Nationals

Big-game Redskins role reversal for RG3, Shanahan

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Big-game Redskins role reversal for RG3, Shanahan

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) Compare what was said Wednesday by Robert Griffin III and Mike Shanahan. One sounds like a stereotypical coach. The other could be mistaken for an overeager player.

A case of role reversal hit the Washington Redskins on Wednesday. The rookie quarterback, on the day of his Pro Bowl selection, downplayed Sunday's winner-take-all game against the Dallas Cowboys with one-game-at-a-time-type answers, while the veteran hard-nosed coach was the one whose words could be featured on a banner to promote a game that will decide the NFC East.

``It's the biggest stage, but none of us are looking at it that way,'' Griffin said. ``It's another game we have to go out and win, and that's the way we look at it. Every moment in your life is the biggest one at that time, so we look forward to having many more of these, but we've got to make sure we take care of this one.''

Griffin, elected a team captain at midseason, said he'll give his teammates that same even-keel message.

``Basketball, the big game, track, the finals, whatever it is, whenever you play the moment up too much it can become too big to seize the moment,'' said Griffin, whose big moments include winning a bowl game and the Heisman Trophy while at Baylor. ``So you just want to make sure you don't make something so big that you can't grab ahold of it.''

After Griffin left the room, along came Shanahan, who is looking to end a personal playoff drought. The coach won two Super Bowls with John Elway and the Denver Broncos in the 1990s but lost make-or-break games in the final weeks of the 2006 and 2008 seasons. He hasn't been to the postseason since 2005.

``These are the games you'll remember for the rest of your life. Win or go home,'' Shanahan said. ``I don't care what playoff game, when I look back as an assistant or as a head coach, you go back and you think about the great experiences you had or the bad memories you have.

``You want to take advantage of these opportunities when they exist. They don't come around every day. And when they do come around, you want to make sure that you play your best and you prepare yourself the best possible way.

``And you tell that guys that this is not just a normal game. You've got to make sure the attention to detail's there. You can't make mistakes. The concentration level's got to be there.''

Stay medium? Or get pumped? Think of it like any other game? Or treat it as special?

Or somehow do both?

With all due respect to Griffin - who has deservedly won praise all season for having poise beyond his years - the coach probably comes closer to reflecting the attitude in the locker room.

After all, the Redskins haven't been to the playoffs since 2007, and they haven't won a division title since 1999.

``This has only happened to me once before, where if you win that final game, you've got a playoff spot,'' left guard Kory Lichtensteiger said.

``It's a special feeling, and when you go a lot of seasons in a row without really playing for anything meaningful in December, it's quite a change. ... We're going to be hyped up. I don't think there's any way around that.''

The Cowboys-Redskins game has been moved to Sunday night and will mark the end of the regular season. It's possible that Washington (9-6) could lose and still get a wild card berth, but only if the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings both lose earlier in the day.

There was one point on which Shanahan and Griffin agreed: These are the types of games that can make a career.

``At the end of the day, everybody is compared to winning championships, if you like it or not,'' Shanahan said. ``Is it fair all the time? Probably not. But how you're going to be judged or ranked is how you play in those games. They define you, sometimes.''

Griffin has already shown he can handle high-profile games, winning his NFL debut, his Monday night debut and his Thanksgiving debut. He ranks either first or second in the league in passer rating, yards-per-attempt and interception percentage.

He said he'll be able to do more physically against the Cowboys after his sprained right knee prompted coaches to limit the game plan in a 27-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

``Nothing's definite in the league with how you're going to be judged,'' Griffin said. ``But if you play big in the big stages, people tend to write good things about you, so we all want to play well on the big stage.''

While Shanahan's words could be used to market the game, Griffin didn't miss a chance to market himself. He was asked about a $10,000 fine, which he is appealing, levied recently by the NFL for wearing attire from his personal sponsor Adidas instead of league sponsor Nike at a postgame news conference.

``I understand the principle of that. And I respect that,'' Griffin said. ``That why I haven't really worn that much Adidas at all.''

``Three stripes,'' he added with a smile, a reference to the Adidas logo. ``That's all I can say about that. Name-dropping all up in here.''

Griffin got a mention by the NFL later in the day when he, left tackle Trent Williams and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander were the Redskins players selected to the Pro Bowl. All three are first-time selections with distinct stories: the rookie phenom, the athletic lineman who rededicated himself after last year's drug suspension, and the special teams standout finally getting his due.

``You can't play down those kind of things,'' Griffin said. ``I've always said my whole football career that you don't play for awards. They just come. You don't say you're going to win the Heisman. You don't say you're going to win MVP. You go out and you prove it on the field, and if everyone feels that way then they'll give you that award.''

Notes: WR Dezmon Briscoe did not practice Wednesday after missing his flight back from the Christmas break. ``That'll cost a little cash,'' Shanahan said. ... RT Tyler Polumbus (concussion) and LB London Fletcher (sprained left ankle) did not practice, while CB DeJon Gomes (sprained left knee) was limited. ... The Redskins' new bubble paid off Wednesday when a winter storm forced the team inside for practice. A year ago, the players would have piled into cars to drive to a gym or an airport hangar.

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Nationals use time against woeful Marlins to produce first three-game winning streak

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Nationals use time against woeful Marlins to produce first three-game winning streak

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins, 9-6, Sunday to raise their record to 22-31. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Rain, sun, hail and a three-game winning streak showed up at Nationals Park Sunday.

The bad parts -- rain and hail -- put a temporary stall on the proceedings in the fifth inning. Erick Fedde finished his day around the same time. Another five-inning outing for him made him look like a reasonable part of a major-league rotation going forward.

The Nationals scored four runs in the third, four more in the sixth. The earlier four were more notable since they came against Miami left-hander Caleb Smith, one of the better lefties in the National League. Smith entered the game with a 2.38 ERA. His WHIP a mere 0.89. Washington chased him in just three innings.

Handling Smith produced the first three-game winning streak of the season. The Nationals are the last team in MLB to put together such a benign run of success. They also don’t care. The house was on fire when they arrived back to the District on Friday. Miami has served as the get-well (get-better?) card it is expected to be for NL East members throughout the season.

"If you look back, regardless of wins and losses – and we all want to win – the boys fight," manager Davey Martinez said. "They play hard, they’re in every game and now it’s gratifying to see us coming out on top. So, we’ll enjoy this one again and come out again tomorrow, we have another early game and do it again."

Max Scherzer pitches Monday. The Nationals could sweep.

2. Fedde was on the attack from the start. He threw eight pitches for eight strikes in a 1-2-3 first inning. His tempo, mentality and stuff were all on-point.

But, he made it just five innings. Fedde threw 83 pitches, 51 strikes.

Again, Fedde relied mainly on his sinker. He also threw a lot of curveballs.

Trouble was limited. Yan Gomes threw out Miguel Rojas when Rojas tried to move to third with one out in the third. Fedde dealt with seven baserunners total -- three of which were because of walks.

If there was a point to lament on the day, it centers on the three walks (one was intentional after he fell behind against Brian Anderson) in the final three innings.

Otherwise, solid work from Fedde in his second start since being re-inserted into the rotation. He appears to be a more effective pitcher than Jeremy Hellickson. The Nationals need to decide what to do with Hellickson (right shoulder strain) when he feels healthy. They could buy time by sending him on a rehabilitation assignment. That would allow a chance to be sure Fedde is on the track he appears to be. A choice would follow.

"Like I said before, my job here is to make it as tough for them to send me down, whether they want me in the rotation or the pen, I'm happy just to help this team get some wins," Fedde said.

3. James Borque made his major-league debut Sunday. It did not go well.

He and his ambitious mustache entered the game in the top of the ninth. The Nationals led, 9-2.

Borque was called up Saturday. Friends of his drove through the night from the Chicago area to make it to Nationals Park. His parents took a 6 a.m. flight. Patrick Corbin kept Borque in his bullpen seat with a complete game Saturday. The Nationals' expansive Sunday lead gave Borque (pronounced “Burke”) a chance to take the mound.

Borque delivered a four-pitch walk, with the fourth pitch going to the backstop, to the first batter. Fourteen-year veteran Howie Kendrick went over to talk to him.

When Borque reached 2-0 on the next batter, catcher Yan Gomes and pitching coach Paul Menhart went to talk to him.

A 4-6-3 double play delivered the first two outs. A double followed. Garrett Cooper walked. Harold Ramirez picked up an infield single when Brian Dozier could not get a throw off after a sliding stop. Brian Anderson then doubled in three runs.

That was the end for Borque. Four earned runs. Two outs.

"Burkie came into the game, and we’ve got to give him a chance, we’ve got to see what he does, he comes from Double-A," Martinez said. "The fact is, they don’t use a Major League baseball in Double-A, so we told him, ‘Hey, just throw your fastball and try to get it up.’ I’m not making excuses for the kid, but the first time out there and I like his stuff. But now he’s got to locate his fastball and you’ve got to get the ball over the plate."

4. Martinez has done well to manage Kendrick’s playing time throughout the Nationals’ struggles.

The temptation -- particularly when the injured list was populated by starters -- was to play Kendrick daily. His bat was needed, his defense was fine. Ryan Zimmerman went on the disabled list April 28. Matt Adams went on the disabled list May 5. Opportunities abounded.

Since Zimmerman went on the disabled list, Kendrick has appeared in 24 games. He made 16 starts, eight pinch-hit appearances and had four full days off.

Massaging playing time for the 35-year-old Kendrick was an issue when the Nationals started the season (and he was on the injured list because of a hamstring strain after coming off an Achilles tendon tear). Even with a full roster, Washington expected to be cautious with Kendrick.

Once the injuries mounted this season, and Kendrick remained hot at the plate, the easy move would have been to play him each day. Martinez played him often, but also gave him breaks. Not an easy decision. It continues to pay off. Kendrick went 3-for-5 Sunday. He’s hitting .303.

"I had conversations with Howie," Martinez said. "He lets me know when his legs are heavy. Because he's had a lot of hamstring issues and I know that. Like I said, if I can plop him in in a game where he can pinch-hit in a big moment, it means just as much to us as much as getting four at-bats."

5. Trevor Rosenthal update No. 1,896: He was in Washington on Sunday. He returns to Harrisburg on Monday to throw another inning. The Nationals thought Saturday night -- one inning pitched, no earned runs, no hits, a strikeout, 18 pitches, 10 strikes -- was better.

They want Rosenthal to make back-to-back appearances next. After that, they will re-evaluate, yet again.

Rosenthal went on the 10-day injured list April 26. He made his first rehabilitation appearance May 11. That started his 30-day clock. Rosenthal needs to come off that particular rehabilitation assignment and start another because of a new injury -- or come to the majors -- at the end of the 30 days. Rosenthal originally went on the IL because of a viral infection.

Rosenthal’s ERA at Harrisburg is 5.06.

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Bruce Cassidy’s chaotic time as Capitals coach began a winding path to Stanley Cup Final with Boston.

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Bruce Cassidy’s chaotic time as Capitals coach began a winding path to Stanley Cup Final with Boston.

BOSTON --The Stanley Cup Final begins Monday and while the Capitals did not make it back to defend their title, two former members of the organization, Bruce Cassidy and Craig Berube, are coaching the two teams that did. 

 Cassidy, now the head coach of the Boston Bruins, held that position in Washington for two seasons early last decade and failed spectacularly before a long, slow rise back to the NHL. 

 Berube is now the head coach of the St. Louis Blues, dead last in the entire league on Jan. 3 and now four wins away from their first Stanley Cup. A fan favorite with the Capitals for seven years over two stints, Berube was a no-nonsense tough guy and key role player on the 1998 Eastern Conference championship team. The seeds of both men’s success were planted a long time ago in Washington. 

 The Bruins and Blues play Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday at 8 p.m. on NBC. 

 Cassidy, just 37 when he was hired in 2002 by former Capitals general manager George McPhee, battled personal issues off the ice and too often lacked the professionalism and organization expected of an NHL head coach, according to several of his former players. At least twice during road trips in his first season, he was the last to arrive for the team bus.  

 Cassidy, now 54, knew the game, according to those same players, but struggled to connect with a roster laden with big-name players and healthy egos. He led Washington to the playoffs in 2002-03 but was fired 28 games into his second season thanks to a terrible start and internal fissures. Many of his players just didn’t respect him. 

 It’s hard to square that image with the Cassidy of today, who gets high marks from his Bruins players and plaudits around the league for juggling a talented roster comprised of veterans and rising young stars to reach the Cup Final. It’s a pretty good comeback story.

“[Cassidy] took his demons head on and built himself back up to a point now where he’s four wins away from winning a Stanley Cup,” said former Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig, who played for Cassidy along with stars Jaromir Jagr and Peter Bondra, among others. “You’ve got to take your hat off to him. Despite what he did in the past he’s become the opposite of what he was.”

 Cassidy does appear a different man than he was in Washington. Married again now, he was dealing with multiple personal issues then, including a nasty, complicated divorce, while coaching the Capitals. The road back included one year as an assistant with the Chicago Blackhawks, a two-year stop as head coach of a junior hockey team in Kingston, Ontario, and an eight-year apprenticeship with AHL Providence, Boston’s top minor-league affiliate. 

 The final five seasons there Cassidy was Providence’s head coach, developing some of the same players who have helped get him to the Cup Final with the Bruins. In 2016 Cassidy earned an NHL promotion of his own as an assistant coach under Boston’s Claude Julien and then took over on an interim basis when his boss was fired.

 “All I’ve learned is I’m more comfortable in my own skin than I was [in Washington],” Cassidy said. “I was young. I had really no NHL experience. I was in Chicago for bits and pieces. So you walk into an NHL locker room and there’s still a little bit of awe in that, ‘Oh, there’s (Jaromir) Jagr,’ there’s so many of these guys that have been around. So, it probably took me a while to just walk in there and say ‘This is what we’re doing’…and be a good communicator when you’re doing that.”

 A lot of those problems were of Cassidy’s own making, however. According to reporting by the Washington Post at the time - and confirmed by several of his old players this week - Cassidy showed up to his first meeting with his new team at training camp in 2002 and pulled a napkin out of his pocket with notes scribbled on it. It was not a good first impression. 

 Cassidy was a first-round draft pick in 1983 by the Chicago Blackhawks, No. 18 overall, but his NHL playing career consisted of 36 games. He had never been an NHL assistant when hired by McPhee. He spent two years as head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins, first in the IHL and then, when that league folded, in the AHL, which absorbed the franchise. 

 “The thing that I think would probably be the bigger challenge for Bruce when he first arrived was that he hadn't played that long as a player,” said NBC analyst Keith Jones, another former Capitals player, but not one who played for Cassidy. “You wouldn't have the same cache when you first walked into the locker room as you would, say, if you were a Craig Berube or a Dale Hunter.” 

 The Capitals had reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1998 and were still a competitive, if aging, team. They finished second in the Southeast Division in Cassidy’s first season and went up 2-0 on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. But they lost the next four games, including a triple-overtime crusher on an Easter Sunday that ended their season and arguably began what became the Alex Ovechkin era.

“You could tell Butch was a smart hockey guy. He was a smart hockey guy,” Kolzig said using Cassidy’s nickname. “He understood the game. Maybe too much so that he took for granted that other guys understood the same thing. He’d get frustrated if Joe Schmo didn’t know a certain breakout or a certain play. What came easy to him didn’t come easy to other players.”   

Tired of paying big money for an old team that couldn’t get out of the first round, owner Ted Leonsis green-lit moves the following season that gutted the roster. Long-time forward and team captain Steve Konowalchuk was traded in October after a slow start. 

Later, Jagr, Robert Lang, Michael Nylander, defenseman Sergei Gonchar and Bondra, a franchise icon, were dealt, too. The team finished with the third-worst record in the NHL but won the draft lottery that got them the No. 1 pick and Ovechkin. Cassidy was long gone by then, but his failure led to the rebuild that ultimately brought Washington its greatest player, a Stanley Cup and, eventually, his own redemption. 

“Butch was I don’t want to say in an impossible situation, but he was in a very tough situation,” said Capitals defenseman Ken Klee, who played nine seasons for the team, including Cassidy’s first. “We had so much success before he got there. We had some big stars on our team. You look at Jaromir Jagr, Peter Bondra, Calle Johansson, Olie. You figure out quick that coaching in the NHL is not just coaching, it’s management of players and personalities.”

The Capitals lost six games in a row in October of 2003 during Cassidy’s second season and things only got worse from there. After a 3-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 4 left them 8-16-1-1, Cassidy ripped into his team during a closed-door meeting. He’d given them rest. He allowed them to be home with their sick kids - or even pregnant wives when necessary. 

But, according to players in the room, he told them issues at home shouldn’t have any impact on their play. They were no excuse. That message, born of legitimate frustration, but tone deaf to what his players had gone through, spelled Cassidy’s doom. 

Capitals defenseman Brendan Witt’s wife, Salima, had almost died after a difficult childbirth in 2002, according to Kolzig. The room froze. Veteran players were appalled. Cassidy later apologized, but the damage was done. Washington was outscored 11-4 its next two games and Cassidy was fired on Dec. 10, 2003. His next chance to be an NHL head coach wouldn’t come for another 13 years. 

 “I know Brendan wasn’t very quiet about it. That was probably the nail in the coffin. It was a tumultuous time.” Kolzig said. “But having said all that you see how [Cassidy has] gone back to square one. His personal life is in order. He did a fantastic job in Providence for a number of years, continued being a good soldier in the Bruins organization. And then the opportunity was there for him and he took advantage of it. He’s done a fantastic job. There’s no other way to put it.”

Cassidy took over a Boston team that had lost its way under longtime coach Claude Julien. The Bruins had missed the playoffs two years in a row and were scuffling at 26-23-6 when Julien was fired on Feb. 7, 2017. Cassidy paid immediate dividends as an interim coach leading Boston to an 18-8-1 record to finish that season. 

It lost in the first round of the playoffs, but he earned the job full time. Last year the Bruins were 50-20-12 and reached the second round. This year they were second in the Atlantic Division at 49-24-9. It is Boston’s third Cup Final in nine seasons, but first since 2013. Many of those hard lessons Cassidy learned with the Capitals have served him well in his long-awaited second act.

 “If you’re around the game for an extra 15 years you’re going to learn stuff,” Cassidy said. “Different ways to communicate. Different ways to see the game. How you delegate, how you use your staff. How do you talk to the players to help you find that common goal? I think that was the biggest difference. A lot of newness back then. This time around it was a little more experience at this level.”

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