Nationals

Manning's choice added pressure in Denver

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Manning's choice added pressure in Denver

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Knowing as well as anyone that time is no longer his friend, Peyton Manning went looking for a team last summer.

He gambled on the Denver Broncos, and when he signed the contract, the players who were already in Denver got the message: Their new quarterback thought the pieces were in place to win the Super Bowl, and win one quickly.

``You had a guy like Peyton. He had the opportunity to go several places,'' cornerback Champ Bailey said. ``You know he wants to win and he goes to the place that can help him win. It raises your expectations.''

On a nine-game winning streak and positioned for a first-round bye in the playoffs, it's safe to say the Broncos (11-3) are living up to what Manning hoped they would be.

They are not a team headed for the playoffs based on smoke and mirrors, the way many critics felt last year's team was with Tim Tebow at the helm. That team finished the season ranked 23rd on offense and 20th on defense.

This year's team is dominating statistically.

-Manning's offense has scored 30 points in all but three games this season. It ranks fifth in the NFL with 387 yards a game, and the quarterback himself (4,016 yards, 31 touchdowns), is in reach of finishing with the second-most yards and passing touchdowns in his 15 seasons.

-The special teams picked up a special returner in Trindon Holliday, who has scored two touchdowns on returns.

-The defense, led by linebacker Von Miller and coached by coordinator Jack Del Rio, is ranked fourth in yards allowed, second in sacks and has allowed the fewest points in the AFC (274).

``They're very fundamental,'' Browns coach Pat Shurmur said of the Broncos defense his team will face Sunday. ``They do a good job against the run. They play well. And it kind of correlates on offense. They've scored 30 points in nine games this year, so you can be just a little bit more reckless when you know on the other side of the ball, you're going to score points.''

Manning, of course, was looking for a contender, not a project. His quote on the day he signed - ``This is a `now' situation. We're going to do whatever we can to win right now'' - said everything about both his mission and his time frame.

Much has been made of the instant bond he formed with John Elway, the former Broncos quarterback-turned-executive, and the working relationship he knew he'd be able to form with head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.

As meticulous as he is, though, Manning said he did not drill down deeply into the Broncos roster when he made his final decision.

``You can't know everything about a team when you're making a decision like that. I'd be lying if I said that I went through every single player on the roster,'' Manning said. ``I had some questions. I met with John (Fox) and met with Mike (McCoy) and met with Del Rio, met with all of them during my visit here and had some questions for them and got those answers and felt comfortable about those types of things.''

If Manning was concerned with any single position, it would have been receiver. He essentially brought his old buddy and teammate, Brandon Stokley, along with him. Meanwhile, the top two wideouts already on the roster heard Manning was coming and knew they'd have to up their game.

``We had a lot of good talent last year,'' Eric Decker said. ``The defense was playing well. Offensively, we were doing what we could to move the ball and score points. And to have him add a big piece to our offense has really helped the team in general. And just who he is as a person, who he is as a professional, the guy demands the best out of himself and that carries over to his teammates.''

Decker needs 77 more yards to reach 1,000 in receiving for the season, which would make him and Demaryius Thomas the first Broncos duo to reach 1,000 yards each since 2004.

``I never took it as pressure,'' Thomas said of Manning's arrival. ``At least not too much pressure. But he did choose to come here so you know you've got to mind your `P's and `Q's. If he comes here and you're a bust, he's saying, `Man, I could've gone somewhere else.' You don't want him saying that.''

NOTES: Broncos OL Zane Beadles was named the team's Walter Payton Man of the Year nomination for his community service work. ``I definitely didn't expect it,'' the third-year player out of Utah said. ... With the field cleared of snow, Denver practiced outside Thursday. OL Chris Kuper (ankle) didn't participate, while FB Chris Gronkowski (hamstring) and DT Kevin Vickerson (groin) were limited. ... The Broncos will be facing their first rookie QB of the season in Brandon Weeden. ``He looks like he has the talent to get it done,'' perennial Pro Bowler Champ Bailey said. ``He can make you look back if you let him.'' ... LB Von Miller said he never sacked Weeden when Miller suited up for Texas A&M and Weeden at Oklahoma State. ``I got a roughing-the-passer call,'' Miller said. ``Hopefully, things can be different this season.''

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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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