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P-Nats End First Half On Happy Note

The Potomac Nationals players celebrated after a great night of baseball at Pfitzner Stadium last weekend. Photo by Doug Stroud.
With David Masters' game-winning single in the bottom of the 11th inning on June 19, the Potomac Nationals beat the visiting Myrtle Beach Pelicans 4-3, sending the large Father's Day crowd home happy while salvaging a .500 first-half for the Washington Nationals' Class A Advanced affiliate.

Raudy Read and Dale Carey blasted solo homers in support of left-hander Matthew Crownover's five-inning start, with the late-inning bullpen duo of Ryan Brinley and R.C. Orlan staving off the Pelicans for the win.

After the game, players exited the clubhouse toting a piece of luggage or two, enough for the three-day all-star break that separates the Carolina League's two halves. They don't return to work until Thursday, June 23, when they take on Lynchburg in a four-game.

Four P-Nats did have business to attend to during the break.

Brinley, third baseman Drew Ward and outfielders Alec Keller and Andrew Stevenson were tabbed to represent the league in last night's all-star clash with the California League in Lake Elsinore, Calif.

In no hurry despite the rare time off, manager Tripp Keister lounged in his office under Pfitzner Stadium's third-base grandstand, hosting a few friends visiting from Winchester after the game.

"I like where we are now with our position players. They've settled into the league," said Keister, in his third season as Potomac's skipper. "I think we've pitched pretty well all year, but our strength is our bullpen."

The P-Nats' first three months started fast and hit some speedbumps, ending with a 34-34 mark for third in the league's four-team Northern Division, a game in back of Frederick and 10 behind Lynchburg.

In Minor League Baseball, all-star breaks often signify roster turnover as organizations reward performances with promotions and reshuffle depth charts.

In Minor League Baseball, all-star breaks often signify roster turnover as organizations reward performances with promotions and reshuffle depth charts.

Those aren't Keister's calls, but he noted several players taking steps toward the next level. The manager had some of his strongest praise for centerfielder and leadoff batter Stevenson, who a year ago was in the College World Series with Louisiana State University.

"I'm really excited about him," said Keister of Stevenson, who's fifth in the league with 25 steals while batting .293. "For him to do what he's doing at this advanced level is impressive."

Keller has finished a full season with Potomac, being called up from Hagerstown mid-season last year. His team-leading 39 RBIs put him ninth in the league.

"He didn't come in with a lot of fanfare," said Keister of Keller, a Richmond native taken out of Princeton University in the 17th round of the 2014 draft. "He's continues to put up numbers and has been a good left fielder."

Powerful lefty first baseman José Marmolejos is tied for fifth in the league with eight homers, but earned Keister's notice for his defense.

"The scouting line with him is he's a professional hitter, and he is," Keister said. "But we work every day on his defense and he's really improving. I like where he is."

Ward is a second-year P-Nat, a 2013 third-rounder with a high developmental ceiling. The lefty-swinging infielder cracked 11 homers in the first half, the league's second most, while making just four errors in the field - significantly improving in both categories.

"I'm proud of him. He really struggled here last year to put good at-bats together. I feel it's the exact opposite this year," Keister said. "He's really worked for it. I'm excited about where he's headed."

Ryan Brinley has been the highlight of the P-Nats' pitching staff, compiling a league-best nine saves while allowing just two runs in more than 26 innings, striking out 27.

"He's been lights-out," Keister said. "He gets good separation between his changeup and fastball, commands them, changes speeds, unfazed by the situation. He's a tough at-bat."

The Nationals' first-round pick of 2014, hard-throwing right-hander Erick Fedde, is in his first full season after elbow surgery. After a rocky start, the blue-chip prospect has come on to allow one earned run in his last 15 innings.

"He's healthy, he feels strong," Keister said. "I didn't realize the competitor that he is, but he's exciting. He wants the ball."

Heading into the season's second three-month span, Keister wants to see greater consistency on a nightly basis. He thinks he'll get it.

"I'm looking forward to the second half," Keister said. "That's what's important, is where these guys go in the second half."

Potomac's Alec Keller dives back to first ahead of a pickoff attempt Sunday against Myrtle
Beach at Pfitzner Stadium. Keller had three hits Sunday. Photo by Doug Stroud.

Boone Whiting was named the Carolina
League Pitcher of the Week. Whiting
celebrated Father's Day with his wife
and 17-day-old son, Maverick, as the
P-Nats took on the Pelicans. Photo by
Doug Stroud.
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