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Heinicke, Breitenstein lead AP FCS All-Americans

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Heinicke, Breitenstein lead AP FCS All-Americans

NEW YORK (AP) Taylor Heinicke passed his way through the record books on his way to becoming an All-American.

Heinicke, the record-setting quarterback from Old Dominion, and fellow Payton Award finalists Eric Breitenstein from Wofford and Miguel Maysonet from Stony Brook were selected to The Associated Press FCS All-America team released Wednesday.

Heinicke had the most prolific passing season in the history of what used to be called Division I-AA. The sophomore from Atlanta passed for 5,076 yards, breaking the record set by the late Steve McNair when he was at Alcorn State in 1994. Heinicke finished with 5,546 yards of total offense, second only to McNair's 5,799.

``What Taylor did this year from an individual standpoint is nothing short of incredible,'' ODU coach Bobby Wilder said Wednesday.

``We build our system around our quarterback and what we feel like are his strengths. To run an offense that suits their needs. As (Heinicke) has gotten comfortable in our system, we've become more of a throwing team because of his comfort level.''

The Walter Payton Award goes to the top player in FCS and will be handed out Monday night in Philadelphia.

Heinicke became the starter for ODU's fledgling football program, which just completed its fourth season and will transition to FBS next year, four games into the 2011 season. The Monarchs relied more on the run last year.

``This (past) offseason I really put an emphasis on knowing the whole playbook,'' Heinicke said. ``This year we really bought into the Air Raid-type of offense.''

The Monarchs' fast-paced spread puts a premium on fast decisions and quick, accurate passes. Heinicke also set FCS records for completions (398) and total plays (705). And he ran for 470 yards and 11 touchdowns.

``He understands our philosophy is to find a way to move the chains,'' Wilder said. ``If you need to run the ball, you run it to get a critical first down and those first downs lead to touchdowns. Protect the ball and find a way to move the chains.''

Heinicke did just that in September against New Hampshire when he passed for a Division I record 730 yards in a 64-61 victory. He threw 79 passes in that game without an interception.

Old Dominion finished 11-2, losing last week to Georgia Southern, 49-35, in the quarterfinals of the playoffs.

Breitenstein made his second straight appearance as a first-team All-American. The 230-pound senior fullback ran for 2,035 yards and 19 touchdowns this season.

Maysonet ran for 1,964 and 21 touchdowns for the Seawolves.

Murray State quarterback Casey Brockman was picked to the second-team. Colgate quarterback Gavin McCarney made the third team.

Eastern Illinois' Erik Lora and Elon's Aaron Mellette, ranked 1-2 in the nation in catches and yards receiving, were the receivers and Harvard's Kyle Juszczyk was the tight end.

A couple of guys who will be playing in this weekend's FCS semifinals highlight the offensive line.

Billy Turner and North Dakota State host Georgia Southern on Friday night and Will Post and Eastern Washington host Sam Houston State on Saturday.

The other linemen were Earl Watford from James Madison, Mike Sellers from The Citadel and Roger Gaines from Tennessee State.

The defense is led by Georgia Southern's 300-pound defensive tackle Brent Russell and Georgetown linebacker Robert McCabe, who leads the nation with 14.45 tackles per game.

Brandon Thurmond of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the nation's leader with 17 1/2 sacks, joined Russell on the line along with Colton Underwood of Illinois State.

Montana State placed two players on the defense. End Caleb Schreibeis leads FCS with eight forced fumbles and linebacker Cody Owens was the Big Sky defensive player of the year.

New Hampshire linebacker Matt Evans, who was a second-team All-American last year, made the first team this year.

Defensive back Marcus Williams of North Dakota State joined Breitenstein as a two-time All-American and became the only defensive player to repeat this season.

North Dakota State and Montana State were the only teams to place two players on the first team.

The other defensive backs were Darnell Taylor of Sam Houston State, Jaquiski Tartt of Samford and Cooper Taylor of Richmond.

Walter Powell of Murray State was the all-purpose player. He had 1,213 yards receiving and more than 900 yards returning kicks and punts.

Patrick Murray of Fordham was the kicker and Sam Martin of Appalachian State was the punter.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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Max Scherzer's return from hamstring injury was a battle, but one he won against the Mets

Max Scherzer's return from hamstring injury was a battle, but one he won against the Mets

Better. Though the bar was low.

Max Scherzer worked for six innings Tuesday night in New York. He made it through one roughshod inning during his last outing against the Mets because his hamstring “tweak” was enough of an alarm that he decided to stop pitching.

That was seven days prior to his start against the Mets, which the Nationals won, 2-1. Ostensibly, Scherzer had not pitched for 13 days. He lasted the one inning, needed to work his hamstring problem out, then find a way back to the mound.

Davey Martinez wanted him to stop sprinting -- the initial cause of the hamstring problem -- in between starts. Scherzer did not want to stop sprinting, so he continued to do so once he felt better. He also pitched twice from a mound in the days before the bottom of the first on Tuesday. Both times, he felt 100 percent when pushing and landing. The hamstring was fine. So much so, that he expected to throw the 105 pitches he did to hold off the Mets across the grinding innings they imposed on him.

“Took some shots there early, but didn’t break and found a way to execute pitches there later in the game,” Scherzer said.

RELATED: TREA TURNER'S SWING HAS TAKEN TIME TO ADJUST WITHOUT REPLAY ACCESS

He finished with seven strikeouts across the six innings. Just a run scored. But, there were eight baserunners and Scherzer was in severe trouble in both the first and second innings. Those were the issues as he hunted a path to better out-pitches and location.

“It honestly kind of reminded me of Game 7 of the World Series when he went out there and he couldn’t zone in on the strike zone,” Martinez said. “His stuff was good. His pitch count got high. Once he settled in, we started noticing he started getting through the ball a little better. Balls started coming down. Started throwing a lot more strikes.”

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“Even though my pitch count got out of control, I was just able to just stay with [Kurt Suzuki] and continue to pound the zone and find a way to get through six [Tuesday],” Scherzer said.

The good is clear: He is back on the mound, healthy, throwing 98 mph and 100-plus pitches. Stephen Strasburg returned two days prior, though he is not 100 percent. Scherzer is physically right, if slightly rusty. That combination was sufficient in his first start after the hamstring problem.

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With no access to in-game video, Trea Turner’s swing has taken time to adjust

With no access to in-game video, Trea Turner’s swing has taken time to adjust

Heading into the Nationals’ four-game series with the New York Mets this week, Trea Turner was hitting just .196 on the young season with one home run. The vaunted base stealer had been thrown out on the basepaths three times while having yet to swipe a bag successfully. In the field, he’d racked up three errors.

It was a frustrating start for the 27-year-old shortstop, who’s coming off a season in which he played with only nine fingers and still found a way to serve as a catalyst atop the Nationals’ lineup. Now fully healthy, Turner was expected to play a role in helping Washington absorb the loss of Anthony Rendon in the middle of its lineup.

Normally, poor at-bats would prompt Turner to head down to the replay room for a quick look at his mechanics. He goes into the clubhouse in between innings and examines his previous swings to see if he needs to make any adjustments. It’s a practice Turner has grown to rely on over the course of his major-league career.

But this season, Turner hasn’t had access to the replay room after MLB banned in-game video as part of its health protocols for playing in the middle of a pandemic. Instead, he’s had to wait until after each game before being able to break down his swing. It’s made for slower progress, but after going 5-for-9 with two home runs and four RBIs over the first two games of the series in New York, he feels that his adjustments have started to pay off.

“I felt good in the box and I feel like my approach was good but not having video is a little different and I feel like in years past I was pretty good at going back and just checking out the swing real quick and making the little adjustment I need to make in game,” Turner said in a Zoom press conference after Tuesday’s 2-1 win.

“Finally made the right adjustment a few games ago and started putting the barrel on the ball and feeling a little better. The last four or five games or so my contact has been a little bit stronger and it was just a matter of time for the hits to start to fall.”

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Turner hasn’t been the only member of the baseball community to express how the lack of video access has changed their approach. On Saturday, Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash told MLB Network Radio that he wasn’t pleased with MLB’s decision to ban something that had become an integral tool for coaches and players during games.

“Without being too controversial, I think it's absolutely ridiculous,” Cash said. “It's probably one of the worst things that I've seen Major League Baseball do in take video away from players. Video is what makes us good. It helps us learn, it helps us coach, it helps us attack. And it's been taken away from us because of one team, or a couple teams' stupid choices.”

“We can't even watch a game; we cannot watch our own game. Our players cannot come in and watch a game in the clubhouse. It is asinine. The entire protocol system, how they came up with that, it is wrong. They're doing an injustice to players.”

While it’s unknown whether the real reasoning behind MLB’s decision is related to health protocols or the sign-stealing scandals that surrounded the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox over the offseason, Turner isn’t making any excuses. In fact, the results are beginning to turn his way.

Entering play Tuesday, Turner had a hard-hit percentage of 40.9 percent, well above his career rate of 32.5. His batting average on balls in play was just .238 (league average is .300), indicating he had been getting unlucky on some well struck balls. In fact, his groundball rate is down five percentage points from his career average while his flyball rate is up 10 percent.

Then came his home run off Mets starter Rick Porcello in the first inning. Turner took a breaking ball high and away and hit it off his back foot on a line straight into the seats in right field.

It was only Turner’s second opposite-field homer of his career after he hit none all of last season. Yet even with the adjustments he’d been making to his swing, he said that he didn’t go into the at-bat looking to hit anything to right field against Porcello.

“I think it’s just swing path and pitch,” Turner said. “I’ve hit a few balls to right-center out in certain stadiums, mostly probably at home, and I don’t know if those are opposite field per se. They might be more center field but I just think when you’re facing righties, to hit an opposite-field home run is fairly tough. He tried going toward that backdoor sinker and I just felt like it was the right swing on the right pitch and just keeping it fair and not slicing the ball.”

Turner will continue tweaking away at his swing, hoping to produce results like he has so far in the New York. But with or without the video replay room, he doesn’t expect the opposite-field homer to be the start of a new trend.

“I don’t have necessarily that oppo power some of these big guys get,” Turner said. “I usually have to pull them but every once in a while, if you get the right pitch on the right swing, it sneaks out. So I’ll take it.”

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