Last Night In Woodbridge

A five-run 6th turned a slim 3-2 lead into a 7-3 deficit that Potomac could not overcome, as they dropped their fourth straight to Myrtle Beach by a 7-4 score.

Starter Phillips Valdez struggled with his command in the first inning, giving up two runs before retiring his first batter as a walk, single, and a steal put two runners in scoring position for Jacob Rogers’ double to the right-centerfield gap. He would issue two more walks but escaped further damage.

Unfortunately, much like the old saw that the prizefighter who lands the first solid punch wins the fight, such is the case with the P-Nats in 2015. Potomac’s record when that happens: 16-32 (vs. 28-15).

Valdez would recover to put in four scoreless innings before getting lifted after five innings. His final line: 5IP, 3H, 2R, 2ER, 5BB, 5K.

Meanwhile, rehabbers Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth joined the team and combined for three hits and two RBI, but only exerted enough energy to not get hurt. Werth, for example, watched a would-be double to the gap before settling for a single while pinch-runner Narciso Mesa scored all the way from first base.

The wheels came off the bus in 6th when Tyler Mapes was knocked for five runs on on five hits, including a three-run homer to put the game out of reach. Derek Self and Brian Dupra combined for three scoreless innings afterwards.

Potomac would score one last time in the 9th as Alec Keller singled and took second on an error with one out, then scored on Narciso Mesa’s single. Spencer Kieboom would lead the regulars with a 2-for-4 night, though he also struck out twice.

Despite the loss, Potomac remains in 1st place in the C.L. North by a ½ game as they make the short trip to Frederick for three against the Keys. Reynaldo Lopez (5-5, 4.30) gets the ball, opposed by Frederick’s Ariel Miranda (0-1, 5.63).

Last Night In Woodbridge

Myrtle Beach scored in six of nine innings while Potomac struggled to score at all, as the Woodbridge nine fell for the third straight gane, 7-2.

Lucas Giolito got the start on Friday night, but struggled with his command. As is often the case with high-profile prospects, it’s diffiuclt to separate the talent from the results. Giolito had moments where his changeup was a thing of beauty, as the Pelicans were light years ahead of the pitch. Yet Giolito “only” struck out four in five innings. And walked three — his second-highest total in 12 starts (oh, the horror).

Giolito would finish with a crooked line of 5IP, 6H, 3R, 2ER, 3BB, 4K, WP — not great, but not horrid, either.

While it might not satisfy the fair-weather fans, it’s fair to say that the Nats’ #1 prospect, and the #1 overall prospect according to some midseason prospect rankings (or is that post-preseason rankings?) might not yet be ready for AA just yet. And that’s okay. We’re still talking about a player that turned 21 this week.

Ulitmately, as has been the case for the past three games, it’s about the Potomac offense and its inability to score consistently. In three games against the Pelicans, they’ve collected 14 hits and scored four runs. It should come as no surprise that that’s resulted in three losses.

Veteran Khayyan Norfork was 2-for-4 and scored both runs, but the rest of the lineup was an atrocious 3-for-29 with one walk. The P-Nats had just four chances with runners in scoring position, and the one hit was a bunt single that scored the first run.

The series concludes tonight with a matchup of Phillips Valdez (3-2, 4.66) versus Jeremy Null (0-1, 4.24).

Last Night In Woodbridge

Baseball Rain For NPP 3
The Potomac Nationals rallied for four in the bottom of the 4th to erase an early 1-0 deficit and even the four-game series with the Carolina Mudcats with a rain-shortened 4-1 victory.

Carolina stuck for its run in the 1st on a leadoff walk, a steal, and an advance to third on a flyout to right field. Starter Phillips Valdez nearly squirmed out of the jam with a strikeout to the No. 3 batter before giving up an RBI single to cleanup man Carlo Franco and a subsequent safety to the #5 batter Jose Briceno.

He would then settle down to retire five straight before giving up a one-out single in the 3rd, four straight before surrendering a two-out double in the 4th, then six straight before play was halted.

Potomac stranded runners in each of the first three innings before Spencer Kieboom led off the 4th with a single, took third on a one-out single by John Wooten, and scored on a Brandon Miller double, which tied the game at 1-1.

Adrian Sanchez sent in the game-winner on a grounder to second, but the insurance runs came on what initially appeared to be an inside-the-park HR by Estarlin Martinez, but later (correctly) changed to a triple and an error as Martinez scampered home when Carolina right fielder Sean Godfrey booted the ball in right-center.

The rain, which began to spit in the bottom of the 4th, eventually forced the game’s end with two outs in the 6th. The win would go to Valdez, who allowed just the one run on four hits and one walk while striking six.

The series continues tonight with a matchup of Reynaldo Lopez (4-3, 4.85) vs. Andrew Waszak (4-4, 3.29) for Carolina.

Last Night In Woodbridge

A five-run 7th turned a 4-1 ballgame into a rout, as the Frederick Keys evened the three-game series with a 9-3 win.

John Simms started and was ineffective early, giving up one run in the 1st and two in the 2nd on five hits, including a double to the right-center gap and a triple down the right field line. A long homer in the 5th accounted for the fourth and final run he gave up, as he went six innings and allowed seven hits with two walks and two strikeouts.

However, with an offense that’s basically league average in everything but runs scored, four runs allowed is too much. After answering Frederick’s run in the top of the first with a Christopher Bostick single, steal of second combined with a wild pitch, and a Stephen Perez sacrifice fly, the P-Nats bats fell silent until one out in the 5th, when Narciso Mesa laid down a magnificent bunt down the third base line.

While they would eventually score three runs, as aforementioned, the game was already over after Jake Johansen failed to retire any of the five batters in the top of the 7th. He walked three (two with the bases loaded) and allowed one hit on one of the handful that came in over the plate and in the strike zone.

Derek Self was unable to prevent further damage and let in all three of his inherited runners, but saved the rest of the ‘pen with three innings pitched.

The series concludes today with a matchup of Phillips Valdez (0-1, 5.02) vs. Chris Lee (1-2, 5.40).

Last Night In Woodbridge

Myrtle Beach scored in four straight innings, including a five-run 7th that “featured” six straight walks, as they scored ten unanswered runs in an 11-1 demolition of Potomac.

Reynaldo Lopez was beaten in his previous start—also against the Pelicans—and did little to suggest that it was fluke or an aberration. The Carolina League’s best team looked every bit the part as they manhandled the 21-y.o. for a second straight start.

Lopez was charged with five runs on nine hits, five of which were for extra bases (three doubles, a triple, and a home run), and one walk. He did strike out six, but it was not enough to mitigate the damage from the cannonade of extra-base knocks.

Kevin Perez followed Lopez and was immediately greeted with a long HR to right field. While he managed to get the next three outs, he walked four straight to open the 7th before he was lifted for Cody Davis. The usually reliable reliever walked two more before getting a flyout to center to let in all three inherited runners.

Davis then wild-pitched in another run before getting the last two outs. He would close out the game, saving the bullpen from further taxation and finishing with one run charged to his record over three innings.

Meanwhile, the P-Nats had trouble getting solid contact against Myrtle Beach’s Paul Blackburn. They also helped him out — as they have quite a bit this season — with first-pitch swings that produced easy outs.

Potomac would manage just five hits total and draw three walks while striking out nine times. Even a MASN analyst can tell you that’s not enough to get it done on offense.

The series continues this afternoon with Nick Pivetta (3-3, 1.41) vs. Tyler Skulina (1-3, 4.25). Potomac’s elimination number is now 16 with 21 games left in the first half.

Last Night In Woodbridge

It’s too late for Potomac to think about a run at the Carolina League North Division title. But after a 3-1 win on Friday following an 8-3 win on Thursday, the last-place P-Nats can serve notice to the first-place Blue Rocks that things might be different in the second half.

Of course, that’s easy to write when Potomac had things go right on both sides of the ball.

Phillips “Exxon” Valdez made his High-A debut and tossed six innings of one-run ball. He hit two Blue Rocks on the puss elbow pad in the first inning, with both players making little-to-no effort (think Don Baylor) to get out of the way of the pitch, as the rules require, but got out of the bases-loaded jam.

Then in the 3rd he gave up a leadoff triple that came in on a sacrifice fly, for the one run he let in. Otherwise, he dominated the weak Wilmington offense — just three hits allowed, one walk, and three strikeouts.

Alas, his counterpart Erik Skoglund was just as good. The slim (could hide behind a telephone pole) southpaw retired six straight to start the game before Khayyan Norfork doubled to lead off the 3rd, Estarlin Martinez singled to push him over, and Narciso Mesa flew out to CF for the sac fly that tied the game at 1-1.

The P-Nats got leadoff singles in the 4th and 5th, but Skoglund dialed up 6-4-3 DPs both times to erase the threat. He also worked around a pair of two-out singles in the 6th before Norfork made the last out of the 7th trying for a second double.

Perhaps the minors are primarily for development, but the decision to send out Skoglund for an 8th inning without a reliever at the ready is hard to explain, much less defend. As lineups often do, a fourth look was what it took to beat him.

In what seemed like a rerun of Norfork’s previous at-bat, Martinez singled to left to lead off the 8th and then turned it into a double on a play that might not have stood up on instant replay. Mesa sacrificed him to third and Christopher Bostick plated him with double to center for a 2-1 lead.

Stephen Perez got the insurance run with a single to center and Skoglund escaped further damage with a popup by Isaac Ballou, an intentional walk to Spencer Kieboom, and an “oops” check-swing tapper by Drew Ward.

Derek Self, who worked around a third hit batsman in the 7th, retired six straight before giving up a leadoff single to begin the 9th. Tripp Keister had Nick Lee ready and called him in shut the door. After a strikeout and a flyout, Wilmington got a second safety to put runners at first and third, but couldn’t get a third hit as Lee whiffed the No. 9 batter to wrap it up.

The win went to Self (his first for Potomac this season) while the save went to Lee, his fifth.

Another first-place team comes to town as Myrtle Beach makes its first trip to the Pfitz. Reynaldo Lopez (2-1, 2.75), who suffered his first loss to the Pelicans last Friday, gets a rematch tonight against fellow righthander Paul Blackburn (3-2, 4.64).

Last Night In Woodbridge

Potomac’s losing streak was extended to three as they were shut out for the second time this season, 4-0 by the first-place Frederick Keys.

Perhaps the outcome was evident from the first inning, which began with such promise. Isaac Ballou led off with a line-drive single to right, followed by a ‘tweener that fell in to short right-center off the bat of Christopher Bostick. Stephen Perez then drew the first of two walks on the night to load the bases.

Then Spencer Kieboom was caught looking. Drew Ward swung and missed for another K. John Wooten worked the count full, which allowed the runners to take off and ensure that at least two runs would score on anything that got out of the infield.

Nope — Wooten whiffed. It was the first and best chance for Potomac to score.

The next-best chance came in the 5th when Ballou walked and took third on another Bostick single to short right-center, though an on-line throw would have got him. Bostick advanced on the throw, which missed third but was backed up by the pitcher.

Perez flew out to shallow center and Ballou ran the P-Nats out of the inning by getting thrown out at the plate.

John Simms, who had been hit hard in his first two starts, was the hard-luck loser as he turned in a quality start of two runs allowed on four hits and no walks over six innings.

Jake Johansen was the first man out the ‘pen and also had the misfortune of a one-out error followed by a double, which forced the Potomac infield to play in. Sure enough, Frederick’s John Ruettiger bounced one up the middle to double the Keys lead from 2-0 to 4-0.

It was mostly a moot point, though, since P-Nats went down in order in the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th as Keys reliever Dennis Torres was perfect while earning his first save of the season.

The loss dropped Potomac to 11-18 for the season, five and half behind Frederick and just a game and a half out of the Carolina League North cellar.

Today, it’s a matchup of southpaws Matthew Spann (0-4, 5.87) faces off against Jhonathan Ramos (0-0, 1.93).

Last Night In Woodbridge

A 20-y.o. pitcher making his High-A debut and first start of the season showed flashes of brilliance, but was ultimately humbled by batters four to five years older in an 8-7 loss by the Potomac Nationals to the Frederick Keys.

That’s the reality of what happened to Lucas Giolito on Friday night, but it might not play that way to the folks who have only read the breathless hype and cheerleading from Baseball America and others that’s accompanied him since he was drafted in 2012.

The Washington Nationals’ #1 prospect did not dazzle, did not blow away the competition, and ultimately lost his first start of 2015.

Did I mention he’s just 20 years old?

For the velo whores, you can unbunch your panties: Giolito was hitting the mid-90s. He had plenty of heat. What he lacked was command. It’s been written here before, but it bears repeating. It doesn’t matter how hard a pitcher throws, if a professional batter knows what’s coming, he can hit it. Low-A, High-A, AA, AAA, it doesn’t matter.

Giolito was clearly working on his changeup, his third-best pitch. His renowned 12-6 hammer was on display for a couple of whiffs in the 2nd, but for the most part, Giolito was struggling to get ahead, enabling the Keys 24- and 25-y.o. veterans to sit on fastballs in hitter’s counts and they cashed in, scoring four times on five hits in the 3rd to take a 4-2 lead and twice in the 5th (the first run was Giolito’s, the second was Justin Thomas’s) to go up 6-4.

Frederick never trailed after the 3rd, though Potomac twice pulled within one run at 6-5 and the ultimate score of 8-7.

Drew Ward (2-for-5) homered and doubled and drove in two as did Stephen Perez (2-for-3), who also walked twice as Potomac pounded out 14 hits total but also left on 10 baserunners, including the tying run in the bottom of the 9th.

The loss dropped Potomac to 11-17, four and a half games behind first-place Frederick and three and half games behind second-place Wilmington. Tonight, John Simms (0-2, 12.71) makes his third start against Jarrett Miller (0-1, 4.30) for Frederick in Game Two of the four-game series.

Last Night In Woodbridge

Potomac continued its domination of division rival Lynchburg as they took their fourth win in the last five games with a 3-1 win on Friday night in Woodbridge.

Wander Suero took his his third win in three starts — all against the Hillcats — with seven strong innings. The 23-y.o. Dominican, who was strafed for seven runs in his previous outing a week ago, gave up just one unearned run on four hits and a walk while tying his career high with seven strikeouts.

After Wilmer Difo raised the hopes of the 3,000+ plus in attendance with a leadoff double, he erased himself with some poor baserunning by running into a 7-6-5 DP after straying too far on a warning-track flyball by Christopher Bostick.

The P-Nats were set down in order from the 2nd to the 5th before John Wooten led off the 6th with a leadoff walk, then took third on an errant pickoff throw, running through manager Tripp Keister’s stop sign and taking third when Lynchburg’s Paul Hendrix missed the tag.

A flare to right off the bat of Estarlin Martinez plated the first Potomac run to break up the Star Trek convention (that’s a whole lot of zeroes) on the Pfitzner scoreboard.

The Hillcats tied it in the top of the 7th with a leadoff single by CF Bradley Zimmer, a steal, and a Spencer Kieboom error, enabling cleanup man Nellie Rodriguez, who had whiffed twice against Suero in two ABs, to plate Zimmer with a sac fly and tie the game at 1-1.

Potomac made a winner out of Suero with an answer of two runs in the bottom of the 7th, as Spencer Kieboom, Khayyan Norfork, and Drew Ward hit back-to-back-to-back singles to take a 2-1 lead. John Wooten followed with a sacrifice fly to bring in Norfork and give the P-Nats the eventual final score of 3-1.

Nick Lee worked around a leadoff single in the 8th to earn the hold while Brian Dupra forced three flyouts in the 9th to notch his first save of the season.

With the win, Potomac keeps pace with first-place Frederick to remain a half-game off the Carolina League North Division lead. The two teams rematch tonight, weather permitting, with Dakota Bacus (0-0, 2.57) scheduled against Hillcat southpaw Michael Rayl (0-1, 4.50).

Potomac Wins Carolina League Championship

After a wire-to-wire run in the regular season, the 2014 Potomac Nationals got it done in the postseason with a 5-1 victory over the Myrtle Beach Pelicans to capture the Mills Cup Championship Series, three games to one.

Unlike four years ago
, the eventual outcome was apparent early. The first inning to be exact. Tony Renda got the rally started with a one-out walk, which looked like it might go for naught when Shawn Pleffner weakly flied out to left on a first-pitch swing.

Then Mills Cup MVP John Wooten singled to right, sending Renda to third to bring up veteran outfielder Randolph Oduber. Luis Parra couldn’t groove his fastball past the Aruban, but was able to drop a couple of lollipop curves to work the count to 2-2. The third time was not the charm, as Oduber was waiting on that sucker and smashed it over the left field fence for a 3-0 lead.

Hector Silvestre, the lone Potomac pitcher to win twice in the playoffs, faltered in the 2nd, giving up a double to start the frame. The Sea Rats did him a favor and unwisely tried to advance to third on a smash back to the Dominican southpaw, who threw over to get the runner and the first out. He would give it back with a walk to the next batter. After a popup to the no. 8 batter, the Pelicans’ 17-y.o. shortstop Michael De Leon delivered again with an RBI single to cut the lead to 3-1.

Silvestre gave up two more hits in the 3rd but got help from 3B Khayyan Norfork who called his own number for the unassisted putout at third base to end the inning. The 21-y.o. southpaw then retired the next nine batters in a row, finishing with a flourish as he struck out the side in the 6th.

His final line: 6IP, 5H, 1R, 1ER, 1BB, 6K

Meanwhile, Potomac responded to the lone Myrtle Beach run in the bottom of the 2nd with a leadoff double by Stephen Perez and an RBI double by Pedro Severino to reclaim the three-run advantage. They put on single runners in the 3rd and 4th innings, two in the 5th, and another in the 6th but could not score.

Just as he started the P-Nats’ scoring in the 1st, Renda finished it in the 7th. The All-Star second baseman tripled to lead off the inning, then trotted in as fellow All-Star Pleffner singled to short center to push the P-Nats lead to the eventual outcome of 5-1. The big fella would steal second and take third on Oduber’s second hit of the night, a single to right. Norfork, however, would get doubled up to end the inning and Potomac went in order in the 8th.

Manny “Doble Nacionales Codo” Rodriguez took over for Silvestre in the 7th and spun two perfect innings. Though not a save situation, ace reliever Gilberto Mendez was called upon in the 9th close things out and completed the string of 18 straight Pelicans retired with a popup sandwiched between two strikeouts, the last one on a check swing to create just the slightest anticlimax.

The win was the third league championship (2008, 2010) since the team became an affiliate of the Washington Nationals in 2005 and the fifth in franchise history (1982, 1989). The three titles are also the only ones won by a Nationals affiliate north of Florida, a distinction that Hagerstown can take away by winning the South Atlantic League. Game Three of that best-of-five series resumes tonight at the Muni, with hot prospect Reynaldo Lopez scheduled to pitch for the Suns.