Nationals

Malzahn taking aim at Auburn's talent, attitude

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Malzahn taking aim at Auburn's talent, attitude

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Bo Jackson says new Auburn coach Gus Malzahn must build the program from the ground up and start by putting down a solid foundation.

Malzahn inherits a Tigers team with virtually every starter returning next season but plenty of uncertainty at quarterback and many other positions from a team that had a number of issues on both sides of the ball - and away from the field. So Jackson is preaching patience.

``I think what Gus Malzahn is facing right now, he's facing an empty lot,'' said Jackson, the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner and part of the four-man search committee. ``He's got to go move dirt. Lay a foundation and start to build a house. He's got to rebuild that house. That's what he plans on doing.''

Auburn gave Malzahn a five-year, $11.5 million deal Tuesday with focus on restoring the team to championship caliber and bringing more discipline to a program that endured a number of off-the-field issues under Gene Chizik.

He has signed a letter of agreement that pays up to $1.5 million a year in performance bonuses. The letter, released by Auburn on Wednesday, says he will be owed his $500,000 base salary for the rest of his contract if fired without cause. He won't be owed anything if fired with cause, including rules violations or ``serious personal misconduct.''

Auburn will pay his $700,000 buyoout to Arkansas State as a loan, forgiving 20 percent each year Malzahn remains. Jackson is optimistic that he'll be there awhile.

The former NFL and Major League Baseball player used words like ``passion,'' ``tenacity'' and ``hungry'' to describe Malzahn's pitch and demeanor in his interview with the search committee. He also praised his willingness ``to come into a hornet's nest like this and say, `My job is to rebuild this program, to get these kids back to the winning ways these kids are used to.'''

That challenge extends well beyond Xs and Os.

The Tigers wilted against top competition, getting routed by No. 10 Texas A&M (63-21), No. 6 Georgia (38-0) and No. 2 Alabama (49-0) and also had center Reese Dismukes and freshman quarterback Zeke Pike arrested for public intoxication over the summer. Chizik dismissed Pike from the team.

Search committee member Mac Crawford, a Nashville businessman, said discipline was one of the first topics brought up with Malzahn.

``We talked about it a long time and we were very satisfied with the answers that he gave to us,'' said Crawford, a former Auburn fullback who was chairman of the board at CVSCaremark and CEO/chairman of CaremarkRx.

Freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace said discipline was an issue last season ``but that's something that can be fixed.''

``Just a matter of us being accountable with each other,'' said Wallace, who started the final four games. ``That's the biggest thing, just looking out for each other and making sure that we're not doing anything that we don't need to be doing.''

The Tigers do have big holes to fill, despite returning 18 players who started on offense or defense in the finale against Alabama. They're losing their only consistently productive receiver, Emory Blake, No. 2 rusher Onterio McCalebb and leading tackler Daren Bates. Defensive end Corey Lemonier also hasn't said if he'll return for his senior season or enter the NFL draft.

But Malzahn said it goes beyond talent to attitude.

``We do have some talent, and we have some deficiencies, and what I've got to do is identify the deficiencies and address those immediately and also the mindset,'' he said. ``The mindset and expectations mentally and physically of our players. So we've got some work to do, but I know the areas we need to improve on and we're going to address those.''

Crawford has experience reviving companies, and finds correlations in Malzahn's challenge.

``Let's face it, this is a turnaround situation,'' Crawford said in a phone interview Wednesday. ``This is a team that won three ballgames last season, and he has got to get the kids back to where they have a winning attitude, heading in the right direction. We've got good kids at Auburn.

``I've always done turnarounds in my corporate career and any time you go in, getting the right people in the right places and doing it the way you think should be done - that's what Gus has to do. You just can't expect it to happen overnight.''

Malzahn does have a track record for reviving offenses quickly, even before Cam Newton's arrival in 2010. The Tigers improved from 110th in scoring in 2008 to 16th the following season with Chris Todd at quarterback.

Malzahn also directed Tulsa offenses that led the nation in total offense in 2007 and 2008.

Wallace, one of three quarterbacks with multiple starts returning, said he attended every Auburn home game during the national championship season two years ago. He also saw what Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel did this season with a similarly uptempo offense.

``It's exciting. It really is, just being able to go there and just run all over the defense if you execute as well as you need to,'' said Wallace, who signed after Malzahn left for Arkansas State. ``It's a really fun offense. You've really got to put in all the work that's needed to be very successful in this offense.''

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Adam Eaton calls Todd Frazier ‘childish’ after the ex-teammates get into it again

Adam Eaton calls Todd Frazier ‘childish’ after the ex-teammates get into it again

NEW YORK -- Normal is not something the Nationals do this season.

Monday’s pivot from the mundane -- an otherwise run-of-the-mill 5-3 baseball game -- came when Adam Eaton was jogging toward the visitors dugout in the bottom of the third inning when he stopped to respond to New York third baseman Todd Frazier, whom Eaton said was chirping at him all night.

This is not new. The two were teammates on the Chicago White Sox in 2016 and did not get along. Last year, Frazier and Eaton also had an exchange. The one Monday night at Citi Field prompted several members of the Nationals to hop over the dugout railing while Frazier and Eaton were being restrained near the first base bag. First base umpire Mike Estabrook cutoff Eaton who was walking toward Frazier after initially heading to the dugout following a 4-6-3 double play which ended the inning for the Nationals. When Frazier came toward the Mets dugout from his position at third base, the two began their spat.

Afterward, Frazier declined to comment in the Mets’ clubhouse, saying only, “It was nothing.” Eaton took the opportunity to expound on his displeasure with the incident, its continuation and Frazier himself.

“Yeah, I don’t know,” Eaton said. “Gosh, who knows what goes through that guy’s mind? He’s chirping all the way across the infield. He must really like me, [because] he wants to get my attention it seems like every time we come into town, he really cares what I think about him. I don’t know what his deal is, if he wants to talk to me in person or have a visit or what it is. But he’s always yelling across the infield at me, making a habit of it.

“He’s one of those guys who always says it loud enough that you hear it but can’t understand it. So, he’s making a habit of it. I ignored him a couple times chirping coming across, but I had it to the point where I’m not going to say the saying I want to say but you got to be a man at some point. So, I turned around, had a few choice words with him. It’s funny, I was walking towards him, he didn’t really want to walk towards me but as soon as someone held him back then he was all of a sudden he was really impatient, like trying to get towards me. Just being Todd Frazier. What’s new?”

Asked if he is surprised such exchanges are still happening three years after they played together, Eaton said he was.

“Yes, absolutely,” Eaton said. “He’s very childish. I’m walking with my head down, play’s over, I’m walking away. I can still hear him. I’m a 30-year-old man with two kids, got a mortgage and everything. He wants to loud talk as he’s running off the field. At the end of the day, I got to be a man about it. I tried to stay patient with the childishness, but it is what it is. I got to stand up eventually.”

He did, and what could have been merely Game 47 for a struggling team turned out to be something else.

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Patrick Corbin’s rough beginning a hole Nationals can’t emerge from

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Patrick Corbin’s rough beginning a hole Nationals can’t emerge from

NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 5-3, Monday to drop their record to 19-28. Here are five observations from the game…

1. A wondrous, very Mets day preceded the game.

Their general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen, held a press conference to announce...Yoenis Cespedes -- already out because of dual heel surgeries -- suffered multiple ankle fractures during a ranch accident over the weekend. Van Wagenen then went on to profess his support for maligned New York manager Mickey Callaway -- for the most part. Last, and most important to writers, three boxes of donuts were in the press box with a note: “Have a great series! -- BVW”.

Things are always a little different in Flushing. That was a problem for the Nationals.

In what could be labeled a “reverse-lock” situation, Washington’s $140 million starter, Patrick Corbin, was outpitched by unknown and often ineffective Wilmer Font, whom the Nationals smacked around just five days ago. The Nationals, as they often do, dragged themselves back into the game after trailing 4-0. A Juan Soto single drove in Anthony Rendon in the eighth to cut the lead to 4-3. Rendon was on base four times.

And, again, it was just enough to produce a close loss. Washington put two runners on with none out against dynamic New York closer Edwin Diaz before Kurt Suzuki flew out, Trea Turner grounded into a fielder's choice and Adam Eaton flew out.

The Nationals drop to nine games under .500 following one-run and two-run defeats. They also fell to 2-14 in series openers.

2. A rough, short evening for Corbin.

He trudged through the night on 98 pitches. Corbin lasted just five innings. He walked three, gave up four earned runs, struck out seven.

His night was a mess early. Amed Rosario and Pete Alonso homered in the first inning. Two walks in the third -- one with two outs -- led to two more runs scoring. He zipped through the fourth and fifth before being removed.

Corbin has endured two blowups this season in an otherwise quality first two months: Monday and April 29 against St. Louis. The latter outing featured four walks and a homer allowed against one of the league’s better offenses. Monday’s bad outing came against a Mets lineup which did not feature Robinson Cano to start and entered the evening 21st in wOBA.

Bad timing. Bad night.

3. Tanner Rainey made his Nationals debut Monday. He was interesting.

Rainey gave up a hustle double to pinch-hitter Cano -- yes, hustle and Cano -- but otherwise showed a sharp fastball-slider combination.

Rainey was the return for Tanner Roark in the offseason trade that sent Roark to Cincinnati during the Winter Meetings.

He has command trouble. He also throws 98-100 mph with ease. Asked in spring training where that velocity comes from, Rainey said his legs and weight lifting. No secret sauce. He lifted more, he threw harder. And he subsequently repeated the process.

Rainey’s velocity will always intrigue. The question is if he can command his two-pitch arsenal enough to become an actual bullpen weapon. The baseline tools are there.

4. A shuffle in the relief corps is coming.

Tony Sipp (oblique) was activated from the 10-day injured list Monday. Dan Jennings was designated for assignment. That experiment is over. Jennings signed a minor-league contract April 15. He was in the majors April 30. He’s gone less than a month later. He did not pitch well.

The Nationals claimed right-handed Javy Guerra off waivers Monday. Guerra was designated for assignment by Toronto. Guerra pitched 14 innings for the Blue Jays this season, with a 3.86 ERA and 3.17 FIP. In other words, distinctly better than most in the Nationals bullpen.

Washington expects Guerra to arrive in New York on Tuesday. Kyle McGowin is likely to be sent back to Triple-A Fresno to make room. So, two fresh pitchers in the bullpen early in the week.

Trevor Rosenthal should also be back shortly. He is expected to throw an inning for Double-A Harrisburg on Tuesday. Rainey will likely be sent back to the minor leagues to make room there.

And, a situation in West Palm Beach, Fla., to keep an eye on: reliever Austen Williams had to be shut down to allow his shoulder to rest. Williams threw 40 pitches at the spring training facility the first week of May, when he appeared on his way back from the 10-day injured list. However, he has stopped throwing after experiencing further shoulder soreness. He was placed on the injured list April 19 because of a sprained right AC joint.

5. Matt Adams worked with the team on the field Monday, which he expects to do the next two days.

He’s on the verge of being activated before the week is out.

“I watched him [Monday] and he took some really good swings,” Martinez said. “We’ll see how he feels [Tuesday]. I’m assuming that he might be a little sore, because he did take some swings and he’s going to continue to do baseball activities [Monday]. But we’ll see how he feels.”

Adams’ 15-day absence has handcuffed Martinez in multiple ways. Take Sunday. Right-handed slider-thrower Steve Cishek on the mound. Left-handed hitters’ OPS against Cishek is 143 points higher than right-handers. But, no Adams meant no left-handed pinch-hitter.

Those issues should be over soon.

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