With six strong innings from top pitching prospect Alex Meyer, the Potomac Nationals took their third straight win with a 7-5 decision over the Carolina Mudcats, setting up a weekend showdown with the first-place Frederick Keys.
Potomac scored in each of the first four innings, highlighted by Steven Souza Jr.’s fourth home run, a light-tower shot that comfortably cleared the 400-foot marker over the centerfield wall with two outs in the top of the first. It was 23-year-old’s 21st roundtripper between Low-A and High-A. He would total two walks and two stolen bases and kept his cool when Carolina starting pitcher Michael Goodnight, who did not have one, plunked him in his third plate appearance.
Meyer turned in a quality start for the sixth time in seven starts, rebounding from a six-run shellacking last Friday night in Salem. The lone Mudcat run came in the third as Todd Hankins doubled to center, then was sent in on a sacrifice hit and a sacrifice fly.
With Nathan Karns likely on the shelf for the rest of the season, the towering 22-y.o. has become the staff ace. Like Karns, he has shown that he doesn’t necessarily need to blow guys away to be effective, as his first strikeout did not come until the 18th batter he faced with one out in the 5th — though he would need it and another whiff to escape a bases-loaded jam in the 5th, then stranded two more in the 6th with his third and final K.
Potomac scored its seventh run in the 7th after a Blake Kelso single, the second Souza walk, and a Ricky Hague single to left that was hit so sharply that the fleet-footed Kelso could only advance one base. Jason Martinson fell behind quickly on a pair of curves, but didn’t bite on the 0-2 fastball on the outside corner. Instead of offering something in the dirt, Carolina southpaw J.D. Reichenbach went back to the bender, but Martinson was not fooled this time and looped it into left for the RBI and a 7-1 lead.
After two shutout frames from Aaron Barrett, Rob Wort took the mound for what should have been an easy inning in the 9th. Instead, Carolina did not roll over and made him work. After following a leadoff walk with a strikeout, the slender righty gave up four straight hits — triple to right-center, double to left, a two-run homer off the second tier of signs in right field, then a single to right.
Wort would catch the next batter looking then get the cleanup hitter, 24-y.o. veteran Anthony Gallas, to fly out to shallow left to finally put the game away.
As aforementioned, one of the two teams that Potomac needs to catch and pass to make the playoffs comes to town for three this weekend. Frederick leads Potomac by three, thus the P-Nats need no less than two out of three to have a chance at postseason play and probably need to sweep, given that they will have to face second-place Wilmington on the road as well as these Mudcats for another four as part of the their seven-game road trip to finish out the 2012 season.
Tonight, the P-Nats will send Rob Gilliam (0-1, 5.48) out to the mound against Frederick’s Kevin Gausman (0-0, 12.00), the No. 1 draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles this past June.