Nationals

Andy Murray keeps his cool on a hot day

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Andy Murray keeps his cool on a hot day

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) On a hot day at the Australian Open, it was perhaps fitting for Andy Murray to be talking about short shorts.

And the weather, of course.

After soaking in an ice bath to cool down, Murray said he was thankful that his match went quickly on Thursday when temperatures reached 106 degrees - and the court felt like a sauna.

``There were very few long rallies. So it worked out well for me because it was really, really tough conditions,'' said Murray, who won in straight sets over Joao Sousa of Portugal 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.

Murray sat between changeovers sipping bottled water and with an ``ice towel'' slung over his neck - a towel packed and bound with chunks of ice.

Union Jacks and Scottish flags flew in the stands, where fans sang a song called ``Andy Style'' to the tune of ``Gangnam Style.''

After the win, a confident Murray tossed his racket to the ground and thanked fans by hurling his sweaty wristbands and a damp towel into the stands.

The 25-year-old Scot has been dubbed ``A New Andy'' at this year's Australian Open.

Unburdened by the pressure that followed him on previous trips to Australia, he arrives this year as the reigning major champion.

Now that he has ended the 76-year drought for British men at the majors, he doesn't have to field the same nagging questions about whether he has the talent to win a Grand Slam.

Which is why the world's No. 3-ranked player was talking about tight shirts and short shorts in his post-match news conference.

The subject of his shirt had come up in the first round when he explained he hasn't bulked up his upper body, but it may have appeared that way because he's wearing a tighter shirt this year.

Elaborating Thursday, he said the change of style was decided on by his sponsor, Adidas, but he didn't mind the snug new fit and preferred it to tops with low, baggy sleeves that can impede the elbow during swings.

``The less material there is on the shirt I think probably the better. There's less to get in the way,'' he said, with his typical deadpan delivery. ``So long as they're tailored somewhat, I think there's no real problem.''

Murray was then asked his personal view on certain men's players who seemed to be wearing shorter shorts this year in a nod to the 1970s.

``I actually wore a pair at Wimbledon,'' he said. ``Not quite like what Ivan (Lendl) and those guys used to wear on the court. I can't see a return to them, to be honest.''

Thinking about it made him smile: ``Yeah, they were a bit too short. Didn't leave too much to the imagination.''

Lendl, the eight-time Grand Slam champion, is Murray's coach and is the man he largely credits with his winning streak and an added aggressiveness that carried him through a breakthrough year in 2012.

On Thursday, Lendl sat in the stands watching Murray, leaning on a towel draped over the hot railing.

Since teaming up with Lendl, Murray was runner-up at Wimbledon, a gold medalist at the London 2012 Olympics and then won his first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open.

He has come tantalizingly close in Australia, where he was a finalist in 2010 and 2011 and a semifinalist in 2012.

Standing in the way of a potential second Grand Slam title for Murray is a likely semifinal against No. 2-ranked Roger Federer and No. 1 Novak Djokovic, whom he could face in the final.

Murray knows his next opponent well - qualifier Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania. The two have trained together ahead of past Australian Opens and practiced together earlier this month at the Brisbane International, where Murray defended his title just before heading to Melbourne.

The 22-year-old Berankis is playing his first Grand Slam in Melbourne and ranked 110th.

``He hits the ball pretty big from the back of the court. He plays aggressive. He's a very flat hitter of the ball,'' Murray said of his opponent. ``It's nice to see him do well because we spend quite a bit of time practicing together.''

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Past Nationals relievers: Where are they now?

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Past Nationals relievers: Where are they now?

It’s no secret that the Nationals bullpen is one of the weakest units in baseball this season. Fans in the nation’s capital have spent two months watching relievers cough up leads and put games out of reach, and the numbers speak for themselves. 

Washington’s team ERA among relievers is an unsightly 7.09 entering Memorial Day Weekend, nearly a full run higher than the 29th-ranked Orioles. As a unit, they’ve pitched fewer innings than any other bullpen, yet have allowed the second-most earned runs.

No one has been immune. Sean Doolittle, by far the best option in 2019, has seen his ERA balloon to 3.68. Justin Miller is the only other regular reliever with an ERA below 5, and he’s at 4.02.

It’s caused much consternation in the fanbase, and for good reason. Where did the Nationals go wrong in building this bullpen? What could they have done differently?

To answer that question, let’s take a look at four relievers who are experiencing various levels of success while no longer in Washington.

Felipe Vazquez

Vazquez has been lights out in Pittsburgh in 2019. He ranks top-10 among relievers in WAR (0.9) and top-12 in ERA (1.25). He holds the sixth-best K/9 (14.54) and is tied for the fourth-most saves in baseball with 13.

Every one of those numbers would lead the Nationals with ease. At 27, Vazquez has turned into one of the elite relievers in the sport. He’s been terrific all three years with the Pirates, and 2019 looks like his best season yet.

Of course, he wasn’t ready to be this guy in 2016 when the Nationals traded him for Mark Melancon. It was a necessary trade at the time, and one that worked out well in a vacuum. Melancon pitched well in Washington and didn’t allow a run in the 2016 postseason.

Right now, the Nats could really use a Felipe Vazquez, but the logic behind their trade at the time was sound.

Blake Treinen

Treinen has already allowed as many earned runs in 2019 (seven) as he did in all of 2018. It’s not a knock on his performance this season, where his 2.59 ERA would still lead the Nationals, but a recognition of just how dominant he was in 2018.

In the modern era of Major League Baseball, it’s just about impossible for a reliever to win the Cy Young. Even with just 80 innings pitched last year, Treinen finished sixth in Cy Young voting and 15th in MVP voting. 

That’s right. He was so good, he got down-ballot votes for MVP. It was a sensational year.

His usually-elite ground ball rate is down this season, which has led to some regression, but it’s still notable he put together a 2018 season that far outshines any individual season the Nats have seen.

It was clear in 2017 he wasn’t capable of performing as the team’s closer, eventually earning a demotion before being traded to Oakland.

Despite his enormous success in the years since the trade, it’s hard to question the Nationals here. Not only did it seem apparent Treinen wasn’t going to figure things out in D.C., but the trade brought back Sean Doolittle, the lone consistently great reliever the Nats have had in recent years.

Brandon Kintzler

Kintzler pitched parts of two seasons in Washington, but ultimately spent exactly one year with the Nationals. In that year, he tossed 68.2 innings while striking out 43 batters and walking 18.

His ERA with the Nationals was 3.54, too high for a high-leverage reliever. He struggled mightily in 2018 after being traded to the Cubs, but has settled down this season to the tune of a 2.96 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 24 innings.

As is the case for just about any halfway-decent reliever, the current Nationals bullpen would benefit from having him, but this isn’t nearly the loss Treinen or Vasquez were.

Shawn Kelley

Kelley was up-and-down in his time with the Nationals. His ERA was below three in 2016 and 2018, but the 2017 season was marred with injuries, inconsistency, and a tendency to allow home runs (a whopping 12 in just 26 innings).

Of course, Kelley was pitching better in 2018, but it wasn’t performance that led to his departure. 

In a blowout Nationals 25-4 victory over the Mets in July 2018, Kelley allowed three earned runs, including a home run. After the home run, he slammed his glove on the ground while staring at the Nats dugout.

The next day, he was designated for assignment as a result of the outburst and never pitched for the Nationals again, traded away a few days later. 

In his 33.2 innings since the trade, Kelley has been terrific. He posted a 2.16 ERA with the Athletics in 2018 and currently holds a 1.59 ERA in 2019 despite pitching his home games in Texas. He’s even filled in at closer with the Rangers, recording five saves so far this year.

Though his removal wasn’t for performance issues like Kintzler's or to acquire proven closers like Treinen’s and Vasquez’s were, the loss of Kelley can be felt just as hard. As is the case with each of these relievers, Kelley’s numbers would lead the Nationals bullpen in just about every category.

For the most part, these moves made sense at the time, for one reason or another. But the Nationals have yet to adequately replace most of these arms, and the 2019 team is suffering as a result.

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Free agent Gerald McCoy to visit Baltimore

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Free agent Gerald McCoy to visit Baltimore

Kick off your holiday weekend with the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

1. One of the most obvious needs for the Ravens is help rushing the passer, and they're hoping to find some of that help on the interior in the form of free agent Gerald McCoy. The longtime Buccaneer DL visited Cleveland last week, but left town without agreeing to a contract.

Reportedly interested in playing for a contender, the former top-five pick is scheduled to visit the Ravens on Tuesday.

2. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is still struggling to throw the ball, as he noted things aren't right yet when it comes to accuracy. Media members noticed the ball wobbling through the air on many throws, and Jackson told them he thinks his hand is too high on the ball. If he's going to successfully run Greg Roman's new offensive scheme, Jackson will eventually need to be able to hit his receivers in stride with greater regularity.

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Rotoworld and Baltimore Ravens for news points.

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