Aug 142011

The Potomac Nationals got just enough offense to not waste Paul Demny’s best outing of the year for a 3-2 win over the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Demny went eight innings, dominating seven of them, and gave up just two runs on five hits with no walks and four strikeouts. He only allowed two leadoff hits — a single in the 3rd, which he promptly erased with a 1-6-3 double play, and a double in the 8th. That double was followed by a triple to plate the first Pelican run, then a grounder to second to send in the final Myrtle Beach run.

After a disastrous stretch of road starts in July and early August (7R in Lynchburg over 1⅔ IP, 9R in Winston-Salem over 4IP, 5R in Salem over 4⅓ IP), the past two home starts have been just what Demny needs to regain some confidence. Even with a rainout today, he’ll likely start his next two games at the Pfitz, and can build on this run as the P-Nats slouch towards head for the playoffs.

Offensively, there’s still reason to worry. Like the night before, getting runners on was not a problem: Leadoff doubles in the 1st and 7th, one-out singles in the 2nd and 3rd, a leadoff walk in the 4th. But when you subtract leadoff hitter Archie Gilbert from the equation, that’s three less hits, one less run, and the only hit with a runner in scoring position.

Potomac would strand 10 runners, including runners on second and third in the bottom of the 7th, as neither Brian Peacock nor Steve Souza could deliver the killshot to turn a 3-0 game into a 5-0 game.

With Nelo and Smoker used the night before, Marcos Frias was called upon to close out the 9th and delivered the win and earned the save, working around a leadoff single and finishing strong with two strikeouts.

The win keeps pace with Frederick, which won its 30th game of the second half and its fourth straight, keeping the division deficit at four games. A loss by Lynchburg extended Potomac’s lead to six, lowering the magic number to clinch a playoff spot to 17.

Should the rain hold off, Cameron Selik (4-8, 4.33) is scheduled to start this afternoon against Justin Grimm (3-2, 3.55).

Aug 092011

You can only dodge the bullet so many times.

That’s the lesson that Potomac should have learned as the Salem Red Sox finally cashed in on the numerous chances the pitchers gave them for a 2-1 win.

Salem got its first run in the top of the 1st — another troubling trend that needs to stop if Potomac is to defend its Mills Cup title — but it could have been a lot worse. Two hit batsmen and a wild pitch then a walk loaded the bases. A swinging bunt drove in the run but starter Paul Demny escaped the jam with a flyout to right fielder Archie Gilbert (rehabbing from Harrisburg).

Demny would have baserunners in every inning he pitched. He walked two in the 2nd, giving up a single and double in the 3rd; got the trifecta in the 4th with another hit batsmen, a base hit, and a walk; and gave up walks in the 5th and 6th, the last chasing him in the 6th. To his credit, Demny kept the ball down and on the ground, getting two key double plays and allowing just four flyballs. For a pitcher that’s struggled with the longball, that’s bigger than Oprah.

Of course, what’s nearly always true is that good pitching gets scrutinized further when the offense is struggling, as the P-Nats have been over the past couple of weeks. It was sixth time in the past 10 games they’ve failed to score at least three runs.

It would be easy to chalk this up to the opposing pitcher, Chris Hernandez, who blanked them last week in Salem. But Hernandez was far from dominant, walking three and getting several long counts. During his five innings, it felt like he was one pitch away from getting smacked and having this game tied up.

Potomac would break through in the 7th as newly acquired Zach Walters drilled a grounder off the heel of Salem reliever Chris Martin to lead off the inning. A Steven Souza walk sandwiched between flyouts by Sandy Leon and Eury Perez (Walters taking third on the latter), brought up Francisco Soriano. The strong-armed infielder ripped a line drive into right to plate Walters and tie the game.

It would be the last Potomac baserunner.

Trevor Holder, Joe Testa and Rob Wort followed Demny on the mound. It was Holder’s first appearance in a Potomac uniform since June 24 and he tossed two solid innings of relief, allowing a hit and striking out three. Joe Testa pitched a scoreless 8th and appeared to be working around a leadoff bunt single but a two-out walk chased him from the game.

Wort gave up a single to right that Gilbert charged and threw a one-hop bullet to Leon, but on a night like this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the bounce was higher than usual and Leon couldn’t make the snap-tag that would have been a bang-bang play. A flyout ended the threat, but like I said at the beginning, you can only give a team so many chances before they cash one in.

The P-Nats went down in order and on strikes to end the game. The loss was a missed chance to gain ground on Frederick, which lost to Myrtle Beach. Lynchburg edged a game closer with a win over Kinston, trailing Potomac by five games while the Keys still lead the division by three.

Cameron Selik (4-7, 4.18) takes the hill this afternoon in the final midweek daygame (no gamer tomorrow), opposed by Salem’s Stolmy Pimentel (1-3, 4.96).

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 192011

A two-base hit, a sacrifice bunt, and a “run-scoring flyball” gave Potomac a 1-0 win over the Lynchburg Hillcats.

The problem is that happened in the bottom of the first and it was never that certain that the P-Nats would prevail.

Cameron Selik, Marcos Frias, and Hector Nelo combined for a five-hit shutout, allowing just one runner to reach second base. The defense turned two double plays and gunned down a runner trying to stretch a single into a double. And the Potomac offense managed just two more hits from the second to the eighth innings.

It’s difficult to convey the excitement that a 1-0 game is supposed to elicit because, like the sign on Jimmie Dimmick’s lawn, it simply wasn’t there. After the first, it was two hours of wondering when the other shoe would drop: “We’re ahead, but it doesn’t feel like we’re winning.”

For three games now, the Potomac offense has been lifeless. They’ve managed to win two of those games… against a last-place team. To expect the pitching and defense to be that good that often is not realistic. Apologies for the short writeup today, but there’s not much else to say.

The win improves Potomac to 15-9 in the second half, still tied with Frederick for first place in the Carolina League North. Adam Oblrychowski (2-5, 5.36) is slated to start this afternoon, opposed by David Hale (1-3, 4.71).

Jun 082011

It would be too easy to reduce this game to a close call that didn’t go their way — except for how the Potomac Nationals reacted to it.

To set the scene… the P-Nats had put two runners on for the first time in five innings in the bottom of the 7th, down 4-2. After a called third strike to J.R. Higley for the first out of the inning, Sandy Leon hit a long flyball down the right field line. It was called foul.

Potomac hitting coach Mark Harris stormed down the line from his spot in the first base coaching box to dispute the call made by the home plate umpire. With the base umpire in the field between second and third, an appeal was not going to happen. After a brief tirade, Harris was ejected.

But the P-Nats were clearly dejected. Only one more runner would reach base in that inning, the final seven batters would go down in order, four by a swinging strikeout.

Frederick would score three more runs in the final two innings, as Potomac fell 7-2 and was officially eliminated from the Carolina League North division first-half title.

It was also the ninth straight home loss.

Not coincidentally, for the sixth time in those nine games, the P-Nats fell behind early by letting the visitor score in the first inning. For a team that’s struggling on offense (pretty much 6th in every team offensive stat), it’s a psychological impediment to go up swinging (or bunting) to even the score right away.

Last night, though, they did even it at 1-1 by loading the bases with nobody out with bunt singles by Eury Perez and Jeff Kobernus, a walk to Destin Hood, and a sacrifice fly by Justin Bloxom. Manager Matt LeCroy tried to push the envelope, ordering Kobernus to steal third, but the team’s stolen-base leader was easily thrown out to effectively kill the inning.

Starter Paul Demny did settle down after the first and threw well enough to win for most other teams on most other nights, giving up three runs on nine hits (one a home run), no walks and seven strikeouts. But the bats were silent from the second inning to the sixth, with only Brian Peacock reaching base by a fourth-inning walk, charging Demny with his 7th loss of the season.

Cameron Selik gets the ball tonight and Ryan Zimmerman is scheduled to rehab again in the third game of four against Frederick, which is on a seven-game win streak and on pace to win the first half in back-to-back seasons, and the fourth time in the past six seasons.

Jun 072011

Well, sometimes rehab starts do live up to their billing.

Of course, we would expect no less from the “Face of the Franchise” as Ryan Zimmerman went 2-for-3 with a double and made two plays in the field, though he did do his best imitation of a high-A third baseman on the first ball hit to him, which skipped into left untouched on perhaps an in-between hop [insert bitching about Pfitzner field here].

In his first at-bat, Zimmerman blasted a double to the base of the left field wall. In his second, he waited on a fastball and served a line drive to the 3/4 hole between first and second. In his third at bat, he got under a fastball a flew out to center.

Did I not mention the score yet?

Well, that’s because it was a forgettable, yet quite familiar 8-1 loss to Frederick that snapped a four-game winning streak (all on the road, just like the previous and only other four-gamer) and extended the home losing streak to eight games. The tragic number is now one, for those of you who are wondering.

Trevor Holder took the loss for third time in four home starts, allowing five runs in the second inning and eight runs total over five-plus innings. If this sounds familiar, that’s because his home ERA is 10.19, WHIP is 1.81, FIP is 5.99 (on the road those rates are 5.74, 1.23, and 2.55). Unfortunately, the Pfitz’s park effects are historically neutral.

Yes, Holder pitched well once the hole was dug, but one has to wonder how much longer he can stick in the rotation before he’s sent to the ‘pen. Evan Bronson certainly made his case as a replacement, even if he let in both runners Holder left him. He finished the game with four innings pitched, two hits and one walk allowed, and two strikeouts.

Of course, complaining discussing the pitching (or lack thereof) is a Sysiphean exercise when the hitters aren’t hitting as a team. Individually, Justin Bloxom went 3-for-4 with a HR and the lone Potomac RBI and Sandy Leon went 2-for-3 with a double, but minus Zimmerman, that’s just six hits. Eury Perez’s infield single was only other hit.

As aforementioned, the loss dropped Potomac to 13 games behind Frederick and on the brink of mathematical elimination from the first-half race. Paul Demny (2-5, 4.50) takes the hill tonight, opposed by the Keys’ Nathan Moreau (5-3, 3.76).

May 292011

As the pic suggests, the P-Nats dropped a pair to fall into the Carolina League North Division cellar, losing 10-5 in the first game and 7-2 in the second. The losing streak is now six games.

The story in both games was much the same: the starting pitching was ineffective and made a mediocre offense look terrific. Except for one big inning in the first game, the Potomac offense was listless. It took nearly four innings in the first game for a runner to reach base. In the second game, they collected just three hits.

I’m not sure what the Nats brass, who have been on hand for the past couple of nights, has in mind to shake things up, but it’s pretty clear that some bats need to be thrown in the shower. Maybe even some wooden ones, too.

Individually, there is some decent talent in this group of players. But I keep hearing the rumblings that, while not quite 25 cabs for 25 guys, this is not yet a team. The difference in the record at home vs. the road in the past couple of weeks certainly begs the question of “why?” — especially when the opponents have been either the same (Lynchburg) or second-division (Kinston).

Again, I try hard not to editorialize in this space, but I know that folks value the eyes on the field and I’m seeing a collection of talent that needs some reshuffling. Maybe some guys that have been starting need to sit out today. Maybe some starters need to work out of the ‘pen and vice-versa. But something needs to happen soon.

Today, Cameron Selik and Evan Bronson are tasked with turning things around (and making me eat these words) with a noontime doubleheader against these same Hillcats, with a chance to both split the series and return to third place.

May 182011

The Quick Rundown…

Team Yesterday’s Result Today’s Game Pitching Matchup
Syracuse Chiefs Won, 4-3 vs. Norfolk, 7:00 p.m. Yunesky Maya (1-3, 3.57) vs.
Michael Ballard (2-4, 4.58)
Harrisburg Senators Lost, 4-1 vs. New Britain, 7:00 p.m. Oliver Perez (1st start) vs.
Liam Hendriks (3-1, 3.66)
Potomac Nationals Lost, 2-0 @ Frederick, 7:05 p.m. Evan Bronson (1-1, 2.20) vs.
Nathan Moreau (3-2, 3.56)
Hagerstown Suns Suspended, Top 3 vs. Kannapolis, 10:35 a.m.
(completion, then 7-inn gm)
(Game 2)
A.J. Cole (0-1, 3.52) vs.
Paul Burnside (3-1, 3.55)

Syracuse 4 Norfolk 3
• Stammen (W, 3-2) 6IP 9H 3R 3ER 0BB 7K
• Wilkie (S, 4) 1IP 1H 0R 0BB 2K
• Hulett 1-3, R, RBI
• Flores 1-4, R, RBI
• Aubrey 1-1 2BB

Thanks to three runs scored in the sixth inning, the Chiefs were able to take the lead and win the game, defeating Norfolk by a score of 4-3. While it took five pitchers to get the win, Stammen earned it, pitching six complete innings, allowing three earned runs on nine hits and seven strikeouts. Wilkie also earned his fourth save of the season, pitching a scoreless ninth. Hitters of the game were Hulett, Flores and Aubrey who collectively went 3-for-8 with two runs scored, two RBIs and two walks.

New Britain 4 Harrisburg 1
• Martis (ND) 7IP 3H 0R 1BB 5K
• McCoy (BS, 1)(L, 1-2) ⅓ IP 4H 4R 4ER 0BB 1K 0HR
• Barthmaier 1⅔ IP 1H 0R 0BB 0K 1-0 IR-S
• Norris 2-4, 2B, RBI
• Lombardozzi 2-4
• Gilbert 2-4

A four-run eighth was the undoing for the Senators, ruining a fine outing by Shairon Martis, as Harrisburg lost, 4-1. Martis laid seven goose eggs on the top of the scoreboard, giving up just three hits and a walk while striking out five. Pat McCoy would face just six batters and give up all four runs to blow the save and take the loss. Derek Norris’s two-out RBI double in the fourth was the only hit in nine chances with RISP, as the Senators stranded seven baserunners. Norris, Steve Lombardozzi and Archie Gilbert each collected two hits in the loss.

Frederick 2 Potomac 0
• Demny (L, 1-3) 6IP 5H 2R 2ER 3BB 4K
• Nelo 1IP 0H 0R 0BB 2K
• Perez 2-3, CS

Poor baserunning undid what little offense Potomac was able to bring last night, as Frederick Keys locked them out, 2-0. Paul Demny took the lost with both runs allowed on five hits and three walks. Justin Bloxom was picked off first in the ninth, doubled off second base in the second while Francisco Soriano got gunned down trying to advance to third on a ball hit to short. Eury Perez went 2-for-3 to improve his average to a team-best .329, as Potomac got just four hits in getting shut out for the seventh time this season.

Kannapolis 2 Hagerstown 1 — SUSP, T3
• Grace 3IP 5H 2R 2ER 1BB 3K
• Freitas 1-1, RBI
• Sanchez 1-1, R

Sanchez’s RBI single in the bottom of the 1st tied the game at one apiece but Kannapolis fought back in the top of the 3rd to score an additional run to gain the lead. Due to the weather, the game was called in the 3rd inning, with the Suns trailing by a score of 2-1. The nine-inning game will be completed this morning, followed by a seven-inning contest for a daytime doubleheader.

Sep 052010

It’s odd that sometimes the games that are supposed to mean the least can end up being the best.

Last night, Potomac clinched a playoff spot. The night before, Kinston clinched by virtue of Potomac’s win over Salem. With playoff seeding largely predetermined, very little was at stake except for pride and professionalism.

But it was those two things that were on display in spades on Sunday afternoon in Woodbridge, as the Kinston Indians no-hit the Potomac Nationals for a 10-inning 1-0 win.

Marty Popham, Chris Jones, and Cory Burns combined on the no-no, with Popham tossing the first seven innings, Jones pitching the eighth and ninth, and Burns closing out the tenth for his league-leading 30th save.

Zach Dials was the loser, allowing one run over two innings with a single, sacrifice, and another single in plating the Kinston run.

Potomac’s sole scoring threat came in the seventh, as Francisco Soriano drew a walk to end the perfect game, then took second on a wild pitch. Nick Moresi grounded to second to push Soriano to third with one out. Jamar Walton would line out to a drawn-in first baseman for out number two. Derek Norris would draw the second walk of the inning and Sean Rooney would be the second groundout to second for the third and final out.

The loss would drop Potomac to 69-69 overall on the season and shave the margin over Wilmington to 1½ games. The divisional round of the Carolina League playoffs is slated to begin on Wednesday in Frederick.