Nationals

A's gear up for new season with added expectations

A's gear up for new season with added expectations

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Center fielder Coco Crisp strutted back into the Bay Area with puffed-up hair and a retro-style beard. Red-headed right fielder Josh Reddick slicked back his locks and added even more inches to his bushy beard as part of an ongoing competition. General manager Billy Beane still had his hair combed clean but picked ``a terrible time,'' he said, for a sun spot to be removed from his nose.

The Oakland Athletics are back, and with plenty of new looks.

In front of a sellout crowd of more than 10,000 fans at neighboring Oracle Arena, players and coaches returned to Oakland on Sunday to drum-up support before heading to spring training in a few weeks. FanFest, the meet-and-greet event the team canceled for three years until holding it again last January, swelled with so much support the team had to turn people away.

After an improbable run to the AL West title last season, attention on the low-budget club could be greater this summer. Unlike a year ago, the A's aren't sneaking up on anybody.

``It's better than having no expectations,'' Beane said.

Players said they started to realize their newfound fame during the offseason.

Reddick spent time back home in southeast Georgia. He bought his first house in Guyton, Ga., and a new English Bulldog named Murray - after Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.

``Felt like it was right,'' he joked.

Reddick said people recognized him more no matter where he went, and he even hosted his first charity event - a home-run derby to support his hometown of Rincon, Ga. Same went for several other players, whether they stayed in Northern California or returned to home for the shortened down time.

All of it was the result of Oakland's surprising success.

The A's played a video montage to start FanFest that highlighted the improbable run: They finished 94-68, capturing the AL West title on the final day of the regular season over Texas for the franchise's first playoff berth since 2006 and became the only team in major league history to win a division or pennant after trailing by five games with fewer than 10 to play.

After losing the first two games in the division series at Detroit, the A's rallied at home to force a decisive Game 5 at the Coliseum, where Tigers ace Justin Verlander pitched a four-hitter in a 6-0 victory.

``Expectations haven't changed,'' Reddick said. ``We have firm belief we can do it again this year.''

Reigning AL Manager of the Year Bob Melvin grabbed a microphone on stage following the video and team introductions. He quieted the roaring crowd of A's fans and took a few seconds to savor the moment before asking, ``What's up Oakland?''

Typical Bo-Mel, as players call him.

``My job is to get everybody with the right mindset, the right focus, knowing that we have to try to build on last year, create the momentum, understand what we did last year but know that each and every year is separate,'' Melvin said later. ``And that we have to work even harder, focus just as much, not worry about the distractions, outside things, whether that's expectations or anything like that and just focus on what we were good at last year in playing for that day.''

Creating the same clubhouse atmosphere could be tough.

The A's playoff berth came with a payroll of $59.5 million - lowest in the majors - and 12 rookies. They did it with significant injuries to their starting pitchers, and they did it after losing right-hander Bartolo Colon to a 50-game suspension in August for a positive testosterone test. Oakland then re-signed him in November.

Most of the team remains intact, with the notable exceptions of outfielder Jonny Gomes, pitcher Brandon McCarthy and shortstops Cliff Pennington and Stephen Drew. The A's dealt Pennington to Arizona in October in a three-team trade for outfielder Chris Young. Melvin said Young will be part of a five-man rotation - that includes designated hitter - with Reddick, Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes and Seth Smith.

Crisp and Reddick, the team's most vocal leaders left, said this year's club will have to find its place. Some of the bonding even started at FanFest. New Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima said Young taught him his favorite new American idiom: ``For real?''

Crisp some changes might include tweaking the pie-in-the-face celebrations and the ``Bernie Lean'' dance that became staples last summer. He joked that Pee-Wee Herman's old routine is one possibility.

``Things are going to change up a little bit with our chemistry,'' Crisp said. ``I think that's the main thing, that's what made us so good last year was just our chemistry was perfect pretty much. That's going to be something we're going to have to work on in spring training and figure out our new identity.''

The A's once again will be underdogs in the AL West. The high-priced Los Angeles Angels signed Josh Hamilton away from hard-hitting Texas, and both division rivals could threaten Oakland's crown.

Players said money didn't matter last season, and they don't think it will this time around either.

``Other teams made a lot of improvements. That doesn't mean we can't have a similar or better season than last year,'' Cespedes said in Spanish. ``We just have to put in our heads that we're a good team together and to go out and enjoy the game. Don't put so much pressure on ourselves.''

The team's architect agrees.

``The one sort of narrative I never really bought into was that we snuck up on anybody last year,'' Beane said. ``I don't think you sneak up on somebody in 162 games.''

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This time, closer Sean Doolittle costs the Nationals a game

This time, closer Sean Doolittle costs the Nationals a game

NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 6-1, Wednesday to drop their record to 19-30. Here are five observations from the game...

1.  What to say when the only person to trust can’t deliver?

That’s the status for these Washington Nationals, now 11 games under .500 after Sean Doolittle's worst outing since arriving in Washington, sliding further and further away, unable to stumble into wins and only capable of hunting down ways to lose.

A night after curious bullpen usage which delivered yet another wrenching loss, and was followed Wednesday afternoon by a pep-talk focused team meeting, manager Davey Martinez dispatched his knee-quaking posse of relievers in superior fashion.

Joe Ross opened the seventh with an out. Matt Grace followed with two. Six outs to go in a 1-0 game for the league’s worst bullpen.

Kyle Barraclough started the eighth. He struck out J.D. Davis. Adeiny Hechavarria doubled, though the ball should have been caught by Juan Soto. Pete Alonso grounded out. Todd Frazier came to the plate and options arrived. A mound visit was followed by a four-pitch walk to Frazier. Doolittle entered the game to face light-hitting veteran Carlos Gomez. Stomach-churning chaos followed.

Doolittle hit Gomez with his first pitch -- his first beaned batter of the year and first since May 29, 2018. Juan Lagares doubled two pitches later to clear the bases. Wilson Ramos was intentionally walked. Pinch-hitter Rajai Davis hit a three-run homer two pitches into his at-bat.

That was the end for Doolittle, who walked off the mound with a stunned look. The one reliable piece in the league’s worst bullpen had as disastrous a night as possible, flushing Max Scherzer’s start, throwing aside rare quality work from other relievers, sending the Nationals to their fourth consecutive loss in this can’t-get-right season.

What followed was a stupefied clubhouse beginning to process just how dire the situation is on May 22.

Adam Eaton wondered where answers are and said they need to come now.

“We need to do something different sooner rather than later,” Eaton said. “We've talked about this for weeks now. Just haven't been playing good baseball.”

Martinez said he was “shocked” by Doolittle’s off-kilter outing.

“I tell them all the time: This thing will turn around,” Martinez said. “It’s going to turn around. But we have to believe that it will. We have to will it. It’s time that we just believe that we’re good enough to play here, cause we are. And we’ve got to make it happen. We’ve got to make things happen. And stay strong. Stay together. Stay strong. Pull for your teammates. And this thing will turn around.”

Doolittle had a hard time wrapping his head around his rare 12-pitch crumbling.

“I don't know, it's tough and it's a tough spot to come in and the context of how our season's going it hurts you even more,” Doolittle said. “To have Max pitch so well tonight and the guys grind it out....shoot I don't know. I'm really frustrated. I'm disgusted with myself and I let the team down. And it hurts.”

Scherzer was stern in his comments about a spiraling season.

“When you face adversity, this is when you reveal yourself,” Scherzer said. “Whether you have the mental fortitude to come back and you can block out all the negativity that's probably going to surround us right now. You've got to come forward to the game with that positive attitude of knowing what you can control and that you have the right mindset that you're going to go out there and compete and compete at 100 percent. You have to think of all the little things you can do.”

There were those two words again: “little things.” They have conspired against the Nationals this year, undermining an-almost $200 million payroll, increasingly putting the manager’s future in jeopardy and ratcheting up calls for sweeping change. There’s been nothing little about them, and nothing the Nationals have figured out on the field or off to stop them from snuffing out the year before the season is even close to half done.

2. Scherzer needed 109 pitches to make it through six innings. The most important of those was his final one. The 11-pitch sixth gave the Nationals three fewer outs to pawn off on the bullpen. Scherzer opened the inning at 98 pitches before briskly working through Todd Frazier, Carlos Gomez and Juan Lagares.

He allowed four hits, struck out nine and walked two. The night drove Scherzer’s ERA down to 3.41. It all mattered little in the end.

“You just take it inning by inning, try to execute pitches,” Scherzer said. “I thought tonight I had a good inning out of the windup, had a good rocker step, and there were some pitches that I threw tonight that I executed well because I was nice and tall throughout my delivery. It kind of let me be able to pick up some consistency kind of early in the game and late in the game. When my delivery is right, and my slot is in the right spot, that’s when I execute all my pitches. So I felt like I was in better position tonight overall than I have been in the past.”

Why was Scherzer back to the mound after 98 pitches in five innings? Because of losses six weeks ago, three weeks ago, last week and this week. A team 10 games under .500 has to squeeze everything it can out of its ace on May 22. Time for a margin of error has eroded. What happened back then (losing series to Miami, for instance) piles up to have a grand influence on later.

3. Grace has been used as a matchup left-hander recently. He’s found that life more appealing.

Grace matched up with Cubs left-hander Anthony Rizzo and recorded an out Sunday. He faced Robinson Cano on Tuesday to pick up a ground out. Wednesday, Grace was brought in to face left-handed pinch-hitter Dominic Smith. Smith grounded out to first. Grace remained in to face Amed Rosario and recorded another ground ball out.

The Nationals are trying to put Grace in spots to get his feet back on the ground after a night as the punching bag at the end of a blowout loss against the Chicago Cubs last Friday (and a down season overall). So far, this role has been better.

4. Remember the extended minor-league assignments for after players were hurt? That’s gone. And the results are not great.

Matt Adams was activated Wednesday. Adrian Sanchez was sent to Double-A Harrisburg to make room on the 25-man roster.

Adams did all his rehabilitation work with the major-league team. He took batting practice on the field and in the batting cages before that. He also took ground balls and infield practice. What he didn’t do was go on a minor-league assignment despite not playing since May 3. The Nationals judged him ready to play because his swing looked in place against a pitching machine.

Wednesday, he made a crucial error in the first inning. Robinson Cano rolled a small ground ball to first, Adams fielded, pivoted and threw toward second base, where the runner on first was heading. The ball never came close to the bag. It went to the outfield instead, which presented the Mets with runners on second and third and one out instead of a runner on first and one out (or a chance at a longshot double play). It, most importantly, cost Scherzer more pitches.

Scherzer pitched his way out of it as he often has this season. He came into the game leading the league in FIP (fielding-independent pitching).

Trea Turner played just two games for Triple-A Potomac after missing seven weeks. Asked how many games he would have preferred to play there, Turner said one. He made two wayward throws his first game back with the Nationals.

So, instantly putting these guys back on the field -- which is every player’s preference and a spot the Nationals’ record has leveraged them into -- is not ideal.

5.  Kyle McGowin will start Friday. His visit to the rotation is expected to be temporary.

McGowin will pitch in Jeremy Hellickson’s spot. He was up to give length in the bullpen. Like Erick Fedde, he’ll be drawn away from the relievers to fill a rotation spot.

McGowin is a sinker-ball pitcher. He made one start at the end of last season. He also is currently suspended by the Pacific Coast League after a substance was found in his glove following an inspection by umpires during his last outing.

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Redskins sign linebacker Jon Bostic to try and help make up for the loss of Reuben Foster

Redskins sign linebacker Jon Bostic to try and help make up for the loss of Reuben Foster

Two days after losing Reuben Foster for the year, the Redskins made a move to at least provide reinforcements to a weakened linebacker group.

On Wednesday, Washington announced that they have signed Jon Bostic, a six-year veteran. The 'Skins also officially placed Foster on injured reserve.

Bostic was a 2013 second-round pick of the Bears out of Florida. He's since bounced around to New England, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh, where he started 14 times for the Steelers in 2018 and posted 73 tackles. He's been traded twice in his career and missed all of 2016 with a foot injury. 

So, what does the move accomplish for the Redskins?

Well, Bostic — or any other free agent signing at this point — isn't going to have close to the level of talent and potential that Foster had. However, getting another option at linebacker was necessary for the Burgundy and Gold, and the 28-year-old has played in 30 contests over the past two years, so he's relatively established. 

Yes, he's far from a gamechanger, considering he has just one interception and 5.5 sacks as a pro. But he's regarded as a solid run defender and tackler and should at least push Mason Foster and Shaun Dion Hamilton. His presence also could alleviate some of the pressure that would've been on rookie Cole Holcomb. 

Signing a defender who's been with five franchises in six years isn't exactly inspiring, but Bostic has experience as a starter and could give the Redskins useful snaps on first and second down at a minimum. Now it's on him to take advantage of the opportunity he's been given.

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