Nationals

Freshmen stepping up at right time for No. 5 Duke

201301261414512925980-p2.jpeg

Freshmen stepping up at right time for No. 5 Duke

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Two freshmen seem to be figuring things out at the right time for No. 5 Duke.

Guard Rasheed Sulaimon has rediscovered his shooting touch after a brief slump. And now that he's a starter, forward Amile Jefferson is doing all the little things that have been asked of him.

With the rookie tandem contributing more, the new-look Blue Devils (17-2, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) hope they can keep moving forward in Ryan Kelly's indefinite, injury-related absence that Sulaimon says ``changed everyone's game.''

Sulaimon is replacing Kelly's perimeter shooting and in the process, giving opponents someone else to worry about besides big man Mason Plumlee and guard Seth Curry. Sulaimon is coming off a season-best 25-point performance against Maryland in which he tied the school's freshman record with six 3-pointers.

In the four full games since Kelly was hurt, Jefferson's playing time increased from roughly 9 minutes per game to 22. His scoring average has more than tripled to 10 points per game and his rebounding average has jumped from 1.9 to 7.

``The coaches just told me to be patient - don't overthink things,'' Jefferson said Tuesday. ``Just come out there and play hard. If you make a mistake, play through it. They know I'm a young guy, I'm a freshman, and their message was just, `Bring energy.'''

Now the challenge for both freshmen is to keep that going Wednesday night during their next test, a visit to Wake Forest to play a team they beat by 18 points earlier this month. The Demon Deacons haven't lost an ACC home game this season while Duke is 0-2 in true road games.

Wake Forest had become Kelly's personal punching bag over the years. Four of his five career 20-point games have come against the Demon Deacons, including a 22-point day in the 80-62 romp 3 1/2 weeks ago at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

But when Kelly went down with an unspecified right foot injury in the Blue Devils' next game against Clemson, they had to reinvent themselves - and that created more opportunities for the freshmen.

``The team had a whole new identity when we lost Ryan,'' Jefferson said. ``Losing him, you almost have to change to continue to have the same sort of success that we had when he was here.''

The 6-foot-11 Kelly created problems for opponents because of his touch from the 3-point line - where he was shooting 52 percent. That forced power forwards to come out to the perimeter to defend him, cleared out the paint and left more space for Plumlee to post up and guards Quinn Cook and Sulaimon to drive.

With Kelly out, opponents can clog the lane with their big men because replacements Jefferson and Josh Hairston haven't shown they can shoot from the outside.

To counter that, the Blue Devils have placed more of a premium on setting screens, pounding the offensive glass harder and kicking those rebounds out to Curry and Sulaimon for 3s - all things Jefferson can do well.

``With (Kelly) being out, it kind of contracted the defense a little bit more and we have to rely on each other that much more just to score - screens, cutting hard, always making the right play,'' Sulaimon said. ``I think we're finally starting to adjust to that, and we're scoring together, and I think that's just going to make us a deadly team.''

Duke struggled to settle into its new identity in road losses at North Carolina State and Miami, but turned a corner last time out in the Maryland rout behind the two freshmen.

Sulaimon, who went 7 of 32 during a rough four-game stretch that included an 0-for-10 showing in the N.C. State loss, simply shot himself out of it. He hit four 3s in an early 1-minute, 45-second span and tied the school record for freshmen set by Trajan Langdon in 1995 and most recently matched last year by Austin Rivers.

``It was all mental,'' Sulaimon said. ``I worked out a lot and in practice, my shots would go in, and in the game, it would be something different. It was just a mind thing and the easiest way to get out of it is just to continue to work out.''

For Jefferson, his production increased at a much higher rate than his minutes did.

He has reached double figures in either points or rebounds in all four games since Kelly went down, and filled up his stat line in 24 minutes against the Terps with 11 points, nine rebounds, and three blocked shots while getting to the free-throw line nine times. He's expected to make his third straight start against the Demon Deacons.

``The more I've been able to get on the floor, the more comfortable I've been,'' Jefferson said. ``And having the opportunity to play more has just helped me progress at a faster rate.''

Quick Links

Williamson homers again, Giants top Nationals 4-3

usatsi_10804002.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Williamson homers again, Giants top Nationals 4-3

SAN FRANCISCO -- Mac Williamson had to dust himself off after crashing into a low padded wall near the stands in left field while chasing a foul ball.

More frustrated than hurt, Williamson took it out on Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark a few moments later after undergoing a series of concussion tests in the dugout.

Williamson homered for the second straight night and third in five games, hitting a tiebreaking shot in the sixth inning to lead San Francisco to a 4-3 victory over Washington on Tuesday night.

"I got pretty lucky," Williamson said. "I felt fine then and I feel fine now. I'm sure once the adrenalin wears off later tonight, tomorrow we'll see how the body feels. I'm sure I'll be a little sore."

Brandon Belt hit his fifth home run in six games, Joe Panik added three hits and scored twice, and the Giants won their third straight and fourth in the last five.

One night after hitting a 464-foot homer in the series opener, Williamson hit a first-pitch solo shot to center off Roark with two outs in the sixth inning that bounced off the top of the wall and broke a 3-all tie. It wasn't as far as Monday's clout -- this one went 423 feet -- but was just as pivotal for the Giants.

"We've talked about what a shot in the arm he's been and he's more than that," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He came through again tonight. Good for him because he's worked hard at it."

Williamson's deciding home run came one inning after he stumbled over the bullpen mound in foul territory and crashed into a low wall near the stands while trying to chase down Bryce Harper's foul ball. Williamson stayed down briefly as team trainers rushed out before getting to his feet.

"I tried to roll my neck a little bit and my head down a little bit when I started going down," Williamson said. "I think that helped break my fall. I was just a little frustrated I didn't come up with the play. I had it in my glove and it came out."

Belt hit a two-run shot off Roark (1-2) in the third.

Michael Taylor had a three-run homer for Washington, which has lost four straight and 14 of 20 since opening the season 4-0.

"It seems like that sixth inning's been biting us in the rear as of late," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We're swinging the bats. We just can't get the big hit with people on base."

Reyes Moronta (1-0) retired six batters for his first career win. Sam Dyson pitched one inning and Hunter Strickland worked the ninth for his fifth save.

The Giants got a run off Roark in the first but left the bases loaded when Evan Longoria struck out looking to end the inning. Belt homered on a 3-2 pitch from Roark in the second to make it 3-0.

Washington tied it on Taylor's three-run homer off starter Ty Blach in the third. Ryan Zimmerman walked and Moises Sierra singled before Taylor's deep drive into the right-field stands.

Roark went into the game 6-0 in seven career games against San Francisco but couldn't find a rhythm this time. He allowed four runs on six hits, walked two and hit a batter and threw a pair of wild pitches.

WHERE DID IT GO?

Panik hit a soft comebacker to Roark in the fifth that glanced off the pitcher's glove then bounced up on the top of his cap before falling to the turf. Roark initially couldn't locate the ball but found it in time to throw to first for the out.

AILING BLACH

Blach allowed three runs and four hits in five innings. After the game, Bochy said the left-hander suffered from food poisoning last week and was given an IV on Monday. "That was a really gutty effort that he gave us," Bochy said.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: Placed RHP Shawn Kelley on the 10-disabled list with ulnar nerve irritation in his right elbow. Infielder/outfielder Matt Reynolds was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse and outfielder Rafael Bautista and infielder Adrian Sanchez were called up.

UP NEXT

Nationals RHP Max Scherzer (4-1, 1.36 ERA) and Giants RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-0, 0.00) take to the mound for the series finale at AT&T Park on Wednesday. Samardzija is making his second start after beginning the season on the disabled list.

Quick Links

Rainout delays Orioles RHP Cobb's reunion with Rays

pjimage_1.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Rainout delays Orioles RHP Cobb's reunion with Rays

BALTIMORE -- The Tampa Bay Rays have to wait at least one more day before taking their swings against former teammate Alex Cobb.

Cobb, now with the Baltimore Orioles, was scheduled to face his old team on Tuesday night before the game was postponed by rain.

Thus, Cobb will start Wednesday in the delayed start of this series between the only two AL East teams with losing records.

The rainout will be made up as part of single-admission doubleheader on May 12.

It was the 27th major league game to be postponed this season, the most related to weather through April since the commissioner's office started keeping records in 1986. Detroit's game at Pittsburgh was washed out later Tuesday, raising the total to 28.

Cobb, 30, spent his entire career with the Rays before signing with Baltimore as a free agent on March 21. Over six years with Tampa Bay, the right-hander was 48-35 and one of the leaders of the staff.

"He was a crucial part to this organization's success," Rays starter Chris Archer said. "He's a big-game pitcher and somebody who's very consistent, very routine oriented. The competitive nature rubbed off on me and rubbed off on the other guys in this clubhouse as well."

Cobb signed a $57 million, four-year deal with the Orioles, who will be counting on him to deliver the same kind of pitching and leadership in Baltimore.

Thus far, it hasn't gone well. Cobb got off to a late start because he missed most of spring training, and since his return he's gone 0-2 with a 15.43 ERA.

"Abbreviation has affected that," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "He's going to get going here. Hopefully he can wait one more start before he does."

Brad Miller was down to bat cleanup for the Rays on Tuesday night before the game was called. Miller knew better than to chat with his old friend beforehand.

"Definitely wouldn't talk to him on his start days," Miller said. "Thought about maybe texting him just to rattle him a little bit, but ... ."

Miller won't know what to think when he sees Cobb wearing the orange and black of the Orioles.

"It's definitely going to be weird seeing him on the mound," Miller said. "I miss Cobb a lot. He was the ultimate competitor."

And that, Miller contends, is what sets Cobb apart from most pitchers.

"He's a bulldog. Really intense, kind of an old-school throwback starting pitcher," Miller said. "He's going to go out there and do anything he can for his team. So that, for me, is obviously his biggest trait."

The rainout came at an opportune time for the Orioles, who are hampered by injuries and have lost nine of 10 games to fall 11 games under .500 (6-17).

Baltimore's projected starting lineup did not include infielder Tim Beckham, who's been bothered by a groin injury and is expected to land on the 10-day disabled list.

With Beckham out and Trey Mancini playing with a tender right knee, manager Buck Showalter would have been operating with a short bench.

Help is on the way: Baltimore claimed utility infielder Jace Peterson on waivers from the New York Yankees. He's expected to arrive Wednesday.