With a doubleheader sweep of the Kinston Indians, the Potomac Nationals have now won five straight games and five straight series.
Since the season’s lowpoint — 11 straight losses from May 22 to June 1 — the P-Nats have gone 26-14, a .650 winning percentage, and it’s a familiar story: The bats have begun to heat up, the bullpen has solidified, and the defense has tightened.
But even better, the tendency to play better on the road has subsided. With the 5-3 and 3-2 wins, Potomac has 15 of its last 20 home games. Quite a turnaround from the 5-16 mark in the first 21 games.
In game one, Sammy Solis worked around a lapse of concentration in the second — back-to-back moonshots by Jeremie Tice and Abner Abreu, the second coming on a flat fastball — to go six innings and strike out nine batters against two walks. Yes, he gave up eight hits but three were of the “dying quail” variety that spilled just over the infielders into the outfield.
Those two home runs gave the Indians a brief 2-1 lead until Francisco Soriano struck again for another two-RBI hit, this one a double down the left-field line with two outs. Soriano would collect six RBI for the series.
In the bottom of the sixth, Potomac would match the Kinston second with Destin Hood and Justin Bloxom clearing the fences on consecutive at-bats to break a 3-3 tie and go ahead 5-3. Neil Holland would pitch the final frame and set the Indians down in order for his first High-A save.
In game two, Potomac got the pleasure of facing Steven Wright, the pitcher, and now one of the latest pitchers in affiliated baseball to throw the dreaded/beloved knuckleball. The last one spotted here was John Barnes in 2006, pitching for Wilmington when it was a Boston Red Sox affiliate.
Unlike Barnes, Wright is not a position player seeking a new baseball life — he’s a reliever capable of throwing in the low 90s that is looking for an edge, as he’s stalled at AA for parts of the past four season and will be 27 at the end of next month. Acccording to an Indians prospect site, he worked with Tom Candiotti during spring training and has been starting this season to get a feel for the pitch.
He’ll also need to learn to hold runners on much better, as the P-Nats stole five bases and took advantage of an errors on throws to the bases to score. Otherwise, the Potomac nine looked helpless, and perhaps a bit sore from flails at 55 m.p.h. pitches.
Evan Bronson opposed Wright and much like Solis, the number of hits he gave up was not indicative of his stuff. The predominantly righthanded Kinston lineup (Chase Burnette is the sole lefty… on the roster) three of six hits were hit to short right field, in front of Destin Hood. Ironically, the one mistake Bronson made came against Burnette, as the first baseman smacked a two-run homer for Kinston’s only runs.
Like the first game, the P-Nats made it a “sportswriter’s win” — usually a game won in the bottom of the 8th, but here the bottom of the sixth — after J.P. Ramirez led off the inning with a clean single to center. J.R. Higley was called on to pinch-run, but hurt himself trying to get back to first on numerous pickoff attempts.
Jeff Kobernus replaced him and took second and third in the same way that Francisco Soriano had to tie the game at 2-2 in the previous inning: A steal of second and a scamper to third on an error.
A wild pitch scored the 2nd Potomac run, but the third came in a much more conventional way as Kinston changed pitchers after Wright issued his fourth walk and allowed the fifth steal. Cutter Dykstra pounded a grounder that bounced just high enough for Kobernus to score without a throw to the plate.
Joe Testa got the call to close out the game in the 7th, allowing a leadoff single to short on a slow roller but otherwise got the job done to preserve the 3-2 win.
Potomac now stands at 14-8, one full game ahead of Frederick and hosts the last-place Lynchburg Hillcats for the next four games.