Nationals top Mudcats despite Sulser's stellar debut
Cole Sulser pitched brilliantly, but it was not enough to fend off the Nationals.
Despite holding a two-run lead through seven innings, the Carolina Mudcats gave up five runs over the final two innings to fall to the Potomac Nationals 6-4 on Sunday afternoon.
Mudcats manager Scooter Tucker was disappointed in the team’s late-inning performance, and could not have said it any better.
“We let it get away and just didn’t close it out,” said Tucker.
Making his Carolina League debut, right-hander Cole Sulser started strong, giving up only one run and one hit over five innings. Sulser struck out seven and walked only one runner on the afternoon.
Sulser was very pleased with his performance, saying everything was just working well for him.
“We just went out there and were hitting the corners and had it moving in and out with the fastball and keeping it down,” Sulser explained. “The catcher did a great job of calling what I wanted and we were just on the same page. Luckily, that worked well for us.”
Tucker was impressed with Sulser’s performance.
“He showed a nice ability to pitch today,” said Sulser. “He was locating pitches and kept the ball down for the most part. I was really pleased with that.”
Despite the first two runners getting on base in the first inning, the Mudcats were unable to capitalize due to a double play and a groundout to end the inning, stranding leadoff man Todd Hankins at third base.
Carolina got the scoring started in the second inning thanks to a two-out single by left fielder Levon Washington, followed by an RBI double by third baseman James Roberts, his first hit and RBI of the young season.
Sulser allowed the first Potomac base runner in the third inning, giving up a walk with two outs. The runner didn’t stay there long, as the very next pitch was hit right back to Sulser who turned around and started the inning ending double play.
An error by shortstop Erik Gonzalez allowed the second Nationals player to reach base, who advanced to second on a ground ball. With two outs, Sulser gave up his first hit of the afternoon to designated hitter Kevin Keyes, who drove in the first run of the game for Potomac to tie the score at one.
“I was a little bummed when I gave up that hit, but mostly because it scored a run. The longer we can go without letting them score a run, obviously the better, so I was a little miffed when I gave up that run,” Sulser explained.
Potomac starting pitcher Pedro Encarnacion was pulled after four innings, after giving up two hits and one run with just two strikeouts compared to four walks.
Carolina squandered a chance to retake the lead in the fifth inning when Hankins ripped a one-out double down the third base line and center fielder Logan Vick drew his third walk of the game to put two on with only one out. A strikeout by Gonzalez and a fly out to right field by designated hitter Anthony Gallas stranded the runners and ended the inning.
The winning pitcher from Opening Night, Josh Martin, relieved Sulser in the sixth inning. Martin allowed only one runner, a hit batsman with two-out in the seventh, over two innings of work.
The Mudcats retook the lead in the sixth inning when catcher Alex Monsalve and first baseman Charlie Valerio led off the inning with back-to-back singles. Monsalve raced around to score thanks to an error as the ball dribbled through shortstop Stephen Perez’ legs. Roberts reached on a fielder’s choice as Valerio advanced to third base, but Washington was out at second base. Right fielder Ollie Linton brought home Valerio on a sacrifice fly to deep center field to stretch the Carolina lead to two runs.
Though the Clipper offense has gotten off to a slow start this season, the sixth inning showed the team is capable of putting hits together and scoring some runs.
Tucker said, “We’ve been sluggish here to start the season, but I think we’re just being too aggressive, swinging at balls we should let go. We need to be a little more selective, but we’ll find our way out of it.”
Martin was relieved by right-hander Carlos Melo in the eighth inning and struggled from the beginning. Melo gave up a double on the first pitch he threw and gave up a single to the next batter to put two on with no outs. A sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position with just one out.
An RBI groundout brought Potomac within one run. The next batter was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners with two outs. A stolen base put the go-ahead run in scoring position, and a bloop single into center field brought both runs home to give the Nationals their first lead of the game.
Tucker said the bullpen needs to figure out how to enter games perform at a higher level.
“They need to come in and shut the other team down. When you’re facing the bottom part of the lineup, you need to get the outs. We let it slip away today for certain.”
After Carolina went down in order in the eighth inning, right-hander Benny Suarez relieved Melo in the ninth inning. Suarez struggled with his command from the beginning, walking the first two batters he faced. A single by the third batter brought in the first run of the inning, and with a runner on third base, a sacrifice fly brought in another run to give Potomac a three-run lead heading into the bottom of the ninth.
Carolina attempted a comeback in the ninth inning as Linton doubled down the first base line with one out, and advanced to third on a wild pitch. An RBI groundout brought the Mudcats within two, but that was as close as they would get.
After an off day on Monday, the Mudcats return to action on Tuesday as they travel away from Five County Stadium for the first time in 2014. Carolina will play three at Frederick before traveling to Potomac.
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.