation in his pitches as his fastball was in the low 90s but his changeup dipped as low as the mid-70s. The 11-5 (1-7 from the batter’s eye) curve wasn’t as sharp as it was in Hagerstown last month, but it mostly kept the hitters off-balance as six of the seven hits Solis yielded were just singles.

The seventh, however, was another long home run off the bat of John Whittleman, his third HR of the series in as many uniform tops (last night it was #14) as Solis did leave on a somewhat sour note, giving up two runs in his final inning.

Rob Wort and Joe Testa followed Solis out of the ‘pen to combine for three scoreless innings, with Wort scattering three hits and both striking out one batter apiece.

The win improves Potomac to 7-6 in the second half, a ½ game behind first-place Frederick, the next team on the schedule. The Keys and P-Nats are slated for three games today through Friday. Potomac then visits Lynchburg over the weekend and into Monday for three games before returning to the Pfitz a week from today for an eight-game homestand.

Jul 032011
 

A 14-1 beatdown isn’t very common for the P-Nats. Being on the winning side of it is almost unusual. Throw in a decent rehab start, a few home runs, and you’ve got one of the more memorable evenings in a long time.

In front of an estimated reported crowd of 6,911, the Potomac Nationals gave the crowd a rousing victory and fireworks show before they even lit a match. Destin Hood, Francisco Soriano, and Brian Peacock all went deep, with Hood connecting for a two-run shot to right-center and three-run bomb to left as part of an 18-hit onslaught.

Every batter reached base, and every batter got a hit, with the homer-run hitters each going 3-for-5 and five batters getting multiple hits. Potomac did the bulk of its damage in the eighth, scoring seven runs on seven hits, with Peacock driving in all three of his runs on a home run (pictured above) and a two-out, two-run triple.

I suppose I’ve buried it as deep as I can, but Chien-Ming Wang pitched fairly well, albeit against a substandard lineup (the best hitter having a .259 GPA, league average is .236) going four scoreless innings and allowing one hit and two walks while striking out two.

Unlike most rehabbing pitchers, Wang used more than just his fastball and sinker, mixing in changeups and sliders. Early in the contest, he was hitting in the low-to-mid-80s but by the end of his outing he was in the upper 80s and low-90s. Wang allowed just one flyball to the outfield and got six of the twelve outs on groundballs, which is going to be key since it’s doubtful that he’ll ever return to throwing mid-90s heat*.

*As good a time as any to remind folks that I’m not a scout, I just play one on the web.

Mitchell Clegg and Neil Holland followed Wang on the mound, with Clegg getting knocked for four hits and a run in two innings and Holland working out of a bases-loaded-jam unscathed for two scoreless innings and properly getting credit for the win as the most effective reliever. Rob Wort Josjh Smoker pitched the ninth and got three outs with one walk.

The win brings Potomac back to .500 at 5-5 for the second half, but still one game back of first-half champ Frederick. Staff ace Danny Rosenbaum (4-3, 2.57) toes the slab for the P-Nats, opposed by the #14 Kansas City prospect (according to Basball America), 21-year-old Tim Melville (7-6, 4.23).

Jul 022011
 

A five-run sixth, bookended by solo shots in the first and ninth, was the undoing of the Potomac Nationals in a 7-2 loss on Friday night.

This was the beatdown I was fearing in yesterday’s gamer, but for five innings the pessimism was unfounded as middle infielders Francisco Soriano and Jeff Kobernus were sensational on defense, combining for one double play and Soriano turning a cross-the-bag 6-B-3 beauty to keep the P-Nats in the game.

The wheels came off in the sixth for Potomac, the reversion that was mean as Winston-Salem sent 10 men up and had the first six reach base — the first four against starter Cameron Selik, who was charged with five runs in five-plus innings. Marcos Frias let in both runs he inherited with a long triple to rightcenter, misplayed momentarily by rightfielder J.R. Higley, a matter that only affected whether it would be a double or a triple as both runners easily crossed the plate.

Unfortunately, the Dash’s Joe Serafin had the P-Nats offbalance for most of the night with his bender and just-accurate-enough heater. The southpaw had seven K’s in earning his first win of the year, going seven-plus innings with the bullpen coughing up both runs.

To recap the scoring in the bottom of the eighth: Cutter Dykstra drew a leadoff walk, Brian Peacock, who had inexplicably replaced Eury Perez (Higley went to CF, Peacock to RF) in the top of the seventh, got a Texas-league bloop to short right field to put runners on first and second. Soriano chopped a single that bounded over the third baseman into short left to send in Dykstra. After a strikeout and flyout, Justin Bloxom capped the inning with an RBI single, the throw home getting past the catcher to set up Steve Souza with runners on second and third, but after battling for several pitches, he, too struck out to end the inning.

Winston-Salem’s Andy Wilkins completed the game’s scoring with a LONG home run to right field, easily clearing the multiple levels of signage and probably landing deep into the parking lot.

The loss dropped Potomac to 4-5 for the second half, a game off the pace currently set by Frederick. Chien-Mien Wang takes the hill tonight in a rehab start, with Mitchell Clegg (not Danny Rosenbaum) the first man out of the ‘pen, an indication perhaps that Wang will have a higher pitch count than the 50 he was allotted in Hagerstown.

Jul 012011
 

Don’t look now, but Potomac is starting to play some pretty good baseball.

Of course, now, I may have just guaranteed a beatdown for tonight, and maybe it’s just two games against a lesser team, but things seem better.

Start with Paul Demny, who went seven full innings for the second time this season, didn’t walk a batter (also second time) and struck out a season-high eight batters. The first two innings were a high-wire act — an error, a hit batsman in the first, a two-out double by Austin Yount (son of Larry, not Robin) in the second. That’s nine batters faced, and a conservative estimate of at least 40 pitches.

But reading over the scorebook — no secret: that’s my Calgon — Demny both settled down and settled in. He retired the leadoff batter in four of the next five innings. Yes, he gave up two more doubles, but followed each with strikeout, and then retired the last nine in a row.

Much like Cameron Selik has been having success with an inside slider underneath the right-handed batter’s hands, Demny has begun to master the backdoor breaking ball to lefties. These are the little adjustments that make following the minors so much fun.

Flipping over the book, we’re seeing the offense hit double digits in the hit column for the fourth straight game. They’ve won three of those games. For this team, scoring first is a good sign. A better sign: putting up a goose egg in the top half of the next inning. Wednesday night, they failed twice to do that. Last night, they failed just once.

Two-out scoring is also nice, and two of the four runs came with two outs: Justin Bloxom’s RBI single in the first. Francisco Soriano’s RBI single in the 6th. But there’s still room for improvement, with a 3-for-13 night with RISP and nine runners left on.

Steve Souza led the attack with a 2-for-3 night, including a long double in the 6th that might have been out of some parks (but not Yellowstone), while J.P. Ramirez was close behind with a 2-for-4 effort, driving in Souza with an opposite-field double, as was Soriano (2-for-4, RBI).

Josh Smoker was greeted with a home run to start the eighth, but struck out the next two batters before issuing a walk that ended his night. Hector Nelo got out of the eighth with a groundout and nailed down the win with three outs in the ninth for his sixth save.

Selik is on the bump tonight as the P-Nats go for their second sweep of the season, opposed by the Dash lefty Joe Serafin. Tomorrow night, Chien-Mien Wang makes his second rehab start, with Danny Rosenbaum the first man out of the ‘pen.

Jun 302011
 

In a see-saw battle, Destin Hood delivered the walkoff hit with a single to left to give Potomac a 4-3 win in 10 innings to kick off the first homestand of the second half.

Batting ninth, Eury Perez drew a leadoff walk in the tenth and went to third on a Francisco Soriano double to set up the gamewinner. Winston-Salem elected not to walk Jeff Kobernus, pulling the infield in instead. Kobernus grounded to second, the ball ricocheting off the Dash infielder’s chest momentarily but he recovered to throw out his Potomac counterpart. Hood, the team leader in OBP, worked the count to 2-1 before pulling the ball into left to send Perez home for the gamewinner.

Evan Bronson took the hill in place of the expected Trevor Holder on three days’ rest from his last outing, a relief appearance on Saturday in Kinston in which he surrendered six hits over two innings and faced 14 batters. It was his sixth start in 13 games, as Bronson has pinballed between long relief starting since making three consecutive starts in early May.

Suffice it to say, it was a bit of a surprise to see him take the mound in the top of the seventh after Potomac had taken the lead in the bottom of the sixth. It was not a surprise to see a tired pitcher give back a 3-2 lead with a leadoff home run. Perhaps Potomac had just played back-to-back extra-inning games, but with a fresh arm in the bullpen, the expected move was for a reliever to come in and start building the bridge to the ninth.

Bronson would recover from the circle clout to get the next three out (hey, that rhymes) but would miss the chance to get the win.

Offensively, Potomac would grind out 11 hits, with Justin Bloxom, Sandy Leon, and J.P. Ramirez each going 2-for-4 while Steve Souza and Justino Cuevas both rapped RBI doubles. Souza’s shot to the warning track in left-center would open up the scoring in the second while Cuevas’s tomahawked shot down the left field line gave the P-Nats the aforementioned 3-2 lead.

The whispers were true: Neil Holland came on in the top of the 8th and announced his presence with authority. Not with a 95-mph heater, but by striking out the first three batters he faced with his unusual, not-quite-sidearm delivery that had Winston-Salem batters baffled. He would go two innings and retire all six batters he faced.

Rob Wort pitched the 10th and got the win, aided by a spectacular catch from Perez in deep left-center to open the frame and running dash to the LF line by Ramirez before Kobernus got a routine grounder to end it.

The win puts Potomac at 3-4 for the second half, tied for first place with Frederick and Wilmington, with Paul Demny set to take the hill against Jacob Petricka, who’s making his High-A debut.

Jun 192011
 

If ever there was a game that might sum up a team’s half-season in seven innings, the first game of this doubleheader just might be it.

A pool-cue single opened the game, as the ball spun just over Trevor Holder’s reach and spun into the infield grass to give the runner that split second he needed to beat it out. A single to right followed, then a three-run homer that cleared the centerfield wall to put Potomac in an early 3-0 hole — and there was still nobody out.

Holder escaped further damage with back-to-back K’s and a flyout

The P-Nats got two runners on with one out in the bottom of the first. And left them on.

Holder gave up what was later changed to leadoff single in the second, then retired five straight before issuing a two-out walk in the third.

The P-Nats got a two-out double in the second, then left ‘em loaded in third, only scoring when a wild pitch sent Eury Perez home from third. A one-out walk was stranded at second in the fourth.

Holder put up goose eggs in the fourth and fifth, allowing two baserunners via an error and a single, both with two outs.

Justin Bloxom ripped a single to right-center with one out in the fifth, took second on a wild pitch, and went to third went the Salem rightfielder dropped a Souza flyball. J.P. Ramirez, who has suddenly become a walk machine (11BB in 14G in June; he had six in May, two in April), drew a walk to load the bases.

After grounding out the last time he saw the sacks full, Sandy Leon delivered the clutch hit to shallow center to drive in Bloxom. Souza ran through the stop sign and was gunned down, though the play was close and the CF had shown a weak arm previously. That hit would be the only one in 13 opportunities with runners in scoring position.

Holder issued his second walk to lead off the sixth inning to Salem’s David Mailman. The next batter singled to center, but Perez made him a dead letter with a special delivery to Bloxom, who deftly applied the tag at the very last moment.

There’s a reason why coaches call that baserunning blunder the cardinal sin, because another single followed to put runners on first and second, one that might have scored Mailman. Given a chance to work out of the jam, Holder got the double-play ball he needed, leading it himself for a 1-6-3 DP to end the inning.

Two more runners were left on in the bottom of the sixth. Holder would leave with one out in the top of the seventh, but Hector Nelo’s wildness and another error led to the last two Salem runs.

Potomac would get the tying run to the plate twice in the bottom of the seventh, but a strikeout and a popup ended it, the two runners left were nos. 12 and 13 for the game.

Jun 172011
 

The Potomac and Salem played for fourth time in seven days with the Red Sox finally getting a win at 10-3.

The game’s beginning was delayed for 39 minutes, but got finished in a welcome two hours and 30 minutes. Evan Bronson got the start and cruised through the first two innings, retiring six of seven batters with four flyouts and two strikeouts.

Despite showing some nice movement on his breaking pitches, the lack of groundballs early was an indicator that the evening would not go well for 24-year-old lefty. The third inning began with Salem rapping a single, a double, then a blast to dead center to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead.

He would escape that jam by getting two popups and a groundout, and a bases-loaded-one-out situation in the fourth inning before having a more “normal” fifth with two grounders, a single, and strikeout.

Bronson would pitch into the sixth, but was let down to start the frame when J.R. Higley badly misplayed a line drive off the bat of Salem’s Wilfredo Pichardo for triple-by-rule (i.e. he never touched the ball). His fifth and final strikeout gave brief hope for stranding a fifth runner since the three-run homer, but a single to left chased him. His line would finish at four runs allowed on 11 hits and a walk over five and a 1/3rd innings.

As has been the case for most of this homestand, the Potomac offense has been uneven, which is easy to miss when the pitching is stellar, but hard to ignore when it’s not. Three runs on seven hits simply isn’t going to be good enough on very many nights.

Jeff Kobernus was the leading hitter for the game, homering in the first inning to give Potomac a first-inning lead, and going 3-for-4 with a stolen base (no. 26). He’s batted .342 over his last 10 games (all at home) to raise his season batting average to .266 and make a case for a GBI mention.

As the 10-3 final score suggests, the bullpen had a rough go of it for this one. Dean Weaver and Mitchell Clegg gave up the last six runs on five hits and a walk, though two throwing errors by out-of-position-at-third Justin Bloxom made four of the six runs unearned.

With the loss, Potomac falls to 28-39 for the first half, which ends on Sunday. Trevor Holder (3-7, 6.31) is expected to make the start tonight against Salem’s Ryan Pressly (4-6, 4.58).