Nationals

Gamecocks focused on LSU, not Georgia win

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Gamecocks focused on LSU, not Georgia win

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Coach Steve Spurrier says No. 3 South Carolina has high goals for this season and several are much bigger than starting 6-0 or dominating Georgia.

The Gamecocks (6-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) moved to their highest ranking in 28 years - and into discussions about SEC and national titles - after their 35-7 victory over the Bulldogs this past Saturday.

South Carolina had one of the more complete performances of Spurrier's eight seasons. None of it, Spurrier reminded people Tuesday, will matter if the Gamecocks don't stay focused on their next challenge, playing at No. 9 LSU on Saturday night.

``We are getting some national attention,'' the coach said. ``That's what we all like, but it can turn south on you if you don't watch it.''

Spurrier knows that too well. South Carolina pulled off a stunning upset of then No. 1 Alabama, 35-21, in October of 2010. A game later, the Gamecocks blew an 18-point halftime lead to lose at Kentucky, 31-28.

Spurrier blames himself and his staff for not coaching very well after halftime.

``Our guys were ready to play, ready to play,'' he said. ``We had them up 28-10 and pooped around the second half.''

It's easy to lose focus when so many people are praising the Gamecocks, which is happening all around South Carolina's campus.

Safety D.J. Swearinger said a teacher asked him to the front of the room so his nearly 200 classmates could applaud him for South Carolina's Georgia win.

That's heady stuff for a team not used to big-time success. But Swearinger said neither his head, nor those of his teammates, will be turned by the attention.

Swearinger told the defensive players at Monday's practice they could not afford to dwell on last week's victory, not with an angry bunch of LSU Tigers ahead.

``We've got a bigger task at hand than Kentucky'' two years ago, Swearinger said.

LSU, the defending SEC champions, hope to rebound from its first loss of the season, 14-6, at No. 4 Florida last Saturday. Tigers coach Les Miles said the players want to quickly put the defeat behind and get back to winning.

``For the first time in a year and a half we are talking about regular-season loss,'' Miles said. ``And it is miserable for us.''

South Carolina has struggled, like many SEC teams, against LSU. The Gamecocks are 1-4-1 against the Tigers since joining the league in 1992, their only victory at Death Valley coming 18 years ago.

Chalk up another challenge, said South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles. ``I feel like we've got something to prove on the road,'' he said.

Quarles and Swearinger are among South Carolina's upperclassmen who have kept a steady hand on the team through its rise this season, Spurrier said. The pair are also close friends and former Greenwood High teammates of start LSU defensive lineman Sam Montgomery.

Quarles said the two have talked this week, wishing each other good luck and looking forward to seeing each other in person.

``We've got a brotherly bond,'' Quarles said. ``It's going to be fun.''

Spurrier's sure having a good time, despite his calm, focused talk.

This week, he recalled going 3-0 against LSU while playing quarterback for Florida in the 1960s, joked how fortunate the Gamecocks will be to have star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney for three years before he's NFL eligible - ``At Kentucky (basketball), they get them only one year and they're happy,'' Spurrier said - and even got in a dig at state rival Clemson, which also has nicknamed its football stadium, Death Valley.

``Most of our guys have never been to Death Valley. That is the Death Valley, isn't it? Or is there another one?'' Spurrier cracked. ``There's two of them? That's right, there's two Death Valleys.''

Spurrier said his team's fast offensive start against Georgia - the Gamecocks led 21-0 with less than nine minutes gone in the game - put the Bulldogs on their heels and gave South Carolina's defense the chance to make plays. The Gamecocks' D kept Georgia off the scoreboard until a meaningless touchdown in the game's final two minutes.

``When one team gets hot, scores on the first two or three possessions, you got an excellent defense, it can happen,'' he said. ``But you don't ever plan for it. You plan for a down to the wire game being won in the fourth quarter.''

That's what Spurrier's expecting against LSU. He's working this week to make sure his team's prepared for that, too.

``We're just trying to guard against going south and that we're totally ready to play this week,'' Spurrier said.

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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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