Nationals

Bucks beat Suns 108-99 in Boylan's first game

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Bucks beat Suns 108-99 in Boylan's first game

MILWAUKEE (AP) Brandon Jennings scored 29 points and the Milwaukee Bucks gave Jim Boylan a win in his first game as coach with a 108-99 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.

The Bucks parted ways with coach Scott Skiles on Monday in what was called a mutual decision, and the Bucks tapped Skiles' top assistant Boylan as a replacement. Milwaukee's new head coach said before the game his top priority would be to get the Bucks playing well again after losing four consecutive games.

The Suns were a perfect opponent, playing poorly in the last few weeks with nine losses in the last 10 games overall to go with a nine-game losing streak on the road.

Jennings, who before the game said he was frustrated that he learned of the coaching change from Skiles himself instead of someone from the Bucks organization, made 9 of 15 shots and had nine assists.

Goran Dragic scored 21 points and Jared Dudley added 18 for Phoenix.

The Bucks won despite an off-night from leading scorer Monta Ellis, who missed 14 of 19 shots and committed five turnovers. Ellis finished with 13 points after coming in with a 19.4 average.

Boylan made a couple of significant changes in his first game at the helm, inserting forward Ersan Ilyasova into the starting lineup and giving more minutes to rookie forward John Henson, the team's first-round draft pick.

Ilyasova had 12 points, six rebounds and four assists in 26 minutes. Henson had 12 points and 11 rebounds in 19 minutes.

Milwaukee took control with a 12-3 run that spanned the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarters. Beno Udrih had four points in the spurt and hit a 17-foot jumper with 8 minutes left to give the Bucks a 90-79 lead.

Phoenix pulled to 95-91 on a pair of free throws by Dragic with 3:49 left, but Henson scored on a dunk and Mike Dunleavy made a driving layup to extend the Milwaukee lead to 99-91 with 2:45 remaining. Phoenix never seriously threatened the rest of the game.

The Bucks used a 13-0 run, keyed by a pair of 3-pointers from Jennings and four points from Ilyasova, to open a 71-66 lead with 4:57 left in the third quarter.

Luis Scola's baseline jumper tied it at 71, but Ellis drove the lane for a basket that gave Milwaukee the lead for good, 73-71, with 3:34 left in the third.

Marcin Gortat scored 14 points in the first half, and the Suns led 56-50 at halftime.

Phoenix shot well and rebounded strongly in the first quarter, making 64 percent of its shots for a 33-26 lead after one quarter. The Suns, though, missed their first nine shots of the second quarter.

Notes: Bucks GM John Hammond said before the game he and the team were talking about a contract extension. . The ball stopped motionless at the back of the Phoenix rim - not stuck - with 9:24 to go in the second quarter, prompting wide grins from the Suns bench. Milwaukee won the ensuing jump ball. . This is the second time Boylan has succeeded Skiles midseason. He took over the Chicago Bulls when Skiles was fired on Christmas Eve in 2007. . The teams meet again Jan. 17 in Phoenix.

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Astros scandal leaves union, MLB trying to figure out future of technology in baseball

Astros scandal leaves union, MLB trying to figure out future of technology in baseball

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Replay rooms have become ground zero for what’s next for technology in Major League Baseball.

The ongoing Houston Astros scandal has brought the use of television monitors anywhere from the dugout on back into question. Monitors are now in place, a delay on the feed is also demanded and general access to the rooms is in question. That’s the current status. The players’ union and MLB are trying to figure out what’s next. Full removal of access to the replay room seems unlikely. More stringent rules about what occurs in there are being considered by the union. Both sides know public relations management is at stake as much as functionality.

Max Scherzer, who is among the players on the MLBPA executive board, is one of the leading voices in deciding what’s next.

“This is where the situation’s fluid,” Scherzer told NBC Sports Washington. “That, as players, this is how we see it: there’s a benefit to us in the game to be able to watch our at-bats, watch our pitches, where the pitch locations are and see what just happened, make adjustments on the fly. And, if we’re able to do that, it makes the game better. We can compete at a higher level. Everybody. So, I don’t necessarily believe we need to take replay away given where we were last year with it. There are rules and things we’re very cognizant of [when] trying to eliminate catcher’s signs on those replays so we can’t steal that.”

Replay rooms have replaced real-time discussion on the bench. In the past, players had no choice but to turn to hitting or pitching coaches, or teammates, for information when returning to the bench. Questions about hips leaking or swing path or tipping pitches were covered in conversation. Those still take place. But, the replay room has become an in-game magnet for both hitters and pitchers.

“For a hitter, if you’re looking at your swing, it’s more like positioning that you know is good or bad with your swing,” Ryan Zimmerman told NBC Sports Washington. “It’s not like you’re going in there and looking at the sequence of the signs. It’s more mechanics and things like that. Same thing a pitcher would look at with their windup.”

Another thing being checked by hitters? Decisions against them from a prior inning. Irritation from a blown strike call can end up back in the batter’s box.

Scherzer also uses the replay room immediately after his start ends and his shoulder care is under way. He ices, does his maintenance routine, then pops into the room to review specific pitches from big moments. He’s trying to understand if the process or execution were correct. And, he wants to do so when everything remains in the fore of his mind.

“You’re so emotionally connected to these pitches, you want to be able to see what happened,” Scherzer said. “What just happened? What do these replays look like while everything’s still fresh? I don’t look at every pitch, but I go look at some of the big pitches, so what happened in this situation? For me, I’m self-correcting my instincts, was this a good pitch or was this a bad pitch and kind of getting that instantaneous feedback, so when you go home and sleep at night, you know what you’re sleeping on. You know what you’re thinking about as you kind of process what just happened.

“I get it, obviously those replays could be available after the game. If I’m not using replay to undermine the game, I’m using replay to benefit myself, I don’t think we have a problem. We need to be careful about how much regulation we put into the game. At the end of the day, replay for individual players is not a problem.”

What is?

“Using it to be able to convey signs in real time.”

The Nationals’ replay room requires a player to leave the dugout, head up the steps then take a left into the clubhouse and a right into the hallway adjacent to the clubhouse. It’s a few feet from Davey Martinez’s office. Inside, Jonathan Tosches, manager, advance scouting, watches the lone live feed and fields calls to determine if the team should challenge. The rest of the monitors are on an eight-second delay. A human monitor, installed by MLB and called a “chaperone” by the players, is also in the room. Another is wandering to denote if a player was on their cell phone during the game. Even more monitors were present during the 2019 playoffs.

So, the line becomes about coexistence. The players are considering a longer delay on feeds in the room -- perhaps up to 20 seconds. They hope, at a baseline, one (well, two) bad apples have not spoiled the situation for the bunch. They are also operating from a fundamental understanding of human nature: the issue with temptation is it exists no matter what.

“I wonder if all of the camera angles and the cameras that we have around, I wonder is it tempting for teams to try to do what the Astros did and bend the rules to cheat and try to gain an unfair advantage? I honestly don’t know,” Doolittle said. “Was that the natural progression all along, when you have this many cameras in the stadium looking at so many different things? I don’t know.”

“You want to reduce temptation by altering what’s available during the game,” Scherzer said.

“No matter what you do, there’s always going to be somebody who tries to cheat,” Zimmerman said.

Which leads to one more, non-technical element. Players want the league to take complaints more seriously. The conundrum for the commissioner’s office is wading through what’s sour grapes and what may be an actual grievance.

“One thing we keep coming back to, the players, that stuff with technology seems almost secondary,” Doolittle said. “One of the big changes that we would like to implement, that we would like to see, is some sort of system where a club or a player can file a complaint or tip. If a club could say to MLB we think something is going on here knowing that it would be taken seriously and investigated.

“Because after this scandal with the Astros, we now know MLB had had several reports from teams asking for investigations or asking them to check it out and they didn’t do anything and nothing changed, nothing came to light until there was a whistleblower. A guy put his career on the line to talk about this publicly on the record. It shouldn’t have to come to that. They had some knowledge of this and it didn’t look like it was taken seriously. If we had a system where we knew some reports would be taken seriously, and acted upon in a timely manner, I think that would help a lot, too.”

The one unified thought is the current system is not working. The 2017 World Series champion was shown to cheat. The 2018 champions are under investigation. The 2019 World Series champions are a secondary story in their own complex. Something needs to change.

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Five Orioles spring training games to pay attention to

Five Orioles spring training games to pay attention to

The Orioles are just a few days away from hitting the field, in a game, for the first time in 2020. 

They’ll play 33 games, including split-squad games, before they head to Baltimore for the season opener against the Yankees on March 26. Before that day, though, there will be a few games with some interesting storylines across the board. While starting lineups fluctuate a ton, there are still a few things to note moving forward.

Here are a few games to pay attention to as the spring moves along:

Sat. Feb. 22 @ Braves

It makes sense to start at the first one, right? 

The Orioles will kick off their spring training against the Braves in North Port, Florida on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. Chandler Shepherd, a 27-year-old who appeared in five games in Baltimore last season, will get the start. He threw 19 innings and allowed 23 hits and 14 earned runs last year, while opponents racked up a 1.526 WHIP and 10.9 hits-per-nine innings against him.

While the Orioles aren’t likely to see former standout Nick Markakis so early in the spring, it’s always exciting to get a glimpse of the club for the first time — especially if Adley Rutschman hits the field.

Tue. March 3 @ Nationals

The Battle of the Beltway gets some Florida love, as the Orioles will get a look at the defending champions in West Palm Beach. 

All-time, the Orioles own a 41-33 advantage over the Nationals in 74 regular-season games played. Over the last five seasons, though, the Orioles and Nationals have evenly split a total of 24 games. 

The game won’t be broadcasted on television, but anytime Baltimore and Washington get together is sure to be a fun afternoon.

Fri. March 6 @ Yankees

The Orioles will get their first look at the AL East favorites on March 6, when they head north to Tampa for a 6:35 first pitch against the Yankees. 

Baltimore opens the season at home against New York a few weeks later, where it will look to improve on a horrendous 2-17 mark against the Bronx Bombers last season. 

The Orioles had the worst pitching staff in baseball last season and allowed an ERA of 5.59, a number not helped by the Yankees, who scored 151 runs in 19 games against the Orioles.

After the first series of the season, the Orioles went 0-16 against the Yankees and allowed 136 runs in 16 games — an average of 8.5 runs per game. 

Thu. March 12 vs. Twins

While this game holds no real significance in the grand scheme of things, it’s an important landmark for two reasons: First, watching the Orioles against a legitimate playoff team is always an interesting task, if only to see how some younger players handle one of baseball’s best teams.

Second, this marks the date two weeks before the Orioles start their season against the Yankees at Camden Yards. 

While there might not be any grand significance to the game itself, per se, this is an important date in that we’ll begin to see, if we haven’t already, what the potential big league team could look like.

Mon. March 23 vs. Mets

Lastly, the Orioles will end their spring training at home in a day game against the Mets. This is right around the time the roster will be finalized and there will be a pretty good idea of what the rotation and starting lineup will look like. 

Three days from this point, the Orioles will head back home to face another New York team — this one much better than the Mets. 

But while March 23 might seem far off, it’ll be here sooner than it seems.

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