Nationals

Miami waiting to see if Morris can play

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Miami waiting to see if Morris can play

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) Miami is willing to wait and see if Stephen Morris' sprained left ankle improves before the Hurricanes choose a quarterback to start on Saturday night against No. 12 Florida State.

Ryan Williams practiced Tuesday as Miami's presumptive starter, with Preston Dewey as his backup, while Morris spent the day in and out of treatment and unable to do anything on the field. And while plenty of signs point to Williams getting the call in the annual rivalry game with the Seminoles, Miami coach Al Golden said he's still giving Morris a chance.

``We've got a long way to go,'' Golden said. ``I would have to classify him as a game-time (decision) right now. ... So we'll see. Ryan did a great job today, threw the ball well, practiced really well, made all the throws so we're excited about him. We don't have really two separate game plans going in. And if Stephen's healthy, we'll give it a shot.''

Golden said the earliest he expects Morris would have any chance of being on the practice field is Thursday, and if he makes it out there then, he'd likely be limited to 7-on-7 work. Miami is obviously concerned, and obviously doesn't know if Morris will be ready, as proven by Golden sending a 5:30 a.m. text message to ask how his quarterback was feeling.

Small problem: Golden sent that text to the wrong Morris - he sent it to Jim Morris, Miami's longtime baseball coach.

``I'm feeling fine,'' Jim Morris said.

Either way, Florida State is ready for either Williams or Morris. Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said his staff might even study some tape of Williams' games at Memphis in 2010 - he transferred to Miami after that season - even though that wouldn't do them any good as far as breaking down what the Hurricanes might try against them on Saturday night.

``You have to prepare for both,'' Fisher said. ``And when you say prepare for both, though, how drastic are they going to change? I mean, in two or three days of practice, you could change your offense and do some different things, but the foundation is still going to be the same. One's a little more mobile, one's a little bigger and stronger, but they're both very good quarterbacks.''

Fisher's offense has no such who-will-start dilemma.

The Seminoles boast perhaps the ACC's hottest quarterback right now in EJ Manuel, who led Florida State past Miami last season and is coming off a career-best 439-yard, four-touchdown showing last weekend against Boston College.

Going back to last October, Manuel is 13-2 in his last 15 appearances. And he'll be facing a Miami defense that, in only seven games so far this season, has allowed at least 32 points five times and at least 498 yards of offense to opponents four times.

Still, the Miami defense that Manuel sees on film, he said, is fast and athletic.

``Those guys are still smart, I'm sure, too,'' Manuel said. ``So I think we have to go out there and execute. I don't really think it's necessarily about the defense that we're playing against. I think we have to go out there and do what we're supposed to do.''

Morris has thrown for 1,991 yards in seven games this season, including a school- and Atlantic Coast Conference-record 566 against North Carolina State. He's one of the biggest reasons why Miami, a team widely picked to finish near the bottom of the Coastal Division, is in the thick of the league race.

Golden indicated Morris has earned the chance to get back on the field this week.

``We all only get so many shots at this,'' Golden said. ``I'm not going to ask him to sit out the Florida State game or for any game, to be honest with you. If he's ready to go, he's ready to go. If you see him out there, it's because he is ready to go and he can execute in that game. If he's not, then that question is answered.''

For his part, Williams is taking the added responsibility of potentially making his first Miami start in stride, even though it would be on national television against an archrival before what's expected to be a jampacked crowd in Sun Life Stadium.

The way he sees it, games like this are why he came to Miami in the first place.

``The only thing different is getting more reps with the first team now,'' Williams said. ``I'm preparing the same. I do the same amount of film study every week. I've been preparing like I was the starter. I just wasn't with the (first-string) doing the actual reps that Stephen was taking.''

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Dozier and Long a match made in launch angle heaven

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USA Today Sports

Dozier and Long a match made in launch angle heaven

Brian Dozier came to a realization following his rookie season in 2012. Why not hit the ball more often in the air and accentuate a strength? Instead of drilling to fix a weakness -- like opposite-field hitting or even ground ball rate -- choose to club away, in the air, to the pull side, as often as possible.

No en vogue terminology explained Dozier’s pursuit of six years ago. Omnipotent terms like “launch angle” remained shrouded and in development. Dozier didn’t need a phrase. He just needed to do what worked more often.

The idea took with career-altering results. Dozier hit 18 home runs, then 23, then 28, then 42. Pull-side fly balls turned him into an All-Star and commodity at second base. His new one-year deal with the Nationals brings him a hitting coach who is elated by the idea of hitting up and over.

Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long is the effervescent patriarch of launch angle. “We want to hit it over the shift,” Long will tell anyone willing to listen. Do damage, hit bombs, whatever slang term is preferred. Just hit the ball in the air. On the ground equals outs. In the air produces runs.

Melding a second baseman in search of a reboot after a down year with a hitting coach who is going to trumpet a cause the infielder already backed could be a powerful formula.

“When I changed my approach at the end of 2012 going into 2013, there was no launch angle, any of that stuff, but looking back at it now that’s kind of exactly what it was,” Dozier said Tuesday on a conference call. “We just didn’t have a name for it. “[It’s] recognizing your strength and doing everything you can to be really good at your strength rather than try to tweak weaknesses and stuff. And one of those strengths for me is hitting the ball in the air to left field, left-center field. Once I kind of got that part of it, I really enjoyed doing that. It’s going to be a fun year with a hitting coach that kind of sees the same thing, whether your strength is hitting the ball in the air or hitting the ball the other way, I believe in really honing into your strength and really running with that. Some guys’ strengths aren’t hitting the ball in the air, which is fine.”

The numbers coinciding with Dozier’s rise from eighth-round pick to among the league leaders in homers from 2014-2017 are stark. His fly ball rate increased year after year until peaking in 2016 at 47.7 percent, the same season he hit 42 home runs. His 120 OPS-plus in that span showed what kind of work he performed in Minnesota’s cool and spacious Target Field.

However, 2018 brought a significant recession when an April bone bruise in his left knee hindered him throughout the season. Tuesday, Dozier explained the importance of load bearing and stability from his front leg in order to execute his upward swing. Instead of landing on the front of his foot, the knee bruise pushed him back to his heel, opening his hips early. Grizzly results followed: 21 homers, a .215 average, sub-.700 OPS.

Dozier said Tuesday his knee is healed. Finally receiving a break from baseball following the World Series allowed him to recover. That’s also when he had to decide his future. Dozier wasn’t sure how the market would react to his down season following years of being one of the heaviest second base bats in baseball. He said he received multiple offers -- some providing more years and money than the Nationals’ one-year, $9 million deal he settled on -- before selecting Washington. Conversations with his ex-Minnesota teammate Kurt Suzuki, in his second stint with the Nationals, and former Washington outfielder Josh Willingham, who played with Dozier in Minnesota, too, helped sway his decision.

“It just seemed like a really good fit,” Dozier said.

That is applicable to this coming partnership between Dozier and Long. In the air, often and to the pull side. It’s a subtle pairing that could help Dozier return to the 30-home run mark, and the Nationals to receive inexpensive bop from an infield spot.

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How Holtby’s return could help Capitals escape mid-season doldrums

How Holtby’s return could help Capitals escape mid-season doldrums

The Capitals look to rebound from an ugly loss with a road game against the Nashville Predators (8 p.m. NBC Sports Washington). Washington has lost two games in a row and five of eight. The Predators beat the Capitals 6-3 on Dec. 31 at Capital One Arena and has won five in a row over against them.

Here is what to watch for in tonight’s game:  

1. Back to Holtby

After sustaining an eye injury in Saturday’s overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Braden Holtby is expected to play against the Predators. The Capitals did not hold a morning skate on Tuesday after traveling following a 4-1 loss at home Monday to the St. Louis Blues. Holtby started last season’s game in Nashville, a 6-3 loss on Nov. 14, 2017 where he allowed four goals in the second period and was pulled from the game. But Holtby still leads the NHL in even-strength save percentage (.939) since Nov. 4 among goalies who have started at least 13 games and it could be time to get him more consistent work – even with backup Pheonix Copley playing well behind him. Holtby has had his rest. If he’s healthy, it might be time to let him carry the weight for a while. 

2. Another Chance for Burakovsky?

There’s constant talk now about the future of Andre Burakovsky, who returned to the lineup Monday after a two-game absence. Caps coach Todd Reirdan was clear about what Burakovsky had to do to stay in the lineup. We’ll see tonight if that happens. Playing on the third line with Brett Connolly and Lars Eller, Burakovsky played just 10:46 against the Blues and was on the ice for a goal against. But he did have three shots on goal and seemed engaged. Burakovsky has been a healthy scratch in six of the past 16 games. 

3. No. 700 for Oshie

One night after defenseman Brooks Orpik played in his 1000th career game, forward T.J. Oshie will reach a milestone of his own with game No. 700. Oshie has been kept off the score sheet the past two games, but had two goals in a Jan. 8 game against the Philadelphia Flyers. 

4. Powering Up

Alex Ovechkin’s power-play goal in the loss to St. Louis on Monday might mean the Capitals are coming around in that area. A struggle for weeks, they at least now have two goals on the man advantage in the past four games. But they have slipped all the way to 14thin the NHL (21.2 percent) so there is work left to be done.

Monday’s game featured much better puck movement by the top unit.   

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