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Nationals top Mudcats 10-5 for first loss of season

After getting out to an early lead the Mudcats faltered down the stretch for the team's first loss of the 2014 campaign.

Nationals top Mudcats 10-5 for first loss of season
Photo credit: Aaron Moody
April 4, 2014
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ZEBULON, NC – After jumping out to a five run lead after four innings, the Mudcats pitching staff struggled with command before, ultimately, falling to the Potomac Nationals 10-5 on Friday night at Five County Stadium.

As a team the Mudcats walked seven Nationals, most of which were given up by the bullpen. On the flip side, the Nationals pitching staff struck out 13 Mudcats on the night.

First-year Mudcats manager Scooter Tucker hopes the bullpen’s struggles are just an early season issue that will work itself out.

“We’ve got to throw strikes,” said Tucker. “We’ve got to go get the hitters. We can’t get behind in the count and give them the opportunity to swing the bat.”

Right-hander Michael Peoples made his first start since suffering a season ending shoulder injury last year. Peoples looked strong through five innings, giving up just three runs on two hits, one homer, three strikeouts and just one walk.

Tucker was impressed with Peoples’ first start of the season.

“I thought Michael looked really good, especially through the first four innings,” said Tucker. “It looked like he got a little tired in the fifth (inning) when he gave up the home run.  That just goes to show how one pitch can change the game.”

After the game, Peoples said his shoulder felt fine and he’s glad to finally be back on the mound.

“The shoulder felt good, especially through the first four innings” said Peoples.  “Spring went well, and I’m just glad to be back out there on the mound.  It’s good to get the first one out of the way.  I wish it would have ended differently, but still it felt good.”

After breezing through the first inning, Peoples ran into a little trouble in the second. The first three batters hit consecutive groundballs up the middle giving shortstop Erik Gonzalez a workout.  A hit, error and fielder’s choice allowed three runners to reach base, but none advanced past second allowing Peoples to escape a jam, while keeping the Nationals off the board.

Designated hitter Anthony Gallas crushed a ball down the third baseline for a leadoff double to start the second inning. First baseman Jeremy Lucas advanced Gallas to third on a groundout to second base before catcher Alex Monsalve drove Gallas home to put the Mudcats on the board.

For the second straight inning, a Mudcat cracked a leadoff double this time by right fielder Ollie Linton.  Second baseman Todd Hankins followed that up with a walk before center fielder Logan Vick hit a perfectly placed sacrifice bunt to advance both runners a base, and nearly beat out the throw to first. Gonzalez drove in his second run of the season with a RBI groundout to extend the lead.

Offensively, Tucker was very happy with how the team performed, especially in the early innings.

“I liked the way we were moving guys over, especially early” Tucker said.  “Jeremy Lucas moved Gallas over to third, Vick laid down a beautiful bunt, and Ollie made a great catch out in right field.” 

Potomac starting pitcher Ronald Pena showed command issues in the fifth inning. Pena walked two of the first three batters and threw a wild pitch allowing both runners to advance to scoring position. Third baseman Yhoxian Medina made him pay by smacking a ball up the middle to drive in both runners giving the Mudcats a four run lead.

The Mudcats weren’t done there as Linton drew the third walk of the inning to put runners on first and second with one out.  After Hankins popped out for the second out of the inning, Vick collected his first hit and RBI of the season with a line drive to right field to put the Mudcats up by five after four innings.

After settling in for a couple of innings, Peoples ran into trouble in the fifth inning.  A walk and hit batsman put runners on first and second with no outs. A passed ball advanced both runners, but that did not matter, as catcher Pedro Severino smashed a home run over the left field wall to bring the Nationals within two.

Carolina threatened to add to the lead in the fifth inning as Gallas struck out to start the inning, but reached on a wild pitch. Lucas followed with a single, before a wild pitch allowed both runners to advance to second and third with one out.  However, three straight strike outs stranded the runners to end the inning.

Making his first appearance of the season right-hander Benny Suarez relieved Peoples to start the sixth and gave up a leadoff double down the left field line to Nationals first baseman Kevin Keyes.  A wild pitch allowed Keyes to advance to third base, and a walk put runners on the corners with no outs. A short fly ball to left field held the runners, but a sacrifice fly by left fielder Mike McQuillan brought the Nationals within a run. The inning ended abruptly when a National runner was doubled off the bases.

After the Mudcats went one-two-three in the sixth inning, Potomac continued the rally in the seventh as righty Rob Nixon relieved Suarez. Nixon got the leadoff batter to groundout, but after that struggled mightily. Back-to-back doubles brought in the tying run and the Nationals weren’t done there. A single brought in a second run, which is when Nixon began to show serious command issues. Four consecutive walks brought in two more runs, before the inning finally came to an end with a double play.

Two of the walks were by Nixon, but he was pulled in favor of right-hander Carlos Melo. Melo, who was making his debut with the Indians organization, walked in the two other runs. Nixon was handed his first loss of the season, while officially logging one-third of an inning.

Carolina went three up, and three down in the bottom half of the seventh inning, but the Nationals continued their assault on the Mudcats bullpen in the eighth. Melo got the first two outs easily, but three straight hits brought in two more runs to give the Nationals a five run lead, which proved to be the winning margin.

Tucker was optimistic about the team’s performance, even in defeat.

“It’s hard to say there were a lot of positives in a game when you lose, but tonight there were.”

Zachary is a senior at NC State where he is majoring in communication-media, with minors in journalism and theatre.  You can follow him on Twitter @RealZachFrancis.

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