Capitals

GMs discuss more replay, September roster changes

GMs discuss more replay, September roster changes

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) In between trade talks and early negotiations with free agents, baseball general managers considered some wide-ranging changes that include broader use of instant replay by umpires, changed roster limits for September and protective headgear for pitchers.

On the first day of the GM's three-day annual session, the Colorado Rockies hired Walt Weiss as manager Wednesday and the New York Mets announced they had reached an agreement to terminate outfielder Jason Bay's contract with one guaranteed season remaining. The Los Angeles Dodgers finalized a deal to hire Mark McGwire to be their hitting coach.

Arizona general manager Kevin Towers said he'd listen to trade offers for two-time All-Star right fielder Justin Upton but thought a swap was not likely. And Texas GM Jon Daniels said the Rangers remained interested in re-signing All-Star slugger Josh Hamilton.

During the formal part of the meetings, the GMs talked about instant replay. Video review in baseball began in August 2008 and has been limited to checking whether potential home runs were fair or cleared over fences. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has been saying since early 2011 he wants to expand it to two additional types of calls.

``He was talking about really basically fair-foul, trap plays. But we're looking into more than that,'' said Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president for baseball operations.

Torre did not detail what types of calls a broader expansion might include.

During tests late this year at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, MLB experimented with the Hawk-Eye animation system that is used to judge line calls in tennis and the TrackMan radar software used by the PGA Tour.

``We still have some questions on the way it is now, if that's going to fit with baseball,'' Torre said. ``I'm not saying it can't be adjusted or they can do something that would make it work for our game.''

Depending on what baseball decides, changes might have to be negotiated with the umpires' and players' unions.

GMs also discussed altering the longtime rule allowing active rosters to expand from 25 to 40 from Sept. 1 through the rest of the regular season. Some teams have been reluctant to use the larger limit late in the season. They have cited not wanting to disrupt minor league teams in their playoffs, and those decisions have led to big league games in which teams have differing numbers of available players.

``Each team should have equal number of players available every day,'' Torre said. ``I just think you play the whole season with one set of rules and the most important time of the year, especially for clubs that are in a pennant race, I just don't think it's fair for it to be done (with a) different number of roster people.''

Torre said one possibility would be setting a fixed number of players who must be on the active roster for September games.

``We've talked about 28. We've talked about 30,'' he said. ``It was talked about at length today.''

The players' union would have to approve the change.

``This was a subject in bargaining in 2011, but no agreement was reached,'' union head Michael Weiner said. ``If MLB has a midterm proposal to make, we will consider it. This clearly is a mandatory subject.''

GMs also went over ways to protect pitchers from injuries after two were hit on the head by line drives late in the season. MLB staff have said a cap liner with Kevlar, the high-impact material used by military, law enforcement and NFL players for body armor, is among the ideas under consideration.

``If we settle on something that is going to make sense, and obviously the pitcher has to be comfortable with it, we'll obviously put that in as soon as possible,'' Torre explained.

Oakland's Brandon McCarthy was hit on the head by a line drive in September, causing a skull fracture and brain contusion that required surgery. Detroit's Doug Fister was hit on the head by a liner off the bat of San Francisco's Gregor Blanco during the World Series. Fister was unhurt and stayed in the game.

MLB medical director Dr. Gary Green is to give a report at next month's winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn. MLB senior vice president Dan Halem has said protective headgear for pitchers could be in place in the minor leagues for next season.

After the formal meetings ended at the hotel owned by Colorado owner Dick Monfort, the Rockies announced the hiring of Weiss to replace Jim Tracy, who quit Oct. 7 following a last-place finish in the NL West.

The 1988 AL Rookie of the Year with Oakland, Weiss played shortstop for the Rockies from 1994-97 and was a special assistant to O'Dowd from 2002-08. He left to spend more time with his family and last season coached Regis Jesuit High School outside Denver, in Aurora, to a 20-6 record and the 5A semifinals of the state championship. Weiss' son, Brody, is in his senior year at the school.

As for player talks, the Mets' agreement makes the 34-year-old Bay a free agent and allows the team to spread out the remaining $21 million it owes him.

After signing a $66 million, four-year deal before the 2010 season, the three-time All-Star hit .234 in three injury-plagued seasons with 26 homers and 124 RBIs, including a .165 average with eight homers and 20 RBIs this year. Sidelined by concussions and rib injuries, he played just 288 games for the Mets.

``I still feel I have plenty to give to this game and that I can play baseball at a high level. But after serious consideration, both sides agree that we would benefit from a fresh start,'' Bay said in a statement released by the team.

McGwire, whose 583 homers rank 10th, joined the Dodgers after three seasons as hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals. He was, lured by the chance to spend more time with his wife and five young children.

``It's the first time in my baseball career I have an opportunity to live at home and work at home,'' McGwire said. ``To do what I love, still be in the game of baseball and to be at home, it just fit perfectly.''

Daniels hopes Texas remains a fit for Hamilton, a slugger who appears likely to leave after helping the team win AL pennants in 2009 and `10.

``I think there's this perception that we don't want Josh back. That's not accurate. I'd love to have Josh back. It's got to work for both sides,'' Daniels said. ``Whether he ends up here or not, I feel like some need to defend him right now that everyone's kind of throwing out the negatives with him. The reality is like this guy's been a stud for this franchise for the last five years and done some things that have enabled us to reach levels we hadn't previously reached.''

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

It all comes down to this.

The Eastern Conference Championship is on the line Wednesday as the Capitals take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tampa. Here are five keys for how the Caps can win and advance to face the Vegas Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

Score first

Game 7 is in Tampa Bay, the Lightning are deeper offensively and defensively and have a goalie capable of shutting down an offense.

Oh, and the Lightning are 8-1 when scoring first this postseason.

The Capitals are at their best when they are dictating the play. They want to play physical, trap the blue line and counter against the Lightning. None of those are particularly great strategies for chasing a game.

That makes the first goal critical.

The Lightning fans have seen their team lose twice at home already this series and fail to close out the Caps in Game 6. They have watched their team reach the conference finals two straight years in 2015 and 2016, fail to win the Stanley Cup in either year and fail to even make the playoffs in 2017.

Not only does playing with a lead better suit their game plan, but if Washington scores first that crowd is going to get very uncomfortable very quickly.

Gauge the referees

The Caps were very physical in Game 6 and they found success with that game plan. You would expect them to have a similar approach to Game 7, but they need to be careful.

In Game 6, it was clear the referees had put away the whistles. There were a few questionable plays on both sides that the referees let go. In a Game 7, you would hope the referees take the same approach, but they may not.

Tampa Bay’s power play is very good and the Caps cannot afford to give them many opportunities, but Washington will still want to play a physical style. It’s a fine line to walk so the Caps will need to quickly figure out how strictly the referees are calling the game and adjust accordingly.

Win the goalie matchup

In this series, Andrei Vasilevskiy has had two bad games and four good ones. He lost both of his bad games and won three of his good ones. He did not win the fourth, however, because he was outplayed by Braden Holtby.

Vasilevskiy was great in Game 6, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled to get on the board. When the Caps finally did, Holtby shut the door to make sure the Lightning could not climb back. Vasilevskiy allowed just two goals on 32 shots, but Holtby turned away all 24 of the shots he faced for the shutout.

This is Game 7. There is no Game 8 just because you run into a hot goalie. If Vasilevskiy is on his game again on Wednesday, Holtby will have to be just as good if not better to make sure the Caps win.

Beat the fourth line

Playing at home in Game 6 allowed the Caps to get away somewhat from the Alex Ovechkin vs. fourth line matchup the Lightning have found success with. At 5-on-5, Chris Kunitz played 6:55 against Ovechkin, Ryan Callahan played 6:22 and Cedric Paquette played 6:12, considerably less than the 13:04, 13:46 and 13:42 each respectively logged in Game 5.

With Game 7 in Tampa, Barry Trotz will not be able to get away from that matchup. That means Ovechkin will just have to beat it.

That does necessarily mean he has to score a hat-trick. Ovechkin was one of the team’s top performers in Game 6 despite not logging a point as he helped establish a physical tone that ignited the team. But he has to make sure at the very least that his line is not outscored by the fourth like it was in Game 5 when Paquette and Callahan each scored.

Have a short memory

If you have a bad game in Game 1, you know you can bounce back in the series. A Game 7, however, is winner take all. If there’s a bad bounce, a bad call by the referees, a bad play, a missed save, whatever it may be, the Caps have to be able to put it out of their minds quickly.

There is no room for the “here we go again” mentality on Wednesday. The fate of this season will be determined within 60 minutes. If Holtby is not on his game, the Caps will have to battle through it. If Ovechkin has a bad night, the Caps will have to battle through it. If the referees decide they are going to call everything down to the letter of the law, the Caps will have to battle through it.

If something goes against them, they cannot allow it to bog them down mentally as we have seen at times in Game 7s of the past.

Likewise, if things go well they need to put that out of their heads as well. Desperation will grow among the Lightning as the game goes on. This is not the time to sit on a lead or circle the wagons.

Washington can’t let mistakes or success go to their head until the clock hits 00:00.

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, May 23, 65 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

What to look for at OTAs

Redskins OTAs started yesterday. The no-contact drills are the first time during the offseason program that the offense and defense are permitted to line up against each other. The-no pads aspect of it does take off a lot of the edge but the reality is that this will be the closest thing to football we will see until training camp starts in late July. 

Here are some things that I will be looking for during today’s practice.

Who’s in? Jay Gruden told us earlier that we should expect to see some injured key players not participating as they continue to recover from 2017 injuries. Specifically, OT Trent Williams (knee), OT Morgan Moses (ankles), and TE Jordan Reed (hamstring/toe) will only be spectators if they are at Redskins Park at all. Other players who may sit out or participate only in light drills are RB Chris Thompson (leg), and ILB Mason Foster (shoulder). The Redskins have been relatively healthy the past few offseasons so we will see how they deal with the aftermath of the injury scourge that hit the team last year. 

Seven-on-seven—Sure, it’s fun to watch the full team drills with 11 on each side but since blocking and tackling is limited by the rules about contact, there isn’t much to be gleaned from watching an off-tackle run. But when they eliminate the guards, tackles, and interior defensive linemen it’s all passing and then we can watch how well Alex Smith and his receivers are connecting. One thing I’ll keep in mind is that Smith decided not to get the receivers together for a “passing camp” before the offseason activities started. He said that he wanted to get to know the playbook first. Because of that they can be forgiven if they are not quite as sharp as they might be. Also, how natural does Derrius Guice look coming out of the backfield to catch passes? His primary job will be to carry the ball, but if he is a legitimate pass-catching threat, the whole offense will be harder to defend.

Rookies vs. pros—In rookie camp two weeks ago we saw Trey Quinn putting defensive backs on the ground with some moves and Troy Apke showing great makeup speed on some long passes. But those tryout defensive backs and quarterbacks are no longer around. How will Quinn look against veteran Orlando Scandrick or second-year corner Josh Holsey? Will Smith’s ball placement negate Apke’s speed? In the one-on-one pass blocking drills, which emphasize technique over power, can Daron Payne get past Brandon Scherff?

The big guys—With Williams and Moses out, who will line up along the offensive line? Does Payne line up at nose tackle or is he used more as an end with Tim Settle in the middle? Is Ziggy Hood in the middle or will he work outside? How is Phil Taylor looking after a quad injury ended his season in training camp? As noted, the rules make it hard to tell much about linemen before Richmond but we try to glean what we can. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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My reaction to this tweet from the NFL illustrating the changes to the kickoff rules:

Timeline  

Today’s schedule:Redskins OTA practice 11:30; Jay Gruden and Alex Smith press conferences, players available coming off the field, after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 20
—Training camp starts (7/26) 65
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 79

The Redskins last played a game 143 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 109 days. 

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