One day after a Champagne-soaked division-clinching win, Taylor Hill took the mound for Potomac to continue what's become a nightmare for the Frederick Keys. No one has any answers, not even Hill.
"They're a good team, it's a great lineup, I don't even know," Hill laughed. "I make my pitches and I got lucky."
The Nationals prospect turned in his third straight dominant effort against Frederick on Friday, tossing a complete-game two-hitter as Class A Advanced Potomac blanked the Keys, 4-0, in the first game of a doubleheader.
Hill (5-2) threw 60 of 91 pitches for strikes, fanning four and issuing one walk for his first win since May 16. That statistic doesn't begin to reveal his success against Frederick this season. In three starts, the Vanderbilt product has held the Keys to six hits. That's it. Over 20 scoreless innings, he's walked three and struck out 16 en route to a pair of wins.
"Really, I'm just getting back to throwing strikes and keeping it down and letting my defense take over," Hill said. "That's my game. I'm not going to go out and strike out 10 guys. I don't wanna walk guys, and so in that regard it was a success. Our catcher, Cole Leonida, called a great game, our defense played great, too. I kept the ball down and the couple ones I left up, we caught deep out on the warning track."
Hill gave up a single to the first batter he faced, John Ruettiger -- the nephew of the real life Rudy. But he was caught stealing and Jerome Pena and Nick Delmonico struck out.
Allan de San Miguel worked a two-out walk in the second, but Hill pitched around it en route to retiring five straight before the Keys' other hit, Delmonico's one-out single in the fourth. The 24-year-old right-hander retired the final 11 batters to finish off his second shutout of the season and third of his career.
"They hit some balls hard right at guys," Hill said. "Some days, that's how it works out; and some days, they fall in for bloop hits. I think it's just a combination of a lot of stuff, and everyone has been playing great defense."
The win came a day after Potomac clinched the Carolina League North Division first-half crown, ensuring the team a spot in the playoffs. At 40-27, the P-Nats own the league's best record.
"We had a little Champagne shower afterward and then we all went out as a team, so it was a fun time," Hill said. "It's good to finally clinch and not have to think about it anymore. That was good for our team."
Hill's other shutout this year also came in a doubleheader when he held the Keys to one hit over seven innings on April 20 en route to earning league Pitcher of the Week honors. He also limited them to three hits and a pair of walks over six innings in a no-decision on June 9.
Following a pair of rough outings, Hill has been lights-out in his last three starts. Since June 3, he's allowed one run on eight hits over 26 2/3 innings. He surrendered seven runs in each of the not-so-good outings, forcing him to reevaluate his mechanics on the mound.
"I think I'd been leaving some balls up and I wasn't making any adjustments in the game. Those two rough starts, in between them in the bullpen and with our pitching coach, Chris Michalak, is finally when I started pitching well," he said. "I'm making adjustments. I was pulling off, leaving the ball up instead of driving through, and Michalak was a big part of that.
"Our catcher was always telling me, 'Watch that front shoulder.' It's been working out really well. They keep me locked in, they pull me back. I want to make the adjustments on my own, but it's not always that easy. They do a good job."
The Keys don't play Potomac again until Aug. 14. And with the way Hill has pitched against them, they may be in the clear when it comes to facing him a fourth time. The 2011 sixth-round Draft pick ranks ninth in the league with a 3.14 ERA to go with 52 strikeouts over 77 1/3 innings.
The P-Nats gave their starter all the support he needed in the fourth when Jason Martinson raced home on Adrian Sanchez's sacrifice bunt, Randolph Oduber lined an RBI single and Mike Gilmartin followed with a two-run single.
Hill said it's been a fun ride to play for a winning team in his third season with the Nationals.
"It's great. The morale and all that is so good when you win. And on top of that, we have great teammates too," he said. "We don't have guys in there showboating or whatever, they go out and play. That's been our thing with the whole Nationals organization, they preach going out and getting your work done. When you do well, that's great, but when you do bad, that's when they're watching. We went through some rough patches, but we've been putting it all together and it's paying dividends for us."
Keys starter Tim Berry (4-4) was charged with four runs on nine hits over six innings.
Potomac dropped the nightcap, 9-4, as Frederick got home runs from Delmonico, Michael Ohlman and Delvi Cid.