Rhinehart, P-Nats eliminate Keys

Former 11th-rounder plates seven during four-game series

Bill Rhinehart hit 17 homers across three Minor League levels this season. (Tom Priddy/MiLB.com)

By Robert Emrich / Special to MLB.com | September 11, 2010 7:17 PM

It looks like Bill Rhinehart and the Potomac Nationals are peaking at the right time.

Rhinehart went 2-for-4 with a double and three RBIs on Saturday as the P-Nats pounded the Frederick Keys, 10-3, to advance to the Carolina League Championship Series.

After falling to the Keys, 10-9, in Game 1, and trailing early in Game 2, the Nationals came back to take three straight. Coming back is nothing new for Potomac, which won the second-half Northern Division title after finishing under .500 in the first half.

"We just came together as a unit, different guys in the lineup and the pitching staff," Rhinehart said. "Everyone did their part, from offense to defense to pitching. We've been down before this year and no one panicked."

The Nationals captured the 2008 Mills Cup, defeating Myrtle Beach in four games. They failed to make the playoffs in 2009, despite owning the league's second-best overall record at 79-58.

Rhinehart batted .294 with two homers and seven RBIs during the semifinals, leading all playoff participants in the latter two categories.

"The guys in front of me got on, and the pitching staff with guys on have to hit their spots and they left a few over the middle," he said.

The 25-year-old California native spent most of the season with Potomac but also played five games with Triple-A Syracuse and 28 with Double-A Harrisburg. He struggled early, batting .192 in 29 games before the All-Star break, but hit .286 with 10 homers in 56 games after.

"Just going out there every day [was the key]. It's a long season," Rhinehart said. "I started off kind of slow, I just worked with our coaches here and just got the confidence back in my hitting. It's a little easier hitting with guys in front of you on base."

Derek Norris reached base three times, scoring twice and driving in a run. The 21-year-old catcher, who led the league with 89 walks, batted .333 with five runs scored against the Keys.

"He's been a patient hitter lately, he's seeing a lot of pitches, getting his hits but also taking his walks," Rhinehart said. "It's a big deal getting on for the 3-4-5 guys. It sets the tone."

Marcos Frias (1-0) earned the win, allowing three runs on six hits and striking out three over five innings. Carlos Martinez fanned two in two scoreless frames as Nationals relievers gave up just one earned run over 18 innings in the series.

Keys starter Luis Noel (0-1) lasted 2 2/3 innings and surrendered four runs on four hits.

In the Mills Cup Finals, Potomac will face Winston-Salem, which swept Kinston. The Nationals were 8-12 against the the Dash during the season, but Rhinehart was confident they would rise to the occasion.

"We know the series against Winston-Salem is going to be tough," he said. "They are going to be ready for us, we're just going to take it one game at a time. We know they have a great offense, every time we play them they have double-digit hits, and their pitching is pretty good as well. It doesn't matter who we play. As long as we go out there as a team, we should be fine."

Robert Emrich is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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