Nationals

AP Source: Phillies to sign Chad Durbin

AP Source: Phillies to sign Chad Durbin

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Looking to fortify their bullpen, the Philadelphia Phillies turned to a familiar face.

A person familiar with the deals says the Phillies have agreed with veteran reliever Chad Durbin on a one-year contract. Durbin returns to Philadelphia where he played a key role in the bullpen on the 2008 World Series championship team.

The deal reached on Monday is pending a physical, according to the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the team didn't make an official announcement.

Durbin was 4-1 with a 3.10 ERA in a career-high 76 games for Atlanta last season.

The righty was 5-4 with a career-best 2.87 ERA in 71 appearances with the Phillies in `08. He left Philadelphia after the 2010 season and posted a 5.53 ERA in Cleveland in 2011 before returning to the NL with the Braves.

The 34-year-old Durbin is 42-47 with a 4.95 ERA in 440 games over 13 seasons with six teams.

Durbin is expected to pitch in middle relief. The Phillies signed Mike Adams to fill the setup role in front of closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Durbin gives manager Charlie Manuel another veteran option in a bullpen that struggled last year. The Phillies had a tough time protecting leads before Papelbon entered in the ninth. Their 4.89 ERA in the eighth was next-to-last in the majors, and they allowed a league-worst 24 home runs in the inning.

With Papelbon, Adams, Durbin and lefty Antonio Bastardo filling four spots, the Phillies enter spring training with three openings in their bullpen. Youngsters Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, Mike Stutes and Jake Diekman along with Jeremy Horst and Raul Valdes will be among those competing to make the roster.

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GM Mike Rizzo responds to criticism on Nationals visit to the White House

GM Mike Rizzo responds to criticism on Nationals visit to the White House

After winning their first-ever World Series title, the Nationals visited the White House to meet with President Donald Trump to celebrate the victory.

But recently, General Manager Mike Rizzo has clarified why the team made the trip. Many have accused the team of making a political statement with the visit, and Kurt Suzuki donned a Make America Great Again hat during his speech at the podium.

“We weren’t trying to make a political statement, whatsoever,’’ Rizzo told Bob Nightengale of USA Today. “We just thought that the honor and the tradition of champions being invited to the White House and the office of the president, and especially us being the hometown team in their backyard two miles away from the capital, is something that should be done."

Rizzo also clarified that each player had a choice on whether or not they wanted to visit. Sean Doolittle and a host of others opted out of the visit.

"Obviously, each player could make their own decision whether they wanted to attend, but most of the players were excited by it," Rizzo said. “The office of the president is something that we respect. We felt we should be there. We also felt we should do it with everyone still in town there, or not do it at all."

Rizzo explained that he has voted for democrats and republicans in the past, and that there was no way to win in this situation when it came to visiting the White House.

“You’re in a situation where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t," Rizzo noted. "I don’t have a political bone in my body. I vote for who I want. I don’t care what the party is. I vote every election. I’m listed as an Independent. My dad was a city worker in the city of Chicago for 45 years. We voted Democrat for the [Richard] Daleys a lot. I voted Republican sometimes."

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Rui Hachimura's fame in Japan is producing big benefits for Wizards, other members of team

Rui Hachimura's fame in Japan is producing big benefits for Wizards, other members of team

WASHINGTON -- Rui Hachimura is a big deal in his home country of Japan and the Washington Wizards are beginning to see the early returns from a business perspective.

Their corporate office took notice within 24 hours of him being drafted in June when Japanese companies started reaching out and when over 40 members of Japanese media showed up for his introductory press conference. Then, they saw the social media engagement, how highlights of his first game set a company record for video views.

That led to the creation of a Japanese wing of their digital media department, a new Twitter account catered towards Japanese fans and a sponshorship with the company NEC. Now, they have two top executives at Monumental Sports, Raul Fernandez and Jim Van Stone, flying to Japan for the second time in six weeks to negotiate more sponsorship deals.

Fernandez and Van Stone have over 20 meetings lined up over the course of a week in Tokyo.

"I think the opportunity for us to go over there and introduce our brand, the Washington Wizards, to Japan is very humbling. Rui has been a phenomenal addition," Van Stone said.

"When you look at worldwide distribution of the NBA, it just continues to grow and blossom. I think Japan is really that next big market and opportunity for us. I think Rui is going to help to really establish that."

Fernandez said the first trip to Japan was an eye-opening experience. They had seen the social media engagement numbers from content involving Hachimura, but it was different to actually go there.

"It was terrific to actually see firsthand in Tokyo the excitement, the energy and the passion and the following for Rui. Clearly, fans in Japan have been following his career in college, but as he's made this transition to the pros, as we look forward to the countdown to the Olympics, there's just an extra level," Fernandez said.

Though the Wizards have international clients, most of them are domestic. Their executives take annual trips to meet with companies in London, UK and the United Arab Emirates.

Japan, though, is a new venture for them and the league and it has the Wizards wondering how far it can go, and whether it can reach the level of other star athletes in their home countries.

"If you think about hockey and Washington, D.C. and how the Capitals came here and began to grow, really the explosion was with a star. It was Ovechkin," Fernandez said. "When people can identify, follow that journey and be part of a journey, that's when I think it becomes viral. That's what we've got with Rui Hachimura here."

Van Stone said he would like the Wizards to become the "team of Japan," not unlike the Houston Rockets and their rise in China due to Yao Ming. Ming was a sensation over a decade ago and as he rose, so did the brand of the Rockets and for individuals on the team. Some of his teammates got shoe and other endorsement deals in China because of the exposure Ming brought.

According to Fernandez and Van Stone, the one member of the Wizards besides Hachimura who has started to catch on in Japan is head coach Scott Brooks. That may be surprising, but it's something the Wizards have noticed.

"Konichiwa," Brooks said when informed. "So, when I go to the 2020 Olympics, I won't have to buy a meal?"

"Basketball in Japan, it's getting bigger right now," Hachimura said. "[Brooks] is always on the TV."

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