Nationals

Arizona RB Beanie Wells returns to face Rams

Arizona RB Beanie Wells returns to face Rams

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Beanie Wells will be back in the Arizona Cardinals backfield on Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

The Rams remember him all too well.

The last time Wells faced them, almost exactly a year ago, he rushed for a franchise-record 228 yards in a 23-20 Arizona victory in St. Louis.

With Wells coming back from an injury and the Rams defense greatly improved, no one is expecting anything close to that this time around. But the presence of a healthy Wells is a welcome addition to a team looking to end a six-game losing streak with a rookie quarterback, Ryan Lindley, making his first NFL start.

``I feel great,'' Wells said. ``I'm excited to finally be able to say `I feel great.' I feel good enough to go out there and do my job at a high level.'''

What was described as a ``severe turf toe'' injury sustained by Wells in Arizona's victory over Philadelphia in week three was the official reason he was placed on the NFL's new inured/designated for return list, but the true benefit was to his right knee, which had not fully recovered after arthroscopic surgery following last season.

``To me it was all for the knee,'' he said. ``My toe, I didn't think it was a big issue, but it is what it is. I feel like it was a blessing in disguise that it did happen because it gave me enough time to get my knee back to where it needed to be.''

Under the new NFL rule, Wells had to be out eight weeks, which translated to seven games because of Arizona's bye week. Shortly after Wells' injury, his replacement Ryan Williams went down with a season-ending ankle injury. That left the running game to LaRod Stephens-Howling, a 5-foot-7 player more accustomed to a situational role.

Arizona's running game virtually disappeared on most Sundays, although Stephens-Howling got the ground game going in last Sunday's 23-19 loss at Atlanta, when he rushed for a career-best 127 yards.

Under the previous rules, the Cardinals either would have had to place Wells on season-ending injury reserve or keep him on the roster even though they knew he wouldn't be playing for quite some time.

``There was a point probably three weeks ago where we had eight or nine guys that were hurt and we couldn't even put 46 out there,'' coach Ken Whisenhunt said after the team's Thanksgiving day practice. ``If Beanie had been on your roster and you couldn't put him out there, that would have been a real hindrance. Even though it's only one spot, it can help. ... I think it's a great rule change and it really worked well for us.''

Wells, drafted by Arizona late in the first round (31st overall) after the Cardinals' 2008 Super Bowl season, is coming off his best season, rushing for 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns in 14 games despite being bothered by the sore knee most of the year. He was unable to participate in summer workouts and didn't begin playing until late in the preseason. When the season began, it was obvious that the 6-foot-3, 229-pound back was not his usual power-running self. When he was hurt, he had gained just 76 yards in 29 attempts, an average of 2.6 yards per carry.

He said he didn't know how long the knee might have kept slowing him down had he not had the two months to recover.

``I don't think it would have been a whole year like that,'' Wells said. ``I just needed time to kind of focus on that, and that's what I could do.''

Watching Arizona's offense, now ranked 31st out of 32 NFL teams - 30th on the ground , struggle so much as a 4-0 start evaporated into a skid that's reached six games and counting was a helpless feeling, he said.

``It's really difficult,'' Wells said. ``Anytime, be it win or lose, if you're not a part of something you feel bad. I'm no different. I feel like I could have been out there and could have helped a little bit more, be it short yardage or goal line whatever the case may be, I feel like I could give it that extra oomph.''

No one expects Wells to come in and carry the ball play after play.

``I think you've got to get a feel for it,'' Whisenhunt said. ``I certainly don't think he's going to get an overload of work because you don't want to do that, but you've got to see how he feels and the rhythm. And I know his game conditioning probably won't be what it needs to be, but luckily we have some other guys that have been playing. LaRod can get in there and do a nice job, but we've got to spread it out.''

Although he missed only five games in his first three seasons, and just two when he was fighting the knee problem a year ago, Wells is aware that his latest issues will add to his reputation of being injury prone, a perception that came with him from Ohio State. The logic is that his power running style makes him susceptible to being hurt.

He noted that he has had a hamstring, toe and knee injury. That's it.

As for fans' perception?

``People are going to make their assumptions and opinions on anything,'' he said.

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Nationals set to enter defining seven-game stretch

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USATSI

Nationals set to enter defining seven-game stretch

WASHINGTON -- Most baseball managers try to operate in monochromatic fashion. They see one goal each day, and it only rests in those 24 hours. Some -- like Davey Martinez -- claim they don’t look at the standings in June. His standard message is to “win today” then move to tomorrow.

Human nature often runs interference on compartmentalization. It even crept up on Martinez on Sunday morning when in the midst of an answer about Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner playing daily. 

“For me, this is a big week,” Martinez said. “We have a chance to make up some ground here. I want these guys readily available to play.”

He’s right. The claim of significance is valid for once in mid-June, not a concept drummed up by overzealous television promos or interminable Internet space. 

The Nationals have seven games in seven days against two teams near the top of the division. Damaged Philadelphia arrives Monday. The Phillies’ bullpen is hurting and ineffective. Bryce Harper could miss the All-Star Game for just the second time in his career. Philadelphia is 6-8 in June. Meanwhile, Atlanta is rolling along. Its lineup remains deep, the pitching functional and Dallas Keuchel set to make his debut here in D.C. next weekend. The Braves hold a 2 ½-game lead in the not-so-great National League East. 

“Not thinking too big picture,” Adam Eaton said. “But knowing we have an in-division rivalry, we’ve got to win those games. It’s important. We’re trying to chase at this point. Not to put too much emphasis on it, but we need to play some really competitive baseball. And we shouldn’t beat ourselves these next four games. Play good baseball and not beat ourselves. If we play the brand of baseball we know how to play, and play clean, we have a good chance.”

Washington is five games under .500. Days are clicking off the calendar. Departing along with them are opportunities to chop at an 8 1/2-game deficit in the division. Following this week, only seven games against Philadelphia remain. However, 13 with Atlanta remain on the schedule, including seven in 10 days in September. The question is if those will matter. Sink this week and they won’t. Pull off a deficit-halving six of seven and everything changes. 

This week’s ramifications will first be felt on the phone lines in a month. The non-waiver trade deadline arrives July 31. Drag back to a double-digit deficit this week and plunk down the “for sale” sign. Rocket through the week and perhaps reinforcements will be found.

Monday brings a dreaded series opener. The Nationals are 6-17 in the first games of series this season. No one knows why. It doesn’t make sense. But, here they are, incapable of winning a first game and constantly playing from behind.

Patrick Corbin will be on the mound attempting to counter the trend. He, like the team when a new opponent shows up, has been in arrears the last three games. Corbin’s ERA dipped to 2.85 following a 116-pitch shutout of Miami on May 25. He’s been bludgeoned since. His ERA is up to 4.11, he will start twice this week, and the Nationals need him to right his ills.

Friday, Corbin threw a bullpen session focused on his line to the plate. Pitching coach Paul Menhart describes what they are trying to accomplish to get Corbin back to the version he was earlier this season:

“His lines and his east-west motion have made it very difficult for him to get the ball to where he wants it to be,” Menhart said. “He needs to be more direct to the plate and have more of a north-south rotation with his upper body and being more stable lower-half wise will allow him to do that and have his deception and hide the ball better and keep that tunnel.”

Corbin agreed. He doesn’t watch much video to cure ruts. He also doesn’t want too much information. The team’s analytics trackers have informed him his arm slot remains in a good place. He thinks his body is still in a running at a high level, dismissing any correlation between his struggles and the workload against Miami. He’s also going through the most common element of reduced success: trying not to chew on it too much.

“I think when I’m away from the field, you think about it more,” Corbin told NBC Sports Washington. “You’re frustrated about it a little bit -- what the heck is going on? But when you get here, you just try to work, try to do things to get better. That’s how I approach it. I’m just looking forward to my next start on Monday going out there and trying to get back to how I know I can pitch.”

Philadelphia arrives after being thumped in Atlanta on Sunday, 15-1. Washington had the opposite day in a 15-5 win. Monday night starts a reckoning of sorts for both. The Nationals will send out their three high-end starters during the four games. Philadelphia is trying to right itself and not let the Braves get out of touch at the top of the division. So, even for the one-day-at-a-time crew, the coming seven carry significant weight, and they’re finally admitting it.

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Capitals re-sign forward Carl Hagelin to a four-year, $11 million contract

Capitals re-sign forward Carl Hagelin to a four-year, $11 million contract

WASHINGTON — The Capitals bolstered their forward depth and its penalty kill by re-signing two-time Stanley Cup champion Carl Hagelin before he hit unrestricted free agency next month. 

Washington has officially re-signed forward Carl Hagelin to a four-year, $11 million contract extension, a move that goes a long way toward re-establishing a third line that had some openings entering the offseason. 

Hagelin, 30, was a pending unrestricted free agent. Washington acquired him from the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 21 just four days before the NHL trade deadline. Hagelin played primarily on the third line – although injuries in the Stanley Cup playoffs pushed him onto the second line. 

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Hagelin had three goals and 11 assists in 20 regular-season games with the Capitals and became an instant staple on the penalty kill. His 47 minutes, six seconds on the PK in those 20 games were enough to rank sixth among all forwards on the team.

Traded twice last season, Hagelin had a total of five goals and 14 assists with the Capitals, Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins in 58 games. He had a sprained knee (medial collateral ligament) with Los Angeles that kept him out for 20 games.  

"[Hagelin] was a good fit,” Washington general manager Brian MacLellan said on April 26. “I thought he fit seamlessly from day one. Really liked him on the third line, the way we used him, we bumped him up obviously with the [T.J.] Oshie injury. Our PK got a lot better. Fits in well with his teammates. It's a really good fit for us, yes." 

The Penguins traded Hagelin to the Kings on Nov. 14. He was a key part of Pittsburgh’s back-to-back Stanley Cup winners in 2016 and 2017, which came at the expense of Washington in the playoffs each time. 

This was the last year of a four-year, $16 million deal that Hagelin signed with the Anaheim Ducks in 2015. He was always viewed as a likely trade chip for Los Angeles, which finished in last place in the Pacific Division and eventually flipped him to the Capitals. 

Even after the disappointing first-round Stanley Cup playoff loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, Hagelin said he was open to re-signing with the Capitals before he hit unrestricted free agency on July 1. His signing follows the trade of defenseman Matt Niskanen on Friday. The NHL Draft is this coming weekend in Vancouver with more moves expected.   

“I liked the fact that I got a good look from the coaches,” Hagelin said on April 26 of his time with the Capitals. “I got to play with good players, I got to play in key situations. I felt comfortable here.”

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