Nationals

Harbaugh sticking with Akers as starting kicker

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Harbaugh sticking with Akers as starting kicker

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) David Akers is keeping his job as San Francisco's starting kicker. For now, anyway.

Coach Jim Harbaugh made the announcement after practice Thursday, two days ahead of the 49ers' NFC divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers (12-5) at Candlestick Park.

``Suffice it to say we feel confident in David giving us the best chance to win,'' Harbaugh said.

The 49ers (11-4-1) signed Billy Cundiff on Jan. 1 to compete with Akers, a 15-year veteran who has struggled this season while making only 29 of 42 field-goal attempts.

He has plenty of supporters in the locker room who still believe he can put the ball through the uprights on the NFL's biggest stage.

``It's nice to see that Akers gets an opportunity to redeem himself, especially in the playoffs,'' safety Donte Whitner said. ``If he does it in the playoffs, I believe that everybody will forget about the misses that he had in the regular season.''

Akers revealed last week he underwent double hernia surgery last February, then re-aggravated the area earlier this season when he slipped on the field during practice. After a Nov. 25 game at New Orleans, Akers returned to the doctor in Philadelphia who performed the surgery to receive an injection.

The left-footed Akers understood why Cundiff was brought in, but made it clear he wants to remain the kicker.

``He responded like a football player does,'' Harbaugh said. ``He competed.''

Cundiff, who missed a potential tying 32-yarder that might have kept Baltimore and Harbaugh's big brother, John, from reaching the Super Bowl last season, will remain on the roster.

Harbaugh said he isn't likely to be among the active players Saturday.

``To be determined - most likely not,'' Harbaugh said. ``He's done a nice job. David's done a better job and is more prepared to give us the best chance to win.''

Akers received death threats last month via Twitter, and NFL and team security got involved.

He missed overtime kicks twice against the Rams this season, with the 49ers losing at St. Louis and tying at home. Akers had a field goal blocked in a loss at Seattle on Dec. 23 that Richard Sherman returned 90 yards for a touchdown.

He missed two more wide left in a home victory against Arizona in the regular-season finale before bouncing back to make two.

The 38-year-old Akers began the season by making a 63-yarder in a season-opening win at Green Bay in which the ball bounced off the crossbar and through the uprights.

Last week, he said, ``I would definitely give that 63-yarder back to make the two kicks against St. Louis.''

Akers wasn't available to the media Thursday.

``I have a lot of confidence in him,'' cornerback Carlos Rogers said. ``I actually thought that was going to be the choice. I thought he should stick with David from the get-go. I think that was just a little pressure to get David back on point. He was a little off. I'm glad he's out kicking. Coach is not the guy that brings in a lot of people, changes a lot of positions.

``We kind of stick who we've stuck with from the beginning of training camp. David's that guy. I've said all along David's going to make the kick to help us win the Super Bowl. That's just been my mindset, since Day 1.''

Rogers would know, too. They faced off for six seasons in the NFC East - Akers for the Eagles and Rogers with the Washington Redskins. Akers made 20 of 22 field goals in their head-to-head meetings, missing only from 50 and 53 yards.

Akers made 44 of 52 field goals during his All-Pro 2011 season, his first in a three-year deal after joining San Francisco. His reliable left leg had seemed near-perfect - causing his teammates to wonder why the Eagles would ever let him go - until this up-and-down season.

When asked whether Akers' playoff experience factored into the decision and gave him an edge over Cundiff, Harbaugh said, ``feel like we've plowed that ground as thoroughly as it can possibly be plowed.''

His teammates were happy to hear the news.

``Everybody respects Dave in this locker room,'' backup quarterback Alex Smith said. ``I know it's been tough. It's not easy. It seems like you only really get noticed when you go out there and fail. Everybody has respect for what Dave is about, what he stands for.

``He's obviously gone through a rough patch. Happy to see him win the competition. I hope it gets him back on track.''

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Is Nationals closer Sean Doolittle being pushed too much early in the season?

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Is Nationals closer Sean Doolittle being pushed too much early in the season?

Sean Doolittle joked about his usage early last May. In late April, he pitched three consecutive days. May 3, he picked up a five-out save. Being pushed so early in the season opened his eyes behind his clear goggles. 

“I guess the training wheels are off,” Doolittle said then. 

The Nationals pushed Doolittle because early April was bad. A four-game, season-opening sweep of Cincinnati gave way to an 11-16 first month. Washington played at a 70-win pace the three-plus weeks after leaving Ohio feeling good about itself. Which forced new manager Davey Martinez to predominantly use only the relievers he had the utmost trust in. Doolittle was part of that band, and pitched 12 innings in 12 appearances across April. He pitched 12 more in May, seven in June, three in July and zero in August because he was injured. 

Doolittle has 10 appearances on his ledger this season. Seven games remain in April. Washington enters play Tuesday a game under .500, roiled by the league’s worst bullpen. He’ll have every chance to pass 12 appearances by the end of April, something he’s done once before. That was in 2016. Doolittle threw just 39 innings that year because shoulder inflammation did not allow him to pitch in July or August. 

Which begs multiple questions: Is his usage out of the ordinary as compared to the league? How foreign is it for him? And, is there any reasonable way to avoid it when managing the league’s worst bullpen? 

To the last question first. No. No is the answer. Martinez can’t trust anyone outside of Doolittle no matter the situation. Wander Suero and Kyle Barraclough are probably 2-3 in the Bullpen Trust Rankings, at the moment. Each allowed a home run Monday night in Colorado. Which is why Doolittle enters 5-0 games, adding another appearance to his total. 

Doolittle’s total pitches thrown is not outlandish as compared to general relievers in the rest of the league. Coming into Tuesday, Doolittle was 33rd in the National League among bullpen dwellers. The Mets have three of the top eight among NL relievers in pitches thrown. Their bullpen is 27th in ERA. In other words, New York is bludgeoning a specific trio early in the season just to achieve a bottom-end result. That’s a bad mix. 

But, Doolittle’s pitch count matters more specific to him and when related to closers. He’s thrown more than 1,000 pitches once -- six years ago when he made a career-high 70 appearances for Oakland. A 928-pitch season followed. Otherwise, he has never eclipsed 800 pitches in a year. He’s averaging 17.3 pitches per outing this season. If he makes 60 appearances -- 10 fewer than his career-best -- Doolittle will still set a career-high in pitches thrown, at this rate. 

Doolittle is also third among full-time National League closers in pitches thrown. 

Another way to look at common usage is simply checking on last season’s top-five saves leaders in the National League. Wade Davis pitched 65 ⅓ innings, Kenley Jansen 71 ⅔, Felipe Vazquez 70, Brad Boxberger 53 ⅓, Raisel Iglesias 72. The top-five closers worked less the season before. Only Corey Knebel cracked 70 innings. Three of the top five did not exceed 60. 

The most rapid -- and perhaps only -- in-house way to lighten Doolittle’s work is to get Trevor Rosenthal right. If Rosenthal is ever able to take just two appearances per month from Doolittle, a profound benefit for Doolittle will follow. This is a premise Washington was working under when it signed Rosenthal. It’s also a premise emphatically flushed by his early yips.

Piled together, a 70-plus appearance, 1,000-pitch season for Doolittle is extreme. Yet, that’s where he’s heading, if he can make it.

 

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Redskins Talk hosts "Redskins On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

Redskins Talk hosts "Redskins On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

It's the moment we've all been waiting for: finding out who the Redskins are going to take as their No. 15 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

After much anticipation and countless mock drafts, Redskins fans will finally find out what's to come for the Burgundy and Gold in the upcoming NFL season. 

And we couldn't let you handle this news alone: So we've got the Redskins Talk crew hosting a special "Redskins on the Clock" live stream to address, analyze and hopefully rejoice over the 'Skins decision. 

<<CHECK OUT NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON'S LATEST NFL MOCK DRAFT>>

On Thursday, Apr. 25th, JP Finlay, Peter Hailey and Mitchell Tischler from the Redskins Talk Podcast, along with guests Travis Thomas and Trevor Matich, will be offering a live look into their thoughts and concerns surrounding both the Redskins' pick and all of Round 1. The live stream will be available on the MyTeams by NBC Sports App from approximately 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. 

And if you haven't already downloaded the MyTeams App, you can do so right now, RIGHT HERE.

Redskins Talk Podcast "Redskins on the Clock" Special

CLICK HERE to watch the daily live stream of the Redskins Talk Podcast

When: 8 p.m. - (approximately) 11 p.m. ET, Thursday, Apr. 25th 

Live Stream: Click to stream Redskins Talk Podcast Live every day this week

Want to subscribe to Redskins Talk?: 
Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19

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