Capitals

Leyland, Tigers must find new closer in bullpen

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Leyland, Tigers must find new closer in bullpen

DETROIT (AP) Jim Leyland freely admits that at least one role on his pennant-winning team is very much up in the air.

The Detroit Tigers let free-agent closer Jose Valverde go after he struggled toward the end of last season, leaving that spot open for any number of candidates. With spring training less than three weeks away, Leyland realizes he'll have some major decisions to make with his bullpen, but the veteran manager isn't shying away from discussing it.

``I'm concerned about it, to be honest with you, but it's certainly not a panic mode,'' Leyland said. ``I think we have some people there that can do it.''

The Tigers were at Comerica Park on Saturday, where the field was coated with snow. The appearance was part of their TigerFest event, and there is plenty of interest among fans in who will take over as the closer. General manager Dave Dombrowski was taking questions when a member of the audience asked him about Brian Wilson, the talented reliever who is recovering from elbow surgery and was not offered a contract by the San Francisco Giants.

``Remember, he wants to be a closer,'' Dombrowski said. ``We're really not in that position to be able to make him that promise at this time. He's still coming back from an injury.''

Detroit hasn't added anyone who would be considered a definite candidate to close games this season, and right now the Tigers sound as though they're ready to let 22-year-old right-hander Bruce Rondon compete for the job. Rondon has never pitched in the big leagues, but he had a 1.53 ERA across three levels in the minors last year.

Leyland plans to spend some time getting to know Rondon during spring training, and he's particularly interested to see how the youngster bounces back from adversity. Rondon struck out 66 hitters in 53 innings last year, but he also walked 26.

``He's a very bright kid, and I can't wait to see what he's got in spring training,'' catcher Alex Avila said.

If Rondon doesn't win the job outright, Leyland is willing to close games by committee. When Valverde faltered toward the end of last season, left-hander Phil Coke was able to fill in during the playoffs.

Detroit has depth in relief, including Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel - and even lesser-known candidates with high strikeout rates such as Al Alburquerque and Brayan Villarreal.

``I'm not afraid to mix and match. I think I can do that pretty good,'' Leyland said. ``This is a real sensitive subject. We have guys that can close a game, but I'm not sure - other than potentially Rondon - whether we have guys that can close every game.''

Detroit returns the core of a team that won the American League pennant last year, and there are a number of roles that are ``etched in stone,'' as Leyland likes to say. That includes every position except left field, as well as the top four spots in the starting rotation.

It does appear as though there could be a competition for the fifth starter's spot between Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly, but Porcello has plenty of experience and Smyly began last year in the rotation.

So the issues Leyland has to resolve are obvious - and fairly limited. That doesn't mean Detroit will cruise this year, of course. The Tigers were expected by many to win the AL Central easily in 2012, but they didn't overtake the Chicago White Sox until late in the season.

There may be moments this year when fans will again be disillusioned with Leyland's team - but it's a long season.

``It's not going to be easy,'' Leyland said. ``They're going to fire me about five times again this summer, but I don't mind second-guessing. I think that's healthy.''

NOTES: Leyland said DH Victor Martinez is ``ready to go'' after missing last season with a knee injury. But the Tigers don't want to raise expectations too much. ``He's perfectly healthy, but when you haven't seen a pitch at 98 mph for the whole year, you don't know how long it's going to take to get readjusted,'' Leyland said.

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Game 61: Capitals at Panthers Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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USA TODAY Sports

Game 61: Capitals at Panthers Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Florida Panthers

Where: BB&T Center, Sunrise, Fla.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Panthers will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Panthers game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME?

The Capitals (34-19-7) take on the Panthers (26-25-6) Tuesday, February 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Florida.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME ON?

The Capitals-Panthers game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:30 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Panthers
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:30 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Panthers game:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Michal Kempny - Brooks Orpik

Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches: Alex Chiasson, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME?

The Capitals-Panthers game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

CAPITALS-PANTHERS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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Need to Know: The most underrated Redskins events of 2017

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Need to Know: The most underrated Redskins events of 2017

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, February 22, 20 days before NFL free agency starts.

I’m out this week so I’ll be re-posting some of the best and most popular articles of the past few months. Some may have slightly dated information but the major points in the posts still stand. Thanks for reading, as always.

The underrated Redskin moments of 2017

Originally published 12/29/17

Sometimes in the NFL, something happens that grabs headlines and appears to be a momentous event that has ripple effects that will last all season and perhaps beyond. Other times something that is greeted with a yawn by fans and the media turns out to be something with lasting impact. Here, in no particular order, are three underrated events from 2017. Tomorrow we’ll look at three events that were overrated at the time they happened.  

Beating the Rams in Week 2—Nobody got particularly excited when the Redskins went to the LA Memorial Coliseum and beat a Rams team that had gone 4-12 in 2016. Sure, there was a belief that they were in good hands with Sean McVay but nobody saw them as anything better than a middle of the pack team. The win looks much more impressive now as the 11-4 Rams have locked up their division with a playoff game in their future.

Drafting safety Montae Nicholson—He was a fourth-round pick who had a shoulder injury and appeared to be a reach. But once he got on the field, the reasons the Redskins drafted him became apparent. His range and hard hitting had an immediate impact on the game. Nicholson had problems staying on the field and he will finish the year on IR so his impact this year was diminished. Regardless, he has a good chance of being part of the solution to a position with which the Redskins have had issues for years.

Ty Nsekhe’s injury—Against the Raiders in Week 3, Shawn Lauvao’s facemask had an issue and he had to leave the game for a play. In came Nsekhe without an opportunity to warm up. He suffered a core muscle injury and he had to undergo surgery. His absence didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but Trent Williams suffered a knee injury the next week and other offensive linemen were sidelined with injuries over the next several weeks. Nsekhe was inactive until the Week 10 game against the Vikings and he didn’t start a game until the Thanksgiving game against the Giants. He sure would have been useful to have in the lineup instead of T.J. Clemmings or Tyler Catalina.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 7
—NFL Draft (4/26) 63
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 199