Lowery at the Bat

I wasn’t going to recap Friday night’s game, but then the Senators completed the thrilling 7-6 comeback win over the Yard Goats with five runs in the eighth inning and I felt I needed to do something.

So with all due apologies to Ernest Thayer, I was going to steal just the first couplet but then I felt like finishing it in that same style.

Lowery at the Bat

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Harrisburg nine that day:
The score stood six to two, with but one inning more to play,
Young Kieboom came up empty and all chances had looked lost,
But Hartford needed three more outs, quite the substantial cost.

And then Read let drive a single, and Jake Noll did the same
As Pierpont the Great rustled waiting to come in the game.
Keller moved the line as he tore the cover off the ball
A late rally was brewing to the wonderment of all.

Then Schaeffer, the master of the Goats, could wait no more
He summoned for his prized arm to silence the crowd roar.
But Zeke left fans breathless again in a collective howl
Jumping on the first offering that we watched curve just foul.

Confident and composed, he laced another pitch to right
Fireworks be damned, they would not fall without a fight.
Only two scores were between them, and Ozzie made it one
Doubling over Mylz’s head to plate another run.

A strikeout did little to dishearten the patrons pull
Since Hunter was granted four balls to force the bases full.
But LeCroy’s troops were split thin and had only one batter left
The Mighty Lowery was called on to carry the team’s heft.

One ball, two, and then even a third off the plate
Lowery looked patiently for something he could hit straight.
The leather-covered sphere came hurtling intact through the air,
“That ain’t my style,” said Lowery without another care.

Eight thousand eyes were on him as he clenched the wood bat tight
Digging a hole in the box where he placed his back foot right.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Lowery’s blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
That place is City Island where fans’ wishes do come true,
There is joy in Harrisburg – Mighty Lowery has come through.

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Senators and Logan Darnell honor his late mother with special Alzheimer’s night on July 26

On April 13, Harrisburg pitcher Logan Darnell lost his mother, Caye, after a six-year battle with early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 59 back home in Nashville, Tennessee. Since the original diagnosis, Logan had become a crusader in raising awareness for the disease utilizing his minor league connections along the way.

“When you first find out, it’s shocking, and you don’t understand the negatives behind the disease,” Darnell said. “Once it started getting worse in 2015 and 2016 when I was in Rochester, I felt like I had a platform there. So I did a bunch of different things like a jersey night there that did well. I did a golf outing there that raised money. I did a bartending night.”

With that in mind, Darnell has teamed up with the Senators to make Thursday, July 26, a memorable night as the team will wear specialty jerseys and caps that will be auctioned off during and after the game with the proceeds benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater PA. As he did in Rochester, Darnell is also paying for the production of the jerseys himself instead of relying on corporate sponsorship.

“If you put a lot into it, whether it is money, time, or effort, it usually grows,” he said. “Paying for jerseys is a small price. There are a lot of people that come to the games that also have family members that have been touched by the disease. The jerseys are an easy thing.”

This season Darnell has already spearheaded the Senators holding a fundraising event at Arooga’s and auctioning off Bryce Harper autographed game-worn cleats for $1,325. He also has a GoFundMe page looking to raise money to start a foundation in his mother’s name.

“Let’s make something good out of something so bad,” he said. “I went through this bad thing, and I can help so many other people because I’ve been through it. That’s why it’s focusing towards a foundation in her name and helping people because I already know what they’re about to go through.”

There are currently 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, and by 2050 the number is projected to rise significantly to 14 million. The disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States ahead of diabetes and kidney disease.

“She was always smiling and laughing,” Darnell said of his mother. “You can ask the guys on the team. I’m usually the first one to goof off, make jokes, and be light. I definitely got it from her.

“She was always doing good for others, and that’s the name of the game.”

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Kieboom, Noll, Keller, and Mapes promoted to Harrisburg

Typically, the days surrounding each league’s All-Star break are also when organizations decide to make their first significant wave of promotions throughout the system. The Washington Nationals stayed true to form with the promotion of four players from Potomac on Thursday.

On the heels of third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez getting traded to the Kansas City Royals, the left side of the Harrisburg infield is getting a makeover as shortstop Carter Kieboom and third baseman Jake Noll will be penciled into the Senators’ lineup moving forward.

Kieboom, the Nationals #4-ranked prospect per Baseball America and younger brother of Spencer, has slashed .298/.386/.494 in 61 games with Potomac. The 20-year-old has shown patience at the plate to the tune of 36 walks against 50 strikeouts in his first taste of the High-A ball. Kieboom is also in the top five of the Carolina League with 11 home runs, 48 runs scored, and 46 runs driven in.

Noll, a seventh-round selection in the 2016 draft, has matched Kieboom in nearly every offensive category. The 24-year-old infielder has slashed .302/.353/.460 with twelve doubles, eight homers, 47 runs scored, and 46 driven in for Potomac.

Both infielders also played in the Carolina League All-Star Game held on Tuesday night at Five County Stadium in Zebulon, North Carolina.

Also getting promoted to Harrisburg is Alec Keller, who spent all of 2017 with the Senators before going down with a hip injury in mid-July . The Princeton product has bounced back with a .340 batting average and eight extra-base hits in only 29 games with the P-Nats.

After missing the entire 2017 season due to injury, Tyler Mapes has also shown he’s healthy as the right-hander is 6-1 with a 1.76 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 12 starts for Potomac earning a promotion back to Double-A. In 66.1 innings, Mapes has walked only 15 batters and struck out 52 including nine in his last start, a 9-inning complete game shutout.

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Raudy Read makes season debut in Senators’ 3-0 win over Richmond

After slugging a career-high 17 home runs at Harrisburg last year and earning a September call-up to Washington, Raudy Read appeared on the cusp of earning significant playing time and contributing to the Nationals’ pennant hopes this season.

Instead, the 24-year-old was suspended in the off-season for 80 games after testing positive for Boldenone, a performance-enhancing substance, and was forced to sit out the first two months of the season before making his 2018 debut on Friday night at FNB Field for the Senators.

“I was a little nervous the first couple of pitches but after that I was fine,” Read said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a real game and feeling the pressure. But it feels good.”

Read caught six frames and went 1-for-3 in his first game action of the season including a stand-up triple to lead off the sixth inning.

The Dominican Republic native worked out in his home country after news of the suspension, but after about a month came to the Nationals’ spring training facilities in West Palm Beach to continue preparation for the season.

“One of the things I was working on in West Palm was my timing,” Read said. “I was just looking for balls up in the zone tonight.”

Although slated to begin the season at Triple-A Syracuse, Read’s suspension hurt the catching-thin Nationals when Matt Weiters injured his hamstring and went on the disabled list on May 11. Since then, Washington has had to rely on Pedro Severino and Spencer Kieboom to carry the load and both have struggled offensively in the role.

The solution may be Read, but even if he shows little to no rust in his return, the backstop still has two weeks (or 14 games) before he’s eligible to be reinstated with the Nationals.

”I was going to go five, but (manager Matt) LeCroy wanted to get me one more at-bat,” Read said. “I told him I was ready to catch the whole game.”

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The third time’s the charm for Austen Williams

2018 marked the third season in a row that pitcher Austen Williams was on the Harrisburg Senators’ opening day roster. Without mincing words, the previous two stints did not go well for the 6-foot-3 right-hander.

As part of the starting rotation each season, Williams combined for 20 starts where he went 2-13 with a 6.24 ERA while opponents batted .326 off him. Both times, those disastrous results earned him mid-season demotions back to High-A Potomac for the rest of the year.

So when Williams’ name was once again on the Senators’ opening day roster this season, it wasn’t hard to imagine a similar path.

It didn’t matter that the Nationals had shifted the 25-year-old out of the role as a starting pitcher and into the bullpen. He threw as a reliever in the Arizona Fall League and that didn’t exactly work out as he was routinely lit up to the tune of a 10.67 ERA in nine appearances.

But through the first two months of the season, Williams has looked like an entirely different pitcher for the Senators.

Gone is the starter who would nibble on the edges of the plate and try to make the perfect pitch the moment runners got into scoring position. Instead, it’s been replaced by an aggressive approach where he believes in his pitches and challenges every batter.

“The move to the bullpen allows me to focus more on two pitches,” Williams said. “I think as a starter I needed to have a better third pitch and it wasn’t what it needed to be. It wasn’t one thing over night. It was some little things that compounded the last two years. I think I just found a role in the bullpen that fits me better.”

Off the field Williams is one of the more soft-spoken members of the clubhouse, but with every dominating performance he delivers you can see his on-field demeanor changing to a guy that wants the ball and is beginning to thrive as the center of attention on the mound. Friday night against the Portland Sea Dogs was just the latest example of this as he was nearly untouchable striking out five over two hitless innings to pick up the extra-inning win and lower his season ERA to 1.50 and WHIP to 1.042.

“I think he’s got confidence,” manager Matt LeCroy said. “This year he’s found a niche in the bullpen by keeping the balls down and getting ahead of hitters. In the past he didn’t have that same swagger.”

Harrisburg pitching coach Michael Tejera got his first look at Williams in the AFL when he was on the staff for the Mesa Solar Sox last fall. Despite the double-digit ERA and struggles, Tejera saw the change coming for the Texas State product.

“You could see the progress he was making,” Tejera said. “This year he has taken it to another level. Everybody’s impressed with the progress he has made. And now having success, his level of confidence is very high and we are seeing what he is capable of doing.”

“It’s tough when things are going bad to really trust your stuff,” Williams said. “I think it was just a process having to go through that where I had to learn how to manage it. And although I haven’t had too many tough situations yet this year, I think just having 100 percent confidence in what you’re throwing.

“I feel like I can throw whatever I want and let it play in the strike zone and still get outs.”

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Adam Eaton eyes imminent return to the Nationals in first rehab game

There’s an old adage in baseball that goes “the ball always finds you”. Usually it’s reserved for players who aren’t particularly good defenders or who are having a rough go of it in the field.

Friday night at FNB Field, the phrase could have been said for Washington Nationals’ outfielder Adam Eaton playing in his first rehab game for the Senators. It didn’t take long to test out the outfielder’s knee and arthroscopically repaired ankle in the 29-year-old’s first game action since April 8.

Portland leadoff hitter Jeremy Rivera began the game with a lazy fly ball to center field that Eaton settled under for the out. The next batter, Chad De La Guerra, bounced a single up the middle that Eaton fielded cleanly to hold the Sea Dog second baseman to a single.

“It was a productive first day,” Eaton said. “Right off the bat you get two balls to me: one a fly ball, one a hit.”

To start the Senators’ home half of the first, Eaton once again had to test how far he’s come in his recovery. On a 1-2 pitch, he topped the offering in what amounted to a swinging bunt between the pitcher and first base that had him “let it loose down the line”. In his next plate appearance, Eaton walked and ran the bases on a fielder’s choice.

“To get on base and then slide, everything felt great,” Eaton said. “I feel almost normal. I can still tell I had knee surgery, but the ankle isn’t a problem.”

He played five innings in the field and went 0-for-2 with a walk. Eaton isn’t too concerned with the results as the left-handed hitter is using this time to fine-tune his timing at the plate.

“It’s almost like a spring training game,” he said. “I haven’t played in five to six weeks. It’s almost like an off-season. I’m excited for this week of at-bats and to see as many pitches as possible.”

Manager Matt LeCroy said the plan is for Eaton to play six innings on Saturday in left field and seven on Sunday in center field pending the weather the next two days.

“It’s been a humbling experience to get something taken away from you that you’ve really enjoyed for most of your life,” Eaton said. “I’ve learned that family is the most important thing in my life and that this is just a game at the end of the day.

“I’ve learned patience and to not take any day for granted anymore. To put everything I have into this game and let the cards fall where they may.”

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Daniel Murphy and Brian Goodwin both come out of first rehab game feeling good

Daniel Murphy and Brian Goodwin completed the next step in their rehab process with seven successful innings in the field and four plate appearances each. Both said the respective injuries felt good after their first minor league game action.

After the game, manager Matt LeCroy said both will once again play seven innings on Sunday and then get the game off on Monday.

Murphy, coming back from off-season knee surgery, went 1-for-4 with a single that fell in front of Altoona right-fielder Bralin Jackson. The second baseman also looked good moving laterally on ground balls as he recorded three assists on three groundballs including the start of 4-6-3 double play.

Perhaps more importantly as a sign of his recovery was his ability and willingness to go first-to-third on a single to the centerfielder.

“I checked a couple of boxes,” Murphy said. “I was able to go first to third. It was nice to get out there.”

“It was good to see Murphy go first-to-third with a slide,” manager Matt LeCroy said. “I think that’s a good piece of mind for him.“

Goodwin matched his rehabbing partner with a 1-for-4 performance at the plate as he singled on a swinging bunt. The outfielder didn’t have any chances in the field as he manned left field in front of the Ollie’s Cheap Seats.

“It’s been feeling better every day,” Goodwin said. “I’ve got to give credit to the training staff for taking care of me and bringing me back to the position where I can put some ABs together, some innings together.”

“Goody looked good,” LeCroy said. “He stole a base, tagged up and moved to third. He did a lot of good things.”

Goodwin was also happy to be back on City Island where he played during the 2012, 2013, and 2015 seasons for the Senators.

“This is probably one of the best places we have in our organization,” he said. “It’s good to be back and see some familiar faces.”

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