Nationals

Jaguars fire GM Gene Smith after 4 seasons

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Jaguars fire GM Gene Smith after 4 seasons

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) After four years of futility, the Jacksonville Jaguars are heading in a different direction.

Coach Mike Mularkey might not be around for the move.

The Jaguars fired general manager Gene Smith on Monday after four disappointing seasons, including the worst year in franchise history.

Mularkey could be next.

Owner Shad Khan is waiting to decide Mularkey's fate until he hires a new general manager, which could happen this week.

Mularkey failed to make the Jaguars (2-14) better in his first season, setting a team record for losses and dropping eight games by 16 or more points.

Smith was the architect of the roster. He had been with the team since its inception in 1994, working his way up from regional scout to general manager. He has been GM since 2009, compiling a 22-42 record. Not one player he acquired made the Pro Bowl.

``Now it is time for the Jacksonville Jaguars to begin a new chapter,'' Khan said in a statement. ``We're not looking back. I've made it clear from Day One that we pledge nothing less than to deliver the first Super Bowl championship to Jacksonville. Our fans have been remarkably loyal over the years, and they were truly outstanding this past season. We simply must do better for our fans.''

Khan said the search for a new GM will begin immediately.

Arizona director of player personnel Jason Licht, San Francisco director of player personnel Tom Gamble, and Atlanta director of player personnel David Caldwell have been mentioned as potential replacements.

``I'm determined to find the right man to lead our football operations, someone who shares my vision, understands the commitment we will demand and is qualified and ready to seize this opportunity,'' Khan said.

Khan informed Smith of his decision Monday morning and then delivered the news to Mularkey.

Mularkey said he received no assurances he would be retained for a second season.

``It was a conversation about Gene's status,'' said Mularkey, the former Buffalo Bills head coach who now has lost 20 of his last 23 games. ``My status was not discussed, and I won't go into detail what was. But until I'm told otherwise, I'm the head coach of this team.''

So the Jaguars are in limbo again, much like they were late last season when Khan bought the team from Wayne Weaver for $770 million. Weaver fired coach Jack Del Rio the same day he gave Smith a three-year extension despite Smith's numerous mistakes in the draft and in free agency.

Smith handled the coaching search, which started and ended with Mularkey.

But the Jaguars made no progress under Mularkey, finishing the year ranked 29th in offense and 30th in defense.

``You knew something was going to happen,'' defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. ``You didn't know where it was going to start. It obviously started from the top and it will probably make its way down.''

Knighton is one of numerous free agents who could make the Jacksonville job enticing for prospective GMs. The new GM would be able to rebuild the roster, and the Jaguars have plenty of room under the salary cap and few dead-money contracts.

Nonetheless, changes are never easy inside a locker room.

``With a year like this, you can point fingers everywhere,'' tight end Marcedes Lewis said. ``I'm not sure what the final straw was, but it happened. Kind of got to move forward and do what you do.''

Smith changed the way Jacksonville approached personnel moves. He made character as important as ability, but it never paid off the way he envisioned.

Finding talent seemed to be the main issue.

Smith whiffed on offensive tackle Eben Britton (39th overall pick in 2009), defensive tackle Tyson Alualu (10th pick in 2010) and quarterback Blaine Gabbert (10th pick in 2011). Smith traded up to select Gabbert even though several teams with quarterback needs passed on the former Missouri starter.

He also drafted a punter in the third round in April, a move that was mocked locally and nationally.

Equally alarming for Khan had to be Smith's penchant for overpaying in free agency: Torry Holt, Aaron Kampman, Paul Posluszny, Clint Session, Dawan Landry, Laurent Robinson and Aaron Ross.

Smith did hit on some players, including left tackle Eugene Monroe (eighth pick in 2009), cornerback Derek Cox (73rd pick in 2009) and receivers Cecil Shorts (114th pick in 2011) and Justin Blackmon (fifth pick in 2012). But none of those starters has become a star. And Smith gave up a second-round pick to get Cox and a fourth-rounder to trade up and get Blackmon.

Smith's most controversial act came in April, when he chose punter Bryan Anger in the third round (70th pick). Anger was terrific as a rookie, but adding him never seemed like the best call for a team that needed talent and depth at so many other positions.

Smith defended the pick by saying he would ``rather take a starter over a backup.'' Terry McDonough, the team's personnel director, challenged reporters to compare Anger to other third-rounders in four years and see who has been more productive.

Eight months later, quarterback Russell Wilson (75th pick) has Seattle in the playoffs. The Jaguars, meanwhile, are out of the postseason for the 11th time in the last 13 years. And they're looking for a new GM and maybe a new coach.

``Obviously, 2-14 isn't the season you want to kind of hang your hat on,'' running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. ``When you don't produce, this is what happens.''

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Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win

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USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win

The Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins, 5-0, Sunday afternoon to move back .500 at 10-10.

Here are five observations from the game...

1. Sunday became of a day of salvage for the Nationals.

Washington lost the first two games of its initial series against the Miami Marlins. One of those losses included a subpar Max Scherzer start. Game three provided Miami a surprising chance to sweep. Stephen Strasburg snuffed out that idea with eight scoreless innings. Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, Brian Dozier once.

Kyle Barraclough was on the verge of peacefully pitching the ninth inning to close the game before he walked back-to-back hitters with two outs. Davey Martinez replaced him with closer Sean Doolittle who ended the game in his 10th appearance of the season.

And, guess what? The Nationals are back to even. Again. The upshot for them is how flawed and jam-packed the rest of the National League East remains. The downside is dropping any series against Miami can leave a mark.

Assume the division winner takes 13-15 victories when playing the Marlins 19 times during the season. That idea would force Washington to go between 12-4 and 14-2 the rest of the way against Miami. A run like that -- even against bad teams -- is extremely difficult. Being swept by the worst team in the major leagues would have made it even worse. So, a necessary win was delivered Sunday.

2. Strasburg spent Sunday down in the strike zone, throwing curveballs at his leisure, dominating all afternoon.

Eight innings. Ten strikeouts. Two hits. No runs.

Strasburg threw an astonishing amount of curveballs Sunday: 45 of his 104 pitches were bending toward the plate. He threw 41 fastballs (mostly two-seam fastballs) and 18 changeups. Strasburg came into the game throwing his curveball 21.4 percent of the time this season, just a tick above his career average of 19.7 percent.

The curveballs led to 12 swinging strikes, six called strikes and four foul balls. So, half of them were not put in fair play. That’s a dominating pitch.

Most opposition hitters will mark Strasburg’s changeup as his best pitch -- especially now that his fastball velocity is down to 92-93 mph, generally. Sunday, his curveball commanded the game, an interesting turn with Kurt Suzuki behind the plate a start after Strasburg mentioned he thought predictability was part of the issue when he was knocked around in his last start against the meager San Francisco Giants offense.

3. Anthony Rendon was out of the lineup Sunday because of a bruised left elbow.

X-rays on Rendon’s elbow were negative. Though, he told reporters in Miami on Sunday the elbow remained stiff. Washington played with a three-man bench in the series finale because Rendon has not been placed on the injured list. It also underwent a lineup shuffle.

Victor Robles moved up to the No. 2 spot. Howie Kendrick played third and hit cleanup. Dozier hit seventh and Wilmer Difo was in the eighth spot.

Rendon’s absence is another dig at an offense already without Trea Turner for an unclear amount of time because of a broken right index finger. Both were off to outstanding starts for a team that is not. Rendon’s 1.223 OPS was fourth in the National League coming into play Sunday.

The Nationals are in the midst of a brutal schedule stretch, which means they can’t play with a short bench for long. They have a three-game series starting in Colorado on Monday. If they think Rendon could play Tuesday, they could survive another day with a three-man bench. If they think he won’t play in that series, it makes sense to put him on the 10-day injured list retroactive to Sunday. Thursday is an off day. So, ultimately, Rendon would miss seven games he otherwise would not.

The rub there is potent San Diego and St. Louis are coming to Nationals Park next week. Washington is already laboring. Does it want to deal with those teams without Rendon?

4. Interesting in the sixth inning:

Juan Soto struck out on a changeup. That’s not the interesting -- or surprising -- part. Kendrick was next. He drove a second-pitch changeup from Trevor Richards to deep center field for a sacrifice fly. Only Lewis Brinson’s jump and speed kept Kendrick’s fly ball from being a two-run double.

Kendrick appeared to be sitting on the changeup from Richards, his out pitch and one he used almost as often as his fastball throughout the day. Zimmerman hit a changeup for a home run. Dozier hit a changeup for a home run. Those vetered hitters appeared to adjust in a way Soto did not: instead of trying to push Richards into a fastball count, they sat on the changeup. Big results followed.

5. How about a couple strange things?

Robles bunted against the shift in the sixth inning. It was simultaneously the worst and best bunt in history. Robles bunted the ball so hard, it went almost to the outfield grass...in the air. Marlins first baseman Neil Walker did not get it because he was holding a runner. Second baseman Starlin Castro did not get it because he was shifted toward the middle. Robles was easily safe as a result.

Then a scare from an oddity: an eighth-inning foul ball roared into the Nationals dugout. When Max Scherzer moved to avoid it, he tweaked an intercostal muscle in his left rib cage, according to reporters in Miam. He was in enough pain director of athletic training Paul Lessard came to check on him. Scherzer was all right. That would have been the capper for the Nationals recent run of bad injury luck where balls coming from the opposition are causing fluke injuries.

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Todd Reirden on TJ Oshie's surgery: 'It's a tough situation for our team'

Todd Reirden on TJ Oshie's surgery: 'It's a tough situation for our team'

ARLINGTON — Capitals forward T.J. Oshie had a surgical procedure Friday to repair a broken right collarbone and remains out indefinitely.  

Oshie was not at Capital One Arena for Washington’s 6-0 win in Game 5 of its Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. He was injured with five minutes to go in Thursday’s Game 4 loss in Raleigh when nudged from behind by Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele and slamming hard into the boards near full speed. 

“There's not one person who can take T.J. Oshie's spot for all that he is as a human being, player on the ice, off the ice all the stuff that he adds,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said at his media availability on Sunday afternoon. “But what I did notice is that everybody picked their level up last night. And that's what we're going to need going into Raleigh for [Monday]."

That’s when Washington, ahead 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, can eliminate Carolina in Game 6. It’s something it has done successfully on the road in recent years in Philadelphia (2016), Toronto (2017), Pittsburgh and Columbus (2018). All series the Capitals were up 3-2. In all four they won Game 6. 

But they won’t have Oshie this time and he is the emotional engine that has helped fuel some of those series-ending performances. There is still no exact timetable for Oshie’s return. The Capitals have avoided ruling him out for the season and Reirden artfully dodged a question about whether he’d be ready for training camp. 

A broken collarbone usually doesn’t take longer than two months to heal barring complications. But that’s almost certainly going to be after the playoffs ends even if the Capitals make a repeat run to the Stanley Cup Final. Last year they won it on June 7 in five games against the Vegas Golden Knights. 

“I do know that T.J. Oshie is going to do everything he can, and we're not willing to put a timetable on it right now with regard to any time,” Reirden said. “Just lots of these things take a different course in terms of how they rehab and don't rehab. I just know that I can tell you about T.J., he's all-in at all times, and that's a great person to have around our room at the very least." 

Oshie had 25 goals and 29 assists in 65 regular-season games. He missed 11 of 13 games with a concussion. He had eight goals and 13 assists in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. He also plays the “bumper” role on the top power-play unit and kills penalties.

Oshie tweeted thanks to fans both before and after Washington’s 6-0 win on Saturday. In the third period, periodic “T.J. Oshie!” chants rang from the sellout crowd at Capital One Arena. 

“It was nice to see the crowd give [Oshie] a little love,” center Nicklas Backstrom said on Saturday.  

Added Reirden: “That's obviously a tough loss for us, but we're prepared to go without him as we saw last night. It's a tough situation for our team, but I certainly liked our response last night and was proud of our effort in terms of how we played and how we were playing with him in the back of our mind."

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