Nationals

Beamer overhauls Hokies' offensive coaching staff

Beamer overhauls Hokies' offensive coaching staff

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has overhauled his offensive coaching staff after Hokies' worst season in two decades.

Beamer announced Friday that he's hired former Auburn offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler to lead Virginia Tech's offense, former Stanford wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead to take over the Hokies' wideouts, and another Auburn assistant, Jeff Grimes, to coach the offensive line. Grimes was Auburn's O-line coach.

The Hokies finished 7-6, in large part because of their inability to run the ball consistently and a regressing passing game. Virginia Tech's streak of eight consecutive 10-win seasons came to end and the Hokies had to win their last two regular season games just to qualify for the Russell Athletic Bowl - where they beat Rutgers 13-10 in overtime.

The moves mark the second major overhaul of Beamer's offensive staff in seven years, and the departures of three staffers brought on during the last one. Quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain was fired, receivers coach Kevin Sherman left for the same position at Purdue and Curt Newsome left the program, reportedly to head back to James Madison, although the school has not said if he was fired or resigned.

Bryan Stinespring, the offensive coordinator since 2001 and a 20-year member of Beamer's staff, has been moved to recruiting coordinator. Considered the Hokies' best recruiter, he will also continue to coach tight ends.

The new coaches will be introduced on Jan. 25.

While Stinespring had the coordinator's title, O'Cain has called the plays for the past two seasons.

The Stinespring-O'Cain combination directed a record-setting season in 2011, largely on the legs of NFL first-round draft choice David Wilson at tailback and the arm of emerging quarterback Logan Thomas. Wilson ran for a school-record 1,709 yards, and Thomas had a school-record 3,482 total yards.

But 2012 marked a return to the inconsistency that often prompted Hokies fans to call for change. Virginia Tech finished 81st nationally in both total offense (376.7 ypg) and scoring (25.08 ppg). Thomas had 3,500 yards of total offense, but completed just 51.3 percent of his throws and had 16 interceptions.

Beamer, who is intensely loyal to his staff and often cites the absence of significant turnover for allowing the Hokies to climb the ranks into college football's elite, decided change was in order. He is thought to have interviewed several candidates for the coordinator's job during the past few weeks.

Loeffler, 38, has coached for 15 seasons in the NFL and in college. He was the offensive coordinator at Temple in 2011 when the Owls finished 9-4 and ranked seventh in the nation with an average of 256.5 rushing yards. He moved to Auburn last season, and the inexperienced Tigers struggled mightily. They averaged just 305 yards, 115th out of 120 teams at the FBS level, and were 112th in scoring (18.67).

He has also coached six quarterbacks who went on to play in the NFL, including New England's Tom Brady and Florida's Tim Tebow, who left the Gators with five NCAA and 14 Southeastern Conference records.

Grimes, 44, spent five seasons at Auburn, including the national championship year in 2010, and worked with Loeffler last season.

Moorehead, 32, has been an assistant at Stanford for the past three years.

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

WASHINGTON -- If any bump was coming from a return home or Mike Rizzo’s public pregame words or simply being out of New York, it was not apparent Friday.

Three errors committed in the first four innings. The first reliever into the game, Joe Ross, allowed three earned runs before recording a second out. Starter Kyle McGowin barely made it through the fourth inning of an eventual and desperately needed 12-10 win.

The rally kept the Nationals from creeping toward of new level of dubiousness in this muck-filled season. They pushed 2 ½ games in front of the Marlins for the National League’s worst record. Juan Soto hit a three-run homer in the eighth. Matt Adams followed with a solo homer. Sean Doolittle had trouble, but closed the game. Those efforts kept this from being another story about the bullpen (five more runs allowed Friday).

So, here’s a different question to ponder (there are a million or none, depending on point of view) after Friday night: How did the Nationals end up with 27-year-old McGowin starting a surprisingly pivotal game?

The nuts-and-bolts version is because of injuries. Both Anibal Sanchez -- who threw a simulation game Friday -- and Jeremy Hellickson are on the injured list. The deeper answer comes from looking at the recent erosion of pitchers in Washington’s minor-league system.

McGowin made his second career start Friday because there is no one else. No hot minor-league prospect, no early-round pick who has been up and down and received another shot, no veteran stashed in the minor leagues for such situations.

Looming behind all of this is the 2016 trade of three pitching prospects to acquire Adam Eaton. Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning were all sent to Chicago for Eaton’s advanced-stats and cost-friendly contract. The departure of three starting pitchers in one shot reverberated Friday when the Nationals were forced to use McGowin in a spot start as the seventh starter of the season.

This is more a volume than quality issue. Neither Lopez or Giolito were effective in limited chances at the major-league level with Washington before being traded. Once in Chicago, Giolito became arguably the worst pitcher in baseball in 2018. No one allowed more earned runs or walks that season. Lopez had a quality season, finishing with 3.1 WAR.

The two have reversed outcomes in 2019. Giolito has rediscovered his velocity. After throwing 100 mph in the 2015 Futures Game, his velocity caved. Giolito was down to 92-93 mph with the Nationals and, initially, Chicago. Thursday, he hit 97 mph in the ninth inning of a shutout against Houston. The outing drove his ERA down to 2.77.

Lopez is struggling. His 5.14 ERA is venturing toward Giolito’s status of a year ago. His walk total -- always the concern -- is up, as are his homers allowed.

But what Giolito and Lopez have, at age 24 and 25, respectively, is potential. Giolito, who often fussed with his mechanics in Washington, has discovered a delivery to expedite his fastball and an approach to boost the effectiveness of his changeup. Lopez’s 2018 showed he can be a solid back-end rotation member. They were expected to follow behind Erick Fedde and Joe Ross in establishing a future rotation. But, those two are in Chicago, Ross is in the bullpen, where he gave up three runs Friday, and Fedde just returned to the rotation after being moved to the bullpen.

So, it was McGowin on the mound Friday. Four innings, six hits, five runs, one walk, two strikeouts, two home runs allowed. Why? No better choice is available.

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Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

The Nationals welcomed 10-year-old cancer patient Parker Staples as the newest addition to their team on Friday, in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic Foundation.

While battling lymphoma, Staples learned he would receive a wish and didn’t hesitate about what he wanted to choose. After being sidelined for two years during treatment, Parker couldn’t wait to celebrate his remission by becoming part of his favorite baseball team. 

Staples was introduced to his new teammates and got signed autographs from Matt Adams, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, and Yan Gomes. He also got to spend time hitting and playing catch with his new teammates, as well as being interviewed as the newest member of the team. It gets even better than that, Staples threw the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park leading up to the Marlins-Nationals game Staples 

"My favorite moment was throwing the first pitch. It was really cool," Staples said.

"Probably the biggest day of my life."

The Nationals are hosted the Miami Marlins in the series opener Friday.

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