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Frazier sticking with Ponder as Vikings QB

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Frazier sticking with Ponder as Vikings QB

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) The only passes from Christian Ponder that didn't sail over a receiver's head or bounce harmlessly out of bounds seemed to land in the arms of a Green Bay defender just as the Minnesota Vikings were approaching the end zone.

At one point, the beleaguered quarterback went nearly 39 minutes of game action without completing a pass, rendering moot another breath-taking performance from Adrian Peterson.

Yet through all the struggles, all the poor footwork and all the back-breaking mistakes that allowed a winnable road game against a division opponent to swirl down the drain, coach Leslie Frazier stuck with Ponder. And he sticks by him still.

Frazier said Monday he never considered pulling Ponder against the Packers and believes he is the QB that gives the team the best chance to win against Chicago this week.

``It hasn't come up any time this season where I thought we needed to pull him out of a game,'' Frazier said. ``That hasn't occurred.''

Frazier acknowledged such unwavering support, whether solely his decision or a result of a directive from the front office that drafted Ponder in the first round last season, has the potential to rankle other players in the locker room - players who seem to be held to a different standard of accountability.

``I've thought about that a lot because when you're struggling at a position, the guys know how we talked about everybody doing their jobs and why it's important for us to have our success,'' Frazier said. ``You don't want to send mixed messages at any position.''

The Vikings led the Packers 14-10 at halftime, jumping on Peterson's broad shoulders to move into position for a commanding lead early in the third quarter when Peterson ripped off a 48-yard run to the Green Bay 12-yard line. Ponder was intercepted in the end zone on the next play.

With Percy Harvin missing his third straight game, Ponder didn't complete a pass to a wide receiver until late in the fourth quarter. The putrid air game allowed the Packers to weather a 210-yard day from Peterson and a shaky performance from their own offense to drop the Vikings to 6-6.

Ponder's struggles were so glaring that Frazier was asked repeatedly Monday about his reluctance to play backup Joe Webb in the second half. Webb has provided a spark periodically over the past two seasons, including games at Philadelphia in 2010 and at Washington last year.

Frazier has shown a willingness to rotate players during games at other positions, including safety with Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond, and right guard with Brandon Fusco and Geoff Schwartz. But the coach said Monday he approaches quarterback with a different view, one that values continuity above all else.

``I think there's something there where in my mind you don't want to get into a situation where you're not sure who your No. 1 is,'' Frazier said. ``We believe that Christian is our No. 1. ... That being said, if things get to a point where your No. 1 is really costing you some situations that could preclude winning, you do have to do what's best for the football team.''

It's getting harder for Frazier to argue that Ponder remains the right choice for the Vikings. They started the season 5-2 thanks in part to Ponder's steady play, but have dropped four of the last five while he has crumbled.

Ponder entered the fourth quarter Sunday with just five completions in the game, all on one drive. He finished 12 of 25 for 119 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. In this pass-happy era of the NFL, Ponder has actually thrown for 76 fewer yards than Peterson has rushed for over the last six games.

For a team holding faint hopes for a playoff berth, the imbalance to the offense has been the biggest reason for its recent downfall.

The unwillingness to go to Webb, even temporarily, would seem an indictment on the depth at the position. The Vikings cut veteran Sage Rosenfels in favor of Webb and developmental quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, giving them three young and largely unproven players at the game's most important position.

Frazier said Monday the team is confident Webb would do well if called upon. But he doesn't see the need right now.

``We believe that Christian is going to continue to develop and grow and be the quarterback that we all expect him to be,'' Frazier said. ``That being said, there's a lot riding on this next ballgame for our football team, and I'm sure there are a lot of guys looking and wondering if we can get it done under the current situation. I believe we can. I believe we'll play better, not only at the quarterback position but at other positions as well. We'll need to as a team.''

NOTES: Frazier said DE Jared Allen would get an MRI after having back spasms, but expected him to be ready for the Bears. ... C John Sullivan has bruised ribs that are considered a minor injury, and it's still too early to say if Harvin's sprained left ankle will be ready to go this week.

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

WASHINGTON -- If any bump was coming from a return home or Mike Rizzo’s public pregame words or simply being out of New York, it was not apparent Friday.

Three errors committed in the first four innings. The first reliever into the game, Joe Ross, allowed three earned runs before recording a second out. Starter Kyle McGowin barely made it through the fourth inning of an eventual and desperately needed 12-10 win.

The rally kept the Nationals from creeping toward of new level of dubiousness in this muck-filled season. They pushed 2 ½ games in front of the Marlins for the National League’s worst record. Juan Soto hit a three-run homer in the eighth. Matt Adams followed with a solo homer. Sean Doolittle had trouble, but closed the game. Those efforts kept this from being another story about the bullpen (five more runs allowed Friday).

So, here’s a different question to ponder (there are a million or none, depending on point of view) after Friday night: How did the Nationals end up with 27-year-old McGowin starting a surprisingly pivotal game?

The nuts-and-bolts version is because of injuries. Both Anibal Sanchez -- who threw a simulation game Friday -- and Jeremy Hellickson are on the injured list. The deeper answer comes from looking at the recent erosion of pitchers in Washington’s minor-league system.

McGowin made his second career start Friday because there is no one else. No hot minor-league prospect, no early-round pick who has been up and down and received another shot, no veteran stashed in the minor leagues for such situations.

Looming behind all of this is the 2016 trade of three pitching prospects to acquire Adam Eaton. Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning were all sent to Chicago for Eaton’s advanced-stats and cost-friendly contract. The departure of three starting pitchers in one shot reverberated Friday when the Nationals were forced to use McGowin in a spot start as the seventh starter of the season.

This is more a volume than quality issue. Neither Lopez or Giolito were effective in limited chances at the major-league level with Washington before being traded. Once in Chicago, Giolito became arguably the worst pitcher in baseball in 2018. No one allowed more earned runs or walks that season. Lopez had a quality season, finishing with 3.1 WAR.

The two have reversed outcomes in 2019. Giolito has rediscovered his velocity. After throwing 100 mph in the 2015 Futures Game, his velocity caved. Giolito was down to 92-93 mph with the Nationals and, initially, Chicago. Thursday, he hit 97 mph in the ninth inning of a shutout against Houston. The outing drove his ERA down to 2.77.

Lopez is struggling. His 5.14 ERA is venturing toward Giolito’s status of a year ago. His walk total -- always the concern -- is up, as are his homers allowed.

But what Giolito and Lopez have, at age 24 and 25, respectively, is potential. Giolito, who often fussed with his mechanics in Washington, has discovered a delivery to expedite his fastball and an approach to boost the effectiveness of his changeup. Lopez’s 2018 showed he can be a solid back-end rotation member. They were expected to follow behind Erick Fedde and Joe Ross in establishing a future rotation. But, those two are in Chicago, Ross is in the bullpen, where he gave up three runs Friday, and Fedde just returned to the rotation after being moved to the bullpen.

So, it was McGowin on the mound Friday. Four innings, six hits, five runs, one walk, two strikeouts, two home runs allowed. Why? No better choice is available.

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Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

The Nationals welcomed 10-year-old cancer patient Parker Staples as the newest addition to their team on Friday, in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic Foundation.

While battling lymphoma, Staples learned he would receive a wish and didn’t hesitate about what he wanted to choose. After being sidelined for two years during treatment, Parker couldn’t wait to celebrate his remission by becoming part of his favorite baseball team. 

Staples was introduced to his new teammates and got signed autographs from Matt Adams, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, and Yan Gomes. He also got to spend time hitting and playing catch with his new teammates, as well as being interviewed as the newest member of the team. It gets even better than that, Staples threw the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park leading up to the Marlins-Nationals game Staples 

"My favorite moment was throwing the first pitch. It was really cool," Staples said.

"Probably the biggest day of my life."

The Nationals are hosted the Miami Marlins in the series opener Friday.

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