Nationals

Cavs C Varejao needs surgery, may miss 2 months

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Cavs C Varejao needs surgery, may miss 2 months

CLEVELAND (AP) Anderson Varejao's big body has betrayed him again.

Cleveland's hustling center needs surgery to repair a muscle that split near his right knee, which could cause him to miss two more months - a major setback for a young Cavaliers team struggling through another miserable season.

The NBA's leading rebounder, Varejao was injured Dec. 18 against Toronto. The injury was initially diagnosed as only a bruised right knee, but as his symptoms persisted, more tests were performed and revealed a ``longitudinal split'' between Varejao's quadriceps and knee.

Varejao will have surgery on Thursday at The Cleveland Clinic, and the team said he will be sidelined a minimum of six to eight weeks. The team said Dr. Richard Steadman in Vail, Colo., provided a second opinion on the injury.

``We're losing one of our best guys on and off the floor. He's the heart and soul of our basketball team,'' Cavs coach Byron Scott said. ``This is a big-time blow. I'm just trying to keep him in the best of spirits because it's been three straight years of getting some type of injury that's just derailed him. This is the biggest because he has been playing so well.''

Varejao has missed over 100 games in the past three seasons with significant injuries. He sat out 51 games in 2011 with a torn ligament in his foot and was sidelined for 41 games last season after breaking his wrist.

``Three years ... it's unbelievable,'' a frustrated Varejao said before Wednesday night's game against Atlanta. ``It's like, `Why again? Why me?' It's something I don't have control of. All I can do is keep working. Right now focus on my rehab to get better as soon as possible.''

One of the NBA's scrappiest players, Varejao was playing at an All-Star level when he banged his knee last month and went down with what appeared to be a routine injury.

However, it's much worse and the Cavs are again without an important piece as they try to rebuild.

``I tried to come back,'' Varejao said. ``I was working every day. We did some more tests and they saw some other stuff that I don't think it's bad, but I need surgery just to fix it.''

Varejao, who is confident he will return this season, doesn't think the injury got worse during his attempted comeback.

``We don't know how long it's going to take to heal,'' he said. ``Rehab and still having pain that's not letting me play. It was getting better but I had a second opinion, talked to the doctors here.''

The Cavs have gone 3-7 this season without Varejao, who was to miss his 11th straight game Wednesday. Cleveland has had more than its share of injuries in the past few seasons. Point guard Kyrie Irving, the reigning rookie of the year, missed 11 games earlier this season with a broken finger and is one of three Cavs who have had to wear protective masks for broken facial bones.

Scott has only had his full complement of players for seven games this season. The Cavs are 8-28 heading into Wednesday night's game against Atlanta.

``It's real tough,'' Scott said. ``You're disappointed, frustrated and (ticked) off. You have so many different emotions going through your head, but what can you do? Everybody in this league has to deal with injuries and we've had to deal with them for three straight years. You just got to keep playing hard with the guys that you have and try to get them better.''

The Cavs were expected to explore trade possibilities for the 6-foot-11 Varejao to acquire more future draft picks. But now that he's hurt, the team is stuck and has to hope youngsters like Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller improve with more playing time.

``When you have a big blow like this, you're going to have guys get a golden opportunity,'' Scott said. ``When you have an injury like this, there is always a silver lining.''

Varejao was averaging 14.4 rebounds and was making a strong push to appear in his first All-Star Game. He is under contract with the Cavs for two more seasons, with the club holding an option for 2014-15.

Scott had not spoken to Varejao, who he knows is hurting.

``I don't even know if I'll talk to him,'' Scott said. ``I'll probably go up to him and give him a hug and tell him, ``It's going to be OK.''

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AP Freelance Writer Steve Herrick contributed to this report.

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Kevin Long dissects Juan Soto’s World Series Game 1 home run off Gerrit Cole

Kevin Long dissects Juan Soto’s World Series Game 1 home run off Gerrit Cole

Before the Nationals faced off with the Houston Astros in the 2019 World Series, Washington’s hitting coach Kevin Long sat down with FOX Sports analyst Tom Verducci. Long told the veteran reporter that he guaranteed young phenom Juan Soto would hit a home run off a high fastball from Gerrit Cole.

It was considered a lofty prediction, as Cole was in the midst of a Cy Young-caliber year and had allowed just one earned run in 22.2 postseason innings thus far that October. But sure enough, four innings into the first game of the series, Soto did exactly that.

In his first at-bat, Soto looked overmatched and struck out on three pitches. He got his second look three innings later and must have learned something, because he took Cole’s 1-0 pitch—a fastball high and outside—and sent it 417 feet to the opposite field.

At the Nationals’ annual WinterFest event, Long spoke with NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas about what went into that prediction and why he felt compelled to make it.

“First and foremost, I do believe that Juan Soto is one of the best high fastball hitters in baseball,” Long said. “I’ve seen him numerous times take high fastballs and take care of business. Gerrit [Cole] doesn’t pitch in much, so I figured it was going to be out over the plate.

And the other factor there is, we weren’t getting much credit. They basically were cashing that game in as a loss. ‘We can’t beat Gerrit Cole. Gerrit Cole is too good. Gerrit Cole hasn’t lost since May.’ So I just said, ‘You know what? Let me just make a prediction, because I’m sick of hearing about how we’re not going to be able to do anything against this guy…and it ended up working out, it’s pretty cool.”

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW ON THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST BELOW

The Nationals entered the World Series facing the longest odds Las Vegas oddsmakers had given to an underdog since 2007, when the Boston Red Sox were heavy favorites over the Colorado Rockies. Given that Washington went on to stun the baseball world and win in seven games, it isn’t surprising that most national fans didn’t quite yet understand what kind of player Soto is when the series began.

“I’ve had numerous people come up to me and say, ‘That was one of the most impressive home runs I have ever, ever seen,’” Long said. “As a left-handed hitter, number one. A 97-mph fastball and how far he hit it was remarkable. It truly was.

“We were putting together pretty good at-bats off him in those big situations you just need one guy to come through and that was Juan Soto’s moment. He got the pitch, he didn’t miss it and I don’t know if Gerrit was admiring it—I’m sure he wasn’t—but he was probably like, ‘Wow, this kid is pretty special.’”

Now, Soto is entering the 2020 season as the undisputed top hitter in Washington after Anthony Rendon departed for the Los Angeles Angels in free agency. Long doesn’t want Soto to change his approach too much, but rather just focus on what got him to this position in the first place.

“He doesn’t have to do a whole lot extra, he’s just got to basically be the Juan Soto he’s been,” Long said. “His swing is really, really good. He makes adjustments really well. He’s smart. He gets it, and at 21 years old that’s what makes him certainly unique.”

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Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews help lead AFC to victory in Pro Bowl skills competition

Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews help lead AFC to victory in Pro Bowl skills competition

Lamar Jackson was excellent this season finding his receivers across the field en route to an MVP caliber season. 

As it turns out, he’s not so good at hitting targets that aren’t human. 

Jackson struggled in the precision passing event, an event with moving targets labeled from one to five points and scored just two total points on 17 throws. 

But Jackson’s poor performance in the first event didn’t hurt the AFC, as it won the 2020 Pro Bowl skills competition over the NFC.

“A lot of bad throws,” Jackson said of his performance in the first event. “A little wind with me. It’s all good.” 

As soon as the event aired, Jackson immediately took to Twitter.

The events that followed were: The Gauntlet, Best Hands, Thread The Needle and Dodgeball. 

Jackson and teammate Mark Andrews competed in the Best Hands and Thread The Needle competitions. 

The duo’s obvious chemistry resulted in the second-best time, 49.4 seconds, out of four total pairings. 

The next drill was another passing drill called ‘Thread The Needle,’ which Jackson fared better in. He scored 12 total points, tied for the second-best of four passers. The concept of the drill was to throw the ball past a defender guarding a wall with nine targets, each with a corresponding point total.

In the final event of the night, the AFC beat the NFC two games to zero in dodgeball — led by Jackson and Andrews’ division rival, Browns wideout Jarvis Landry.

Jackson didn’t start the night well, but thankfully for him, the next targets with numbers he’ll see will be actual receivers at the Pro Bowl on Sunday afternoon.

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