Nationals

Clemson's Rodriguez ready for his big moment

Clemson's Rodriguez ready for his big moment

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Clemson walk-on Daniel Rodriguez is ready for the biggest moment of his college career against the team he loved as a child.

The Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient will lead the Tigers down the hill at Memorial Stadium carrying the American flag before No. 14 Clemson faces Virginia Tech on Saturday.

Rodriguez, 24, is a Virginia native who grew up a Hokies fan and had hopes of playing for Virginia Tech upon his return from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Clemson has designated this week's game as Military Appreciation Day.

Clemson (5-1, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) won twice last year against Virginia Tech (4-3, 2-1), including a 38-10 victory in the league title game for the Tigers first championship in 20 years.

Rodriguez is a 5-foot-8 receiver who joined the Tigers this summer after coach Dabo Swinney saw his workout videos on YouTube.com and learned of his military service. Rodriguez has played sparingly on special teams and his one catch came near the end of a 52-27 victory over Ball State last month.

Swinney has said Rodriguez's worth comes in the locker room, a living example of what it means to sacrifice for a higher cause. So Swinney was proud to let Rodriguez lead the team into Death Valley.

That it comes against Virginia Tech makes it even more special for Rodriguez.

``It's kind of crazy how things align, how things fall into place,'' he said. ``It's pretty well known I was a Virginia Tech fan my whole life. Sorry Clemson.''

Rodriguez hopes his pre-game contribution can help the Tigers keep their recent success going against the Hokies.

Clemson had lost five straight in the series since 1998, yet put on two of its most dominating performances to beat Virginia Tech last season. The Tigers held Tech without a touchdown at Lane Stadium in a 23-3 regular-season victory. Then two months later, Clemson shut down the Hokies again in the ACC title game.

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer says last year's losses won't factor into this game.

``We don't think in the past very much around here,'' Beamer said. ``We try look at what we've got this week and understand that this is a terrific football team and that we've got a tremendous challenge.''

Especially with the loss of starting center Andrew Miller, who had surgery on his left ankle to repair a fracture and ligament damage. Miller was the team's only veteran for an offensive line that replaced four starters this year.

Clemson hopes the week off since it last played doesn't slow down an offense that's on track to surpass last year's record-setting group in points scored and yards.

The Tigers have averaged better than 41 points and 525 yards halfway through the season. Quarterback Tajh Boyd leads the conference in passing, Andre Ellington leads the conference in rushing and DeAndre Hopkins leads the conference in receiving.

And it's all happened without much help from last year's star in Sammy Watkins. The sophomore has missed three games due to suspension and illness. He's got just 16 catches for 118 yards and no touchdowns.

Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said Watkins had a strong showing during practice is ready to get back into the action. ``He's fully healthy, had a really good practice last week. He's got his legs back under him,'' Morris said. ``Hey, we're ready to go and we're going to need Sammy at the right time.''

Rodriguez is grateful for his time at Clemson.

He was wounded in one of the deadliest battles in Kamdesh, Afghanistan in October 2009. He said nearly 400 Taliban fighters overwhelmed the U.S. outpost of fewer than 40 troops. Eight Americans were killed.

Rodriguez, who was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, was rattled earlier this month when he passed the third anniversary of the battle. He said while college classes and football have helped, he won't ever fully purge the memories of that awful experience.

Saturday should help, he said.

Beamer remembered Rodriguez as an impressive young man. ``I'm very glad to see him reach his goals,'' he said.

Rodriguez has good-naturedly texted with a high-school friend from Virginia Tech, defensive end J.R. Collins, and can't wait to lead the way for Clemson's traditional football entrance.

``It's awesome,'' Rodriguez said. ``I've come into my own here and been accepted by the team.''

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Max Scherzer reaches 300 season strikeout mark in Nationals win over Marlins

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USA Today

Max Scherzer reaches 300 season strikeout mark in Nationals win over Marlins

With a bottle of bubbly at his feet and a baseball with the inscription "300 Ks" in a case in his locker, Max Scherzer allowed himself a moment to consider what he'd just accomplished.

"It was something I dreamed of, reaching this mark," Scherzer said, "because I know how hard it is to consistently go out there and strike guys out."

Scherzer became the 17th pitcher since 1900 to strike out 300 batters in a season, reaching that milestone by fanning 10 in seven innings Tuesday night during the Washington Nationals' otherwise meaningless 9-4 victory over the Miami Marlins.

"A big number," Nationals catcher Matt Wieters said, "when you're talking about strikeouts."

Scherzer (18-7) lowered his ERA to 2.53 by allowing one run in seven innings as he bids for a third consecutive NL Cy Young Award; he also won the 2013 honor in the AL for Detroit. He threw 70 of his 100 pitches for strikes, gave up five hits and didn't walk a batter.

The righty reached 300 by getting Austin Dean to whiff on an 85-mph slider at the end of a 10-pitch at-bat for the second out of the seventh. Scherzer pumped his fist while much of the announced crowd of 26,483 -- including his wife, Erica May-Scherzer -- joined players in the home dugout and home bullpen by saluting the ace with a standing ovation.

"I definitely wanted to do it here at home," said the 34-year-old Scherzer, who is currently slated to make one more start, in Sunday's season finale at Colorado. "The fans -- unbelievable support."

They would chant, "Let's go, Max!" They would rise and cheer when he had two strikes on a hitter. They would emit a collective "Awwwwwww" when a pitch near the plate was ruled a ball -- or even when a pitch resulted in any sort of out that wouldn't add to his strikeout total.

Sweating profusely on a muggy, 78-degree evening, Scherzer had all of his repertoire working, from the 97-mph fastballs he threw past Lewis Brinson for strikeouts in the fourth and seventh innings, to the 84-mph changeup that JT Riddle missed for a K leading off the game.

As is Scherzer's wont, he stalked around the grass after strikeouts.

Asked whether he considered pulling his famously intense pitcher before No. 300, Nationals manager Dave Martinez laughed.

"I value my life," Martinez joked. "He was going to get 10 today, somehow."

Scherzer now has 10 strikeouts or more in a majors-high 18 of his 33 starts in 2018, and 82 such games for his career.

He got Dean by throwing fastball after fastball with a full count, then getting him to chase a slider.

"That's probably where you can see Max has become a more complete pitcher than he was earlier in his career," Wieters said, "where he was able to go with the slider and execute it and realize that with where that fastball was starting, (Dean is) going to be way out in front of it."

Dean's take?

"He's the best pitcher in baseball," the Marlins rookie said.

The case certainly can be made. This is, after all, a guy with two no-hitters and a 20-strikeout game on his resume, along with the Cy Youngs.

Scherzer entered Tuesday ranked No. 1 in the NL in eight significant statistical categories, including strikeouts, strikeouts-to-walks ratio (5.69), opponents' batting average (.188) and innings pitched (213 2/3). He was also tied for No. 1 in two others: wins and quality starts (27).

The expectation is that Scherzer and New York Mets starter Jacob deGrom are the main Cy Young contenders in the NL. DeGrom is 9-9 with a 1.77 ERA and single-season records of 23 consecutive quality starts and 28 starts in a row allowing three or fewer earned runs.

"There's more to pitching than just striking guys out," Scherzer said, "but also, it is a big reason why you can have success."

RENDON AND HARPER

Nationals 3B Anthony Rendon hit a three-run shot in the first inning off Jeff Brigham (0-4), increasing his season totals to 24 homers and 90 RBIs and extending his streak of reaching base to 33 straight games. Rendon added an RBI double in the seventh, when Washington batted around and tacked on six runs. ... Bryce Harper scored twice to surpass 100 runs for the season; he already had a career-best 100 RBIs and more than 100 walks. Harper can become a free agent in the offseason, so Wednesday's series finale could be the 2015 NL MVP's last home game at Nationals Park.

UP NEXT

The Nationals will give 26-year-old RHP Kyle McGowin his first start in the majors Wednesday. Miami will start LHP Wei-Yin Chen (6-11, 4.66 ERA).

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Max Scherzer reaches 300 strikeouts for the season

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USA Today

Max Scherzer reaches 300 strikeouts for the season

Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer has become the 17th major league pitcher since 1900 to strike out at least 300 batters in a season.

Scherzer reached the milestone by getting Austin Dean of the Miami Marlins to whiff on an 85 mph slider for the second out of the seventh inning Tuesday night. That was Scherzer's 10th K of the game.

He has 10 strikeouts or more in a majors-high 18 of his 33 starts in 2018.

Scherzer entered Tuesday 17-7 with a and 2.57 ERA as he tries to earn a third consecutive NL Cy Young Award with Washington. He also won the AL honor in 2013 for the Detroit Tigers.

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