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AP Sources: Browns meet 2nd time with Whisenhunt

AP Sources: Browns meet 2nd time with Whisenhunt

CLEVELAND (AP) The Browns are taking a second look at former Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, who could rejoin Cleveland following a stint as an assistant 14 years ago.

Two people familiar with the meeting said Whisenhunt had a second interview with the Browns on Thursday.

Whisenhunt, recently fired after six seasons with the Cardinals, visited the Browns away from their headquarters in Berea, Ohio, said one person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the search.

The team met with Whisenhunt last week in Arizona, where Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner are known to have conducted interviews with at least four other candidates. Whisenhunt went 45-51 in six regular seasons - he was 4-2 in the playoffs - and led the Cardinals to their only Super Bowl appearance.

The Browns are expected to interview Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. The Colts granted permission for the Browns to speak with Arians, who was released from the hospital on Wednesday after being treated for an inner ear infection that forced him to miss last week's playoff loss in Baltimore.

Already during the second week of their search, the Browns have interviewed Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman, Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. The team will not comment on any interview or candidates until they have an agreement with the 14th coach in team history.

The Plain Dealer was first to report Whisenhunt's visit.

A second interview would seem to indicate a strong interest in Whisenhunt, a former NFL tight end who worked as a special teams coach with Cleveland in 1999 - the Browns' expansion rebirth. He's the first candidate known to have a second interview with the Browns, who fired Pat Shurmur one day after completing a 5-11 season - their fifth straight with at least 11 losses.

The Cardinals also let Whisenhunt go on Black Monday, Dec. 31, cutting ties with the winningest coach in franchise history and the one who helped resurrected a sad-sack franchise.

Arizona started this season 4-0, but the Cardinals lost 11 of their last 12 and finished with the NFL's lowest-ranked offense.

Included in that season-ending slide, Arizona was shut out 58-0 by Seattle. Afterward, Whisenhunt apologized ``to our fans and everyone associated with our organization. That was embarrassing.''

The Cardinals have only had three winning seasons in 28 years, and two came under Whisenhunt, who had one year left on a $5.5 million contract when he was fired.

Whisenhunt spent six seasons as an assistant in Pittsburgh, the final three as offensive coordinator under Bill Cowher before he was hired by the Cardinals.

He inherited a team given little chance to compete and turned them into a .500 squad in his first season. The next year, with Kurt Warner at quarterback, the Cardinals made an unexpected run to the Super Bowl, where they lost a 27-23 thriller to the Steelers.

Arizona won a franchise-record 10 games the next season and beat Green Bay 51-45 in an overtime playoff classic. But the Cardinals were routed the next week by New Orleans and Warner retired.

Warner's departure began Whisenhunt's slide in the desert. The Cardinals went 5-11 in 2010 and 8-8 in 2011.

As a former minority owner with Pittsburgh, Haslam is very familiar with Whisenhunt, who would come in with an understanding of the AFC North.

Last week in Arizona, the Browns interviewed Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Oregon coach Chip Kelly, Syracuse's Doug Marrone and Penn State's Bill O'Brien.

Kelly was once thought to be the top name on Cleveland's list, but the club backed off because he seemed uncertain about jumping to the NFL. Marrone was hired by Buffalo and O'Brien, the Big Ten's coach of the year, returned for a second year with the Nittany Lions.

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Max Scherzer is having the best month of his career

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Max Scherzer is having the best month of his career

Max Scherzer’s black eye receded from the full-circle package to a dark half-moon before he took the mound in Miami. And his memory reminded him of the last time he was there. It was April 20 and produced his worst start of the season: 5 1/3 innings, 11 hits, six earned runs, a loss to drop his record to 1-3 and raise his ERA to 4.34. The latter number has declined in every start since.

Scherzer’s eight innings of one-run ball Tuesday night against the Marlins drove his ERA down to 2.52. His league-leading strikeout total again increased by 10 for the fourth consecutive game. He walked no one. It took just 94 pitches -- 71 strikes -- to reach that point Tuesday in the Nationals' 6-1 win.

Two questions emerged after the outing: Is Scherzer back in the National League Cy Young Award race? Is this the best month of his career?

The first is an easy yes. His 4.2 WAR (according to Fangraphs) coming into the night was by far the best of any pitcher in the major leagues. National League ERA leader Hyun-Jin Ryu is second in the NL at 3.3. Scherzer leads the National League in innings pitched, strikeouts, starts and strikeouts per nine. He is third in strikeout-to-walk ratio, fourth in WHIP, fourth in OPS against, seventh in batting average against. In a nutshell, Scherzer is again dominating while doing the heavy lifting. He makes every start. He gets into the seventh inning or later 58.9 percent time. He handles all comers.

His June blitz, in particular, has put him back in the Cy Young discussion. Following Tuesday night’s man-handling of Miami, Scherzer has a 0.97 ERA in the month. He’s struck out 54 and walked five. His WHIP is 0.70. Each start has lasted seven innings or more. He’s thrown 70 percent of his 536 pitches for strikes.

Why is he so diabolical? Look at the first three innings Tuesday against the Marlins. A 14-pitch first included some effort and 10 fastballs. Scherzer picked up no swinging strikes on those fastballs, which meant the eager Marlins were getting a good look at the pitch. So, he changed.

In the second inning, Scherzer threw five four-seam fastballs, four sliders/cutters, (Scherzer calls his 90-mph pitch often identified as a “cutter” his “power slider”), three changeups and three curveballs. That mix produced five swinging strikes.

In the third inning, six fastballs, five sliders, one changeup, three swinging strikes.

Which is the complication for the opposition. He will move off whatever is not working and immediately dispatch a fresh bouquet. He can command all of it, throw any of it when he wants, and he’s been obsessing over it for almost a week. Good luck.

An age-35 season is not supposed to be a time of ascension, but, as he is wont to do, Scherzer appears to be running against perceived norms. 

June of 2017 is the only month of his career to challenge June of 2019 for personal supremacy. The numbers that month: 0.99 ERA, 36 ⅓ innings pitched, 51 strikeouts, six walks, a 0.55 WHIP. He made five starts that month. He’s already made five this June, struck out more batters and walked fewer while carrying a lower ERA.

Scherzer has a start remaining this month. It comes against one of his former teams, the Detroit Tigers. No major-league club has scored fewer runs. That mix should further define this as the best month of Scherzer’s Hall-of-Fame bound career and help answer the Cy Young question, too.

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Orioles' past and future intersect during jam-packed day at Camden Yards

Orioles' past and future intersect during jam-packed day at Camden Yards

If you were looking for a moment in Tuesday’s game that exemplified the proverbial passing of the torch in Baltimore, it came early.

In the top of the third inning, past Oriole superstar Manny Machado crushed his 100th career Camden Yards home run. It was especially fitting that the ball traveled far enough (455 feet, to be exact) to land in the *visitor* bullpen.

In the middle of the fourth inning, future Oriole superstar (fingers crossed) Adley Rutschman was introduced to a sea of adoring fans wearing orange and black, a sight the former Oregon State Beaver is all too familiar with.

It was hard to tell which player received the louder ovation. The fact that both players, neither of whom was playing for the Orioles Tuesday night, elicited such receptions highlights the crossroads this franchise finds itself at.

Manager Brandon Hyde spoke to this effect pregame.

“Obviously when the game starts I’m going to try to win the game and go with the guys we have,” Hyde told reporters. “I’m also looking at the big picture. I think everybody is really aware of where we are organizationally. It’s the start of the process we laid out months ago. Anytime we get extremely talented guys in our organization, it’s bright, and it feels good, and there’s excitement. And I totally understand it and I feel that too.”

Fans could be forgiven for forgetting there was even a game to be played Tuesday evening, with the excitement surrounding Rutschman’s introduction and the long-building buzz for Machado’s return coinciding on the same day. That can be true of the state of the franchise overall right now.

It’s easy to talk about top draft picks and high-level prospects in the minors, but there are games going on every night for the big league club as well. But with another historic season taking place on the field, it’s much more appealing to look elsewhere.

Adley Rutschman provides a level of hope fans can’t get from the Major League roster, and Hyde recognizes that.

“We’re just looking to get talent, guys that can be impact players,” Hyde explained. “You don’t want to label a guy or put too much pressure on someone, but obviously he’s done a lot of really good things at the amateur level and we’re really excited to have him in our organization. So there’s a lot of excitement.”

The Orioles manager came to Baltimore from a Chicago Cubs franchise known for developing high-end talent.

“I was the farm director when we drafted Bryant, obviously saw Almora and Baez and all those guys,” Hyde answered when asked how Rutschman compares. “He’s along those lines of being a real mature kid, looking forward to go play, you can tell he’s really excited and we’re obviously looking forward to getting him going and watching him play.”

Of course, it’s not just former Cubs prospects who have provided a template for success Rutschman can follow. Somebody a little closer to home just so happened to be sitting in the third base dugout Tuesday night.

“Just soak it all in, enjoy it all," Manny Machado told the media to laughter when asked what advice he would give Rutschman. "You know I wasn’t a number one overall pick, so it’s different. I mean just enjoy yourself. It’s an opportunity that he worked for his entire life to get to that situation, he finally got drafted by a ballclub...the only advice I can give is to continue to have fun, just enjoy yourself every moment of the way and just keep working as hard as you possibly can to reach your goals. Just because you got picked, one of those goals is scratched off, but there’s so many more to be accomplished. Just keep working as hard as you can to be the best person you can be, the best ballplayer you can be, and everything else will just take care of itself.”

It’s a mature response from a matured player, one who not too long ago found himself in the same position as Rutschman: top prospect for a franchise desperate to field a winner.

Trying to build that winner is GM Mike Elias, who emphasized just how critical bringing in a player like Rutschman is.

“This was the biggest decision this organization is going to make this year, and we couldn’t be more thrilled with the outcome,” Elias said Tuesday. “We’re looking for building blocks and found a big piece of that with Adley.”

It’s going to be a few years until Rutschman is able to truly take over the mantle of face of the Orioles. As Hyde reminded the media, “it’s still so far away.”

For now, Rutschman will have to settle for face of the rebuild, a position Machado was all-too-familiar with. 

But even an elongated timeline couldn’t keep Tuesday from feeling like a milestone in the history of the franchise, at the intersection of it’s past, present and future. It was a figurative passing of the torch, if not a literal one.

It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all. Fans at the park felt that as they welcomed back Manny Machado with open arms.

And if their warm reception for Adley Rutschman is any indication, they are more than ready to love again.

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