Rocks win again

WOODBRIDGE — The Potomac Cannons’ .500 second half is far improved over its dismal 24-46 first half, but manager Joe Cunningham readily admits that his team still isn’t the type to win night after night with overwhelming offense.

That’s what made Tuesday’s 6-4 loss to the Wilmington Blue Rocks, the Cannons’ 12th in 15 games against the Northern Division co-leaders, so frustrating.

“We’re not a team right now that’s going to go out and get 10, 12, 13 hits,” Cunningham said. “We’ve got to take advantage of the ones we get. And we have to get the little things done, do the basics.”

The Cannons had a runner tagged out at the plate and another caught going to third in what Cunningham thought was a pivotal second inning.

Starter Dan Haren, the St. Louis Cardinals’ second-round pick in 2001, kept the Cannons close until back-to-back Wilmington home runs leading off the seventh earned him a trip to the clubhouse. Switch hitters Eric Nelson and Alejandro Machado, the Nos. 7 and 8 batters for Wilmington, each hit solo shots to right field to break a 3-3 tie.

Cunningham thought the homers less pivotal than the early mistakes.

“I think it’s a different ballgame if we run the bases like we’re taught, like we’re supposed to,” said Cunningham.

The Cannons managed seven hits, including solo home runs from Al Rodgers and Billy Munoz, and pushed across four runs. But the runs they did not get in the second changed the game, Cunningham said.

In the second, Johnny Hernandez singled to left field and Ryan Hamill followed with a line drive to the left field warning track. Hernandez appeared to be waved home on the play and looked like he would score, but a tremendous relay from left fielder Norris Hopper to Machado, the shortstop, to catcher Tony Arnerich turned Hernandez into an easy out.

On the following pitch, Hamill was caught trying to go from second to third on a pitch in the dirt.

Cardinals Director of Player Development Bruce Manno and two other St. Louis officials were among the 2,236 in attendance, sitting behind home plate with radar gun and clipboards displayed. Cunningham didn’t know if that rattled his players or not, but he said he’d find out.

“I don’t know what’s in their heads,” he said.

The manager did praise his team for the way it has “battled” in the second half. Tuesday’s loss dropped the Cannons to 18-18 in the second half, three games behind Wilmington. The Blue Rocks (22-16) are battling Lynchburg for first place in the division.

Haren, who has become the Cannons ace since being called up from Peoria in late June, fell to 2-3. He entered the game with a 2.47 ERA and had watched the bullpen lose three of his leads.

On Tuesday, he surrendered nine hits and five earned runs, though he did throw 60 strikes in 90 pitches.

“Danny, it wasn’t his best outing of the year,” Cunningham said. “But he took us into the seventh still having a chance. He’s going to battle.”

The Blue Rocks’ bullpen eliminated any chance of a Cannons comeback, as Brad Stiles and Freddy DePaula faced 10 batters in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, striking out seven. Closer Robbie Morrison notched his eighth save despite surrendering the homer to Munoz and a single to Hamill.

He struck out two batters in the ninth.

Wilmington starter Danny Tamayo scattered four hits over five innings, though he too reached 90 pitches (55 strikes).

The Cannons scored a run in the third inning without getting a hit.

Jeremy Luster walked to lead off the inning, and following an groundout and pop-up, Christopher Morris slapped a roller to second base. Thomas Lora charged hard, aiming to get the speedy Morris at first, but he picked up his glove too soon. The ball scooted into shallow center field, and Luster scored from second base easily. Morris went to third on a throwing error before Tamayo’s first pitch to Russell Lewis, but the second baseman grounded out to end the inning.

The Cannons also scored in the fourth, when Hamill drove in Skip Schumacher on a groundout, and on Rodgers’ homer in the fifth.

The Blue Rocks hit Haren hard in the fourth, scoring three runs on three hits. Hopper led off with a base hit into right field and then Justin Gemoll took a base when Haren hit him with a pitch. Justin Cowan, the Blue Rocks’ cleanup hitter, laid down a sacrifice bunt that moved the runners to second and third.

Arnerich followed with a first-pitch, two-run single to leftfield. One out later, Nelson, the designated hitter, lined a pitch to the right field wall, allowing Arnerich to score from first for a 3-1 lead.

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