Nationals

Blanco helps Giants grab Game 1 vs. Tigers

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Blanco helps Giants grab Game 1 vs. Tigers

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Gregor Blanco began sprinting in before he even heard the crack of Miguel Cabrera's bat.

With speedy Austin Jackson running from first base and San Francisco only up a run in the third inning, the left fielder committed all the way. He sprinted forward, then cut to his left, and stretched out to make a diving grab that robbed the Triple Crown winner of a hit. Blanco's elastic catch kept the Giants in the lead at a critical point in San Francisco's 8-3 victory in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night.

``I just said to myself, `We cannot let them start a rally,''' Blanco said. ``They have great hitters. If you let them have confidence with their offense, it's going to be trouble for us.''

Thanks to Blanco, the Giants never let that happen.

The same man who made a diving catch on the warning track in right-center field to rob Jordan Schafer and save Matt Cain's perfect game on June 13 against Houston came through in the biggest moments again.

In the sixth, Prince Fielder flipped his bat as soon as his slicing line drive zipped off his bat - then stopped his sprint when Blanco made another diving grab. Blanco, sprawled out on the grass, raised his right glove hand and brought the home fans roaring to their feet, a familiar site at AT&T Park.

``I had some funky spin on it, and that was so impressive because not only did he dive, but he had to stay with the path of that ball,'' said Giants starter Barry Zito, who shut out the Tigers until Cabrera's RBI single in the sixth. ``Blanco is just such a huge part of this team in every way.''

Has been all season.

The 28-year-old from Venezuela, who got most of the playing time in left field when Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 games, also ran down a hard-hit ball by Allen Craig in left-center in the third inning against St. Louis in Game 7 of the NL championship series. But no matter how many spectacular snags he makes, Blanco - and just about everybody else in San Francisco - will always remember his perfect-game saving catch.

``Any ball that is close to him, I've got a good feeling he's going to dive and catch it,'' said Cain, the Game 4 starter. ``He makes a lot of diving catches and, maybe most importantly, knows when to do it.''

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Madison Bumgarner joked before his last World Series start that the pressure of pitching on baseball's biggest stage felt similar to his high school championship. After all, he was only 21.

Two years later, the lefty has little room for laughs.

That tends to happened after two terrible postseason starts, getting passed over in the rotation and having his mechanics and fatigue questioned. Bumgarner will get another chance - and perhaps his last this postseason - at redemption when he tries to pitch the Giants to a 2-0 Series lead starting opposite Detroit Tigers right-hander Doug Fister on Thursday night.

``That wasn't fun at all,'' Bumgarner said of his previous start. ``But watching everybody fight back and then pick me up, and everybody is picking everybody up right now, that's what's special about our team.''

The North Carolina native finished 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA in the 2010 postseason, including a Game 4 win at Texas in the World Series when he allowed only three hits in eight innings. He struck out 18 and walked only five in four appearances - three starts - to help the Giants to their first World Series since moving from New York in 1958.

This season, the southpaw won 16 games for the NL West champions but has struggled mightily in the playoffs with an 11.25 ERA. He lasted just 3 2-3 innings in his last start, giving up six earned runs in a 6-4 loss to St. Louis in Game 1 of the NL championship series. Barry Zito took Bumgarner's spot in Game 5 for the first of three straight San Francisco victories.

Bumgarner's velocity has decreased slightly in both starts, making his off-speed pitches less deceptive. He spent the extra time working on his mechanics with pitching coach Dave Righetti before games.

Even with his starter's struggles, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he is confident Bumgarner - who signed a $35.56 million, six-year contract through the 2017 earlier this year - can turn things around against the hard-hitting Tigers.

``He's done well, and he's dealt with the adversity that you have to deal with as a player,'' Bochy said. ``The good ones bounce back. They're resilient. We certainly feel that way with Madison. I don't care how good you are, occasionally, you're going to have to deal with some adversity. But he's a tough kid. We forget sometimes, he's only 23 years old, and he's already done a lot in his career. But he can handle things thrown at him, and he's a guy that doesn't get his confidence shaken.

``It may not go well, but he still wants to be out there on the mound,'' Bochy said.

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SECRET HANDSHAKE: Don't dare try to talk Detroit slugger Prince Fielder into offering any specifics about his signature handshake with Tigers Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.

It's not going to happen - even though he knows everybody is clamoring to learn it from the leader himself.

``It doesn't have a name but it definitely is awkward when I see a grown man wanting to do it while I'm walking down the street,'' Fielder said. ``It's just something me and Miguel do, and it's top secret. It's borderline weird, `Hey, come on,' and I'm like, `Hey, come on, I'm an adult.' It's cool, it's funny. It just feels weird sometimes.''

The complicated move features the two players reaching out their right hands for a low handshake, then another backward slap before a high-five that's followed by them bringing both of their arms out as if to form a `W' above their heads. Next, they move their right hands together as if sprinkling dust - then come together in a warm embrace. Cabrera might pat Fielder's head just to punctuate things.

Would Fielder just walk everybody through it already? It's the World Series, after all.

``I can't do it,'' Fielder said, grinning. ``It's top secret.''

Even grizzled manager Jim Leyland said he's fine with the playful antics.

``They say I'm old school. I'm really not. I'm old, but I'm not necessarily old school,'' Leyland said. ``But I don't really get into that, whether it's our team or the other team. I kind of don't really look, to be honest with you. But it's kind of a new wave of baseball and entertaining to some people. ``

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CATCH `EM ALL: Buster Posey can get comfortable in his squat behind home plate in the World Series.

Unlike in the last two series and several games down the stretch, Giants manager Bruce Bochy plans to keep the All-Star catcher in his usual spot for every game - even though he has the option of a designated hitter in Detroit.

Hector Sanchez caught Barry Zito in Game 4 in Cincinnati in the division series. He also started behind the plate of the Game 4 loss against St. Louis for Tim Lincecum, with Posey shifting to first base in each.

Sanchez caught 25 of Zito's starts this season, while Posey was behind the plate for eight. Zito had a 4.08 when Sanchez caught him in the regular season and a 4.39 ERA when Posey did.

Sanchez caught Lincecum 16 times (4.37 ERA), Posey 15 (5.46 ERA) and Eli Whiteside two games (5.40 ERA) this season.

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TIGERS' GIANT: Starting on the road in the World Series is even more special for Doug Fister than taking the mound in Detroit this October.

Fister, Detroit's Game 2 starter, grew up about 130 miles southeast in Merced. While he may be pitching for the Tigers now, Fister always cheered for the Giants growing up.

``Don't tell anybody,'' he joked.

Fister has a 1.35 ERA and two no-decisions this postseason, with Detroit winning both games. In 13 1-3 innings, he has struck out 13 and walked six, although none ever came against his favorite childhood team.

``It's definitely special being able to come into the ballpark and play in a World Series is something that obviously is a moment that will never be forgotten. It holds a little bit more special place in my heart, I would say, but it doesn't change what we do on the field.

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AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.

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Nationals set to enter defining seven-game stretch

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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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