Nationals

Howard, Gasol, Hill all sidelined for Lakers

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Howard, Gasol, Hill all sidelined for Lakers

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill all will miss the Los Angeles Lakers' upcoming road trip with injuries, leaving the struggling club without its top three big men indefinitely.

Howard has a torn labrum in his right shoulder, and Gasol has a concussion after taking an elbow in the face late in Sunday night's loss to Denver. Hill, a key backup to both starting big men, has a right hip injury.

The three injuries are the latest blows for the Lakers (15-18), who still haven't meshed despite a star-studded roster, a bulging payroll and an early-season coaching change. Los Angeles has lost three straight and four of five since beating the Knicks on Christmas, falling to 11th place in the Western Conference.

``The NBA is unforgiving, and nobody is feeling sorry for us,'' Los Angeles coach Mike D'Antoni said. ``There's 29 other teams that are happy, and we've got to do the best we can do. It's kind of weird coming to work thinking you have three centers, and all three of them are hurt on the same day.''

The Lakers' biggest concern is Howard, who hurt his shoulder in last Friday's loss to the Clippers and aggravated it in Sunday's loss to the Nuggets while grabbing a career high-tying 26 rebounds. The six-time All-Star center said he won't need surgery, but he'll sit out for at least a week before his injury is re-evaluated.

``It depends on how fast I heal up,'' said Howard, who had a bulky wrap on his shoulder Monday at the Lakers' training complex. ``I was in pain (Sunday night), and the biggest thing right now is I have to make sure I'm 100 percent. I don't want to play with my shoulder weak. I'd have a chance for more injuries. I've got to let it heal up.''

After canceling practice Monday, the Lakers announced Gasol and Howard are both out indefinitely. Hill will be examined by team doctors later Monday before getting a prognosis.

When the Lakers open a stretch of four games in six days starting Tuesday in Houston, rookie Robert Sacre is likely to be their starting center. The final pick in last June's draft has been playing for the Lakers' affiliate in the D-League.

D'Antoni will be forced to improvise with his three best post players sidelined from an already top-heavy roster. The coach said 6-foot-7 Metta World Peace could play center at times as part of the small lineups he'll be forced to use.

``We'll go small a lot, and we'll just have to spread the floor and get things done,'' D'Antoni said. ``Some guys are going to have to step up and put some superhuman effort into it. We'll have some little guys guarding big guys, and we'll have to be quick. We'll have to take advantage of other situations.''

He won't have much choice: The 7-foot Sacre and 6-foot-9 Antawn Jamison are his only players taller than World Peace, unless the Lakers sign a temporary big man. Los Angeles cleared a roster spot by waiving rookie Darius Johnson-Odom on Monday, three days before his contract would have been guaranteed for the season.

Although their wealth of problems can hardly be attributed to injuries, the Lakers haven't been fully healthy for any significant stretch of the season. After Howard missed their first five preseason games while recovering from offseason back surgery, new point guard Steve Nash got a small fracture in his leg in their second game of the season, keeping the two-time NBA MVP out for seven weeks.

Add in the difficulties of learning a new offense with no training camp for an older roster struggling to keep up with faster teams, and the preseason title contenders realize why they're looking up at the likes of Golden State, Minnesota and the Pacific Division-leading Clippers in the standings.

``It's almost like - what's that game where you pop one of those things in the head and another one pops up?'' D'Antoni said. ``Whac-a-Mole? That's what we seem to be doing right now.''

Gasol got a concussion and an injured nose when Denver's JaVale McGee accidentally clobbered him under the basket with 1:05 to play. The four-time All-Star 7-footer has been struggling both with plantar fasciitis and the difficulty of adapting his game to D'Antoni's offense, averaging just 12.2 points and 8.4 rebounds in a trying season.

Hill had been struggling with a sprained right ankle and a herniated disc in his back even before injuring his hip Sunday. He has been a consistent contributor off the bench in his second season in Los Angeles, averaging 6.7 points and 5.7 rebounds.

``No one is going to feel sorry for us,'' said Nash, who is five assists shy of 10,000 for his career. ``We've got to take the challenge, embrace it, and no matter how many lumps we take, you can't feel sorry for yourself. You've got to keep battling, and if you keep battling, you give yourself a chance for good things to happen.''

The injuries were the most concrete news on yet another ridiculously busy day for the 16-time champions. Lakers great Magic Johnson launched yet another barrage of Twitter criticism of the franchise, while Howard and NBA scoring leader Kobe Bryant both flatly denied a report of friction between them, with Bryant tweeting a photo mocking the idea they had nearly come to blows.

``You feel like at some point, you hit rock-bottom, and the only place you can go is up,'' Bryant said. ``It's just been a tough year for everybody ... but when you go through a lot of adversity, it challenges you, and then it's on you, whether or not you choose to fight, or whether you choose to run away from it. I think we'll choose to fight it.''

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Max Scherzer is having the best month of his career

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Max Scherzer is having the best month of his career

Max Scherzer’s black eye receded from the full-circle package to a dark half-moon before he took the mound in Miami. And his memory reminded him of the last time he was there. It was April 20 and produced his worst start of the season: 5 1/3 innings, 11 hits, six earned runs, a loss to drop his record to 1-3 and raise his ERA to 4.34. The latter number has declined in every start since.

Scherzer’s eight innings of one-run ball Tuesday night against the Marlins drove his ERA down to 2.52. His league-leading strikeout total again increased by 10 for the fourth consecutive game. He walked no one. It took just 94 pitches -- 71 strikes -- to reach that point Tuesday in the Nationals' 6-1 win.

Two questions emerged after the outing: Is Scherzer back in the National League Cy Young Award race? Is this the best month of his career?

The first is an easy yes. His 4.2 WAR (according to Fangraphs) coming into the night was by far the best of any pitcher in the major leagues. National League ERA leader Hyun-Jin Ryu is second in the NL at 3.3. Scherzer leads the National League in innings pitched, strikeouts, starts and strikeouts per nine. He is third in strikeout-to-walk ratio, fourth in WHIP, fourth in OPS against, seventh in batting average against. In a nutshell, Scherzer is again dominating while doing the heavy lifting. He makes every start. He gets into the seventh inning or later 58.9 percent time. He handles all comers.

His June blitz, in particular, has put him back in the Cy Young discussion. Following Tuesday night’s man-handling of Miami, Scherzer has a 0.97 ERA in the month. He’s struck out 54 and walked five. His WHIP is 0.70. Each start has lasted seven innings or more. He’s thrown 70 percent of his 536 pitches for strikes.

Why is he so diabolical? Look at the first three innings Tuesday against the Marlins. A 14-pitch first included some effort and 10 fastballs. Scherzer picked up no swinging strikes on those fastballs, which meant the eager Marlins were getting a good look at the pitch. So, he changed.

In the second inning, Scherzer threw five four-seam fastballs, four sliders/cutters, (Scherzer calls his 90-mph pitch often identified as a “cutter” his “power slider”), three changeups and three curveballs. That mix produced five swinging strikes.

In the third inning, six fastballs, five sliders, one changeup, three swinging strikes.

Which is the complication for the opposition. He will move off whatever is not working and immediately dispatch a fresh bouquet. He can command all of it, throw any of it when he wants, and he’s been obsessing over it for almost a week. Good luck.

An age-35 season is not supposed to be a time of ascension, but, as he is wont to do, Scherzer appears to be running against perceived norms. 

June of 2017 is the only month of his career to challenge June of 2019 for personal supremacy. The numbers that month: 0.99 ERA, 36 ⅓ innings pitched, 51 strikeouts, six walks, a 0.55 WHIP. He made five starts that month. He’s already made five this June, struck out more batters and walked fewer while carrying a lower ERA.

Scherzer has a start remaining this month. It comes against one of his former teams, the Detroit Tigers. No major-league club has scored fewer runs. That mix should further define this as the best month of Scherzer’s Hall-of-Fame bound career and help answer the Cy Young question, too.

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Orioles' past and future intersect during jam-packed day at Camden Yards

Orioles' past and future intersect during jam-packed day at Camden Yards

If you were looking for a moment in Tuesday’s game that exemplified the proverbial passing of the torch in Baltimore, it came early.

In the top of the third inning, past Oriole superstar Manny Machado crushed his 100th career Camden Yards home run. It was especially fitting that the ball traveled far enough (455 feet, to be exact) to land in the *visitor* bullpen.

In the middle of the fourth inning, future Oriole superstar (fingers crossed) Adley Rutschman was introduced to a sea of adoring fans wearing orange and black, a sight the former Oregon State Beaver is all too familiar with.

It was hard to tell which player received the louder ovation. The fact that both players, neither of whom was playing for the Orioles Tuesday night, elicited such receptions highlights the crossroads this franchise finds itself at.

Manager Brandon Hyde spoke to this effect pregame.

“Obviously when the game starts I’m going to try to win the game and go with the guys we have,” Hyde told reporters. “I’m also looking at the big picture. I think everybody is really aware of where we are organizationally. It’s the start of the process we laid out months ago. Anytime we get extremely talented guys in our organization, it’s bright, and it feels good, and there’s excitement. And I totally understand it and I feel that too.”

Fans could be forgiven for forgetting there was even a game to be played Tuesday evening, with the excitement surrounding Rutschman’s introduction and the long-building buzz for Machado’s return coinciding on the same day. That can be true of the state of the franchise overall right now.

It’s easy to talk about top draft picks and high-level prospects in the minors, but there are games going on every night for the big league club as well. But with another historic season taking place on the field, it’s much more appealing to look elsewhere.

Adley Rutschman provides a level of hope fans can’t get from the Major League roster, and Hyde recognizes that.

“We’re just looking to get talent, guys that can be impact players,” Hyde explained. “You don’t want to label a guy or put too much pressure on someone, but obviously he’s done a lot of really good things at the amateur level and we’re really excited to have him in our organization. So there’s a lot of excitement.”

The Orioles manager came to Baltimore from a Chicago Cubs franchise known for developing high-end talent.

“I was the farm director when we drafted Bryant, obviously saw Almora and Baez and all those guys,” Hyde answered when asked how Rutschman compares. “He’s along those lines of being a real mature kid, looking forward to go play, you can tell he’s really excited and we’re obviously looking forward to getting him going and watching him play.”

Of course, it’s not just former Cubs prospects who have provided a template for success Rutschman can follow. Somebody a little closer to home just so happened to be sitting in the third base dugout Tuesday night.

“Just soak it all in, enjoy it all," Manny Machado told the media to laughter when asked what advice he would give Rutschman. "You know I wasn’t a number one overall pick, so it’s different. I mean just enjoy yourself. It’s an opportunity that he worked for his entire life to get to that situation, he finally got drafted by a ballclub...the only advice I can give is to continue to have fun, just enjoy yourself every moment of the way and just keep working as hard as you possibly can to reach your goals. Just because you got picked, one of those goals is scratched off, but there’s so many more to be accomplished. Just keep working as hard as you can to be the best person you can be, the best ballplayer you can be, and everything else will just take care of itself.”

It’s a mature response from a matured player, one who not too long ago found himself in the same position as Rutschman: top prospect for a franchise desperate to field a winner.

Trying to build that winner is GM Mike Elias, who emphasized just how critical bringing in a player like Rutschman is.

“This was the biggest decision this organization is going to make this year, and we couldn’t be more thrilled with the outcome,” Elias said Tuesday. “We’re looking for building blocks and found a big piece of that with Adley.”

It’s going to be a few years until Rutschman is able to truly take over the mantle of face of the Orioles. As Hyde reminded the media, “it’s still so far away.”

For now, Rutschman will have to settle for face of the rebuild, a position Machado was all-too-familiar with. 

But even an elongated timeline couldn’t keep Tuesday from feeling like a milestone in the history of the franchise, at the intersection of it’s past, present and future. It was a figurative passing of the torch, if not a literal one.

It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all. Fans at the park felt that as they welcomed back Manny Machado with open arms.

And if their warm reception for Adley Rutschman is any indication, they are more than ready to love again.

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