Nationals

Matt McLean Even-Keeled, Even After Gold

Matt McLean Even-Keeled, Even After Gold

Sterling's Matt McLean isn't letting gold get to him.

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Roark is out, who could be in?

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Roark is out, who could be in?

LAS VEGAS -- Let’s strip the name and take a blank taste test. Wednesday, the Nationals sent an average of 197 innings out the door. That’s 591 outs. It’s not something to shrug off.

Trading Tanner Roark for a reliever, a minor-league one at that, extracts a path to almost 600 outs. The Nationals need to find a new one. Choices to do so aren’t very enticing.

They are back in the starting pitching market because of Roark’s regression the last two seasons coupling with an increase in pay. He’s expected to earn around $10 million out of salary arbitration. The Nationals are gambling they can find equal effectiveness through another starter -- or two.

There’s money to allocate now. It’s not much for the remaining upper tier of free agents. It’s sufficient to bring in someone on a one- or two-year deal and perhaps apply to a more versatile bench piece than a straight backup at first base.

Washington made Patrick Corbin the highest-paid pitcher this offseason. He was priority one. In a vacuum, he may not be worth six years and $140 million. But not all players carry the same value with every franchise. The Nationals had a clear need for another potent starter, and preferably a left-handed one at that. They received the combination with Corbin.

The challenge for the Nationals is handling this market after Charlie Morton and Lance Lynn complicated it. Morton signed a two-year, $30 million deal with Tampa Bay. Lynn received a three-year, $30 million contract from the Texas Rangers. If the Nationals didn’t want to pay Roark $10 million, they surely don’t want to pay another pitcher something near what Morton and Lynn received, even if it allows more control. Roark was entering the last year of his contract.

Dallas Keuchel remains atop the available starters. By WAR, the next-best available pitcher is 34-year-old Anibal Sanchez. He put together what appears to be an outlier season in 2018 following three consecutive years of significant regression. Sanchez’s ERA-plus went 80, 73, 70 before spiking to 143 last season, the third-best mark of his 13-year career. Sanchez has also averaged just 138 innings pitched on average the last four years. That’s a lot of outs between the workload Roark handled and Sanchez has as he heads into his age-35 season.

Next on the list by WAR? Gio Gonzalez. Moving on.

After that? Not much inspiration. Left-hander Wade Miley pitched well in just 16 starts last season. He has a carer 4.26 ERA. Miley has not put together a strong full season since 2013.

Matt Harvey? Trevor Cahill? Clay Buchholz?

Brett Anderson? James Shields? Jason Hammel?

These are not exactly places to hang your hat.

However, the Nationals have little choice. Their solution to replace Roark’s outs will come from outside the organization. Depth at Triple-A Fresno is negligible. Options in Double-A to help the rotation now are non-existent.

They have one intriguing pitcher lurking: Henderson Alvarez. The Nationals signed him to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.

“Chance to make the team, if not, to pitch in Triple A for us,” Mike Rizzo said of his outlook on Alvarez.

Alvarez threw a no-hitter in 2013. He was an All-Star in 2014. Shoulder surgery was followed by shoulder discomfort, then another shoulder surgery. Alvarez didn’t pitch in 2016. He started three games for Philadelphia in 2017. He then pitched in the Mexican League in 2018, where he finished with 4.60 ERA in nine starts. The wildest of wild cards here.

Washington has also kept an eye on Japanese left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who is available through posting system.

Somewhere, they need to find another 180 innings.

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Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson made Ravens quarterback change as low-drama as a move like that could be

Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson made Ravens quarterback change as low-drama as a move like that could be

Lamar Jackson has every reason to have a big ego.

In the past two years he's won a Heisman Trophy, was a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and just beat out a Super Bowl MVP in the middle of the season for the starting quarterback job.

Who wouldn't have a bit of extra confidence after all of that? 

On Wednesday, the 21-year-old took to the podium at the Under Armour Performance Center to answer questions as the Ravens' newest leader in 11 seasons. He was the exact opposite of cocky. 

 “It’s ‘our’ team – all of us together," Jackson said on if he's able to call the Ravens his team now. "It’s our team. I don’t go out there and block. I don’t go out there and catch the ball. I don’t make tackles. I just do my part. It’s all of our team.”

The response should be of no surprise. Since arriving in Baltimore and slowly earning his way to the starting job, Jackson has been appreciative as has let his performance on the field do all the talking. 

“I pretty much didn’t really have a reaction to when [coach Harbaugh] was telling me. All it made me do was … I know I have to focus on everything a lot more – just bettering myself and trying to join with everybody around me even more. That’s about it.”

Since filling in for an injured Joe Flacco, Jackson is 52 of 89 for 600 passing yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in addition to 67 rushing attempts for 336 yards and two touchdowns. He's also led the Ravens to a 3-1 record in those starts and back into playoff contention. 

The decision to switch starters mid-season could have led to an uncomfortable locker room. Each player who spoke on the matter gave off the vibe that it was no big deal.

And when Flacco spoke to the media on Wednesday for the first time in five weeks, the 33-year-old faced what every starting quarterback fears with nothing but kind words about Jackson. 

“I thought he’s done a great job," Flacco said on how Jackson is handling himself. "I’m really happy for what he’s been able to go out there and do. We’re winning football games. He and this team have put themselves, and ourselves, in position to go out there and do some big things for the rest of the year, and that’s definitely exciting.”

“Joe’s been handling it great," wide receiver John Brown added. "He’s been in Lamar’s corner. I’ve seen him the whole time. Every time he comes off the sideline, Joe is talking to him, telling him what he sees, trying to help him out. He’s been a great teammate.”

Jackson refraining from calling the Ravens "my team" is a rarity in a league where players are constantly trying to prove their authority, and even more so  for those with a title that only 32 guys hold. 

Possibly the class Flacco has had for 11 seasons as the leader of the Ravens has projected itself onto the rookie now in control. 

"Joe [Flacco] is still part of the team," Jackson said. "It’s his team still – just like it’s mine. It’s all of our team. We’re brothers. We’re here together, each and every day. We’ve been here since camp putting our life on the line. It’s still his team, man – nothing [has] changed.”

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