Nationals

Miles: LSU has reinforcements coming for bowl

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Miles: LSU has reinforcements coming for bowl

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) LSU coach Les Miles sounds like he's ready to enjoy a trip to Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Bowl and not at all nervous about how his No. 9 Tigers will match up with No. 14 Clemson on Dec. 31.

After joking, perhaps only partially, about how he would enjoy bringing his wife to the game, dancing out on the town and ending the night with a New Year's kiss, Miles on Wednesday talked about what he sees as a promising outlook for his team, which is expecting the return of four players.

Offensive lineman Josh Williford, who has been sidelined since an Oct. 6 concussion at Florida, is slated to return along with fellow offensive lineman Evan Washington, as well as linebackers Tahj Jones and D.J. Welter.

Washington, Jones and Welter have all overcome issues with academic eligibility from earlier in the season. But even with the increased reinforcements, Miles didn't anticipate any changes to the starting lineups.

``Practice and bowl week will kind of determine how all that goes and what we might expect with certain guys coming back with a lot of experience,'' Miles said. ``There's a point where you want to put a rusty guy in a game when everybody else is tuned up. It's a good measuring stick, if you will, for bowl practice. We'll have to see who the best is.''

The bowl game also marks the final outing for 16 seniors and a possibly a number of juniors who could declare for the NFL draft, which Miles says is an increased motivator for a team searching for another 11-win season and a top-five finish in the final rankings.

``I think our football team wants to be seen as one of the best teams in college football,'' Miles said. ``The goal there is not so much the finish number, but how we play and what we can accomplish on the field. A team that has a close bond and some real feelings for one another have that need to play well for your teammates. I think this football team has that.''

It'll also be a homecoming of sorts for six Tigers who hail from Georgia, including All-American linebacker Kevin Minter and quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Minter will be one of five total All-Americans to take the field in the Georgia Dome, including Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd.

Boyd has racked up 3,550 passing yards and 34 touchdown strikes this season to go along with 492 yards rushing and nine more scores on the ground, catching the attention of Miles and the coaching staff.

``He's a very talented quarterback with a real strong arm,'' Miles said of Boyd. ``He has the ability to move his feet and run and extend plays. He was named All-American for a reason and it certainly is evident when you watch his film.''

Miles said the staff has begun breaking down Clemson game film, in particular the two common opponents both Tigers played this year - Auburn and South Carolina. LSU and Clemson both beat Auburn in tight games. LSU beat South Carolina, 23-21, while Clemson lost to the Gamecocks, 27-17 in the regular season finale.

``We're watching game film and really seeing their talent and their abilities and seeing how the matchups might fit against us,'' Miles said. ``I don't know that the common opponents are any more of an indication. The only think that you do recognize is that we played South Carolina and we know their offense and defensive line are capable of.''

The Georgia Dome has become a home away from home for LSU in recent years. The Tigers have posted a 9-1 record there and are hoping to attract a Baton Rouge following big enough to give the Chick-fil-A Bowl its 16th consecutive sellout.

``We love the Dome,'' Miles said. ``Every time we have ever walked into that dome, we have had a tremendously loyal following. The Tiger nation fills that dome, and we're excited to compete in that venue again with those people that wear the purple and gold. In my time here, every time we pull up to a stadium, we see purple and gold - every time.''

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Max Scherzer's return from hamstring injury was a battle, but one he won against the Mets

Max Scherzer's return from hamstring injury was a battle, but one he won against the Mets

Better. Though the bar was low.

Max Scherzer worked for six innings Tuesday night in New York. He made it through one roughshod inning during his last outing against the Mets because his hamstring “tweak” was enough of an alarm that he decided to stop pitching.

That was seven days prior to his start against the Mets, which the Nationals won, 2-1. Ostensibly, Scherzer had not pitched for 13 days. He lasted the one inning, needed to work his hamstring problem out, then find a way back to the mound.

Davey Martinez wanted him to stop sprinting -- the initial cause of the hamstring problem -- in between starts. Scherzer did not want to stop sprinting, so he continued to do so once he felt better. He also pitched twice from a mound in the days before the bottom of the first on Tuesday. Both times, he felt 100 percent when pushing and landing. The hamstring was fine. So much so, that he expected to throw the 105 pitches he did to hold off the Mets across the grinding innings they imposed on him.

“Took some shots there early, but didn’t break and found a way to execute pitches there later in the game,” Scherzer said.

RELATED: TREA TURNER'S SWING HAS TAKEN TIME TO ADJUST WITHOUT REPLAY ACCESS

He finished with seven strikeouts across the six innings. Just a run scored. But, there were eight baserunners and Scherzer was in severe trouble in both the first and second innings. Those were the issues as he hunted a path to better out-pitches and location.

“It honestly kind of reminded me of Game 7 of the World Series when he went out there and he couldn’t zone in on the strike zone,” Martinez said. “His stuff was good. His pitch count got high. Once he settled in, we started noticing he started getting through the ball a little better. Balls started coming down. Started throwing a lot more strikes.”

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“Even though my pitch count got out of control, I was just able to just stay with [Kurt Suzuki] and continue to pound the zone and find a way to get through six [Tuesday],” Scherzer said.

The good is clear: He is back on the mound, healthy, throwing 98 mph and 100-plus pitches. Stephen Strasburg returned two days prior, though he is not 100 percent. Scherzer is physically right, if slightly rusty. That combination was sufficient in his first start after the hamstring problem.

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With no access to in-game video, Trea Turner’s swing has taken time to adjust

With no access to in-game video, Trea Turner’s swing has taken time to adjust

Heading into the Nationals’ four-game series with the New York Mets this week, Trea Turner was hitting just .196 on the young season with one home run. The vaunted base stealer had been thrown out on the basepaths three times while having yet to swipe a bag successfully. In the field, he’d racked up three errors.

It was a frustrating start for the 27-year-old shortstop, who’s coming off a season in which he played with only nine fingers and still found a way to serve as a catalyst atop the Nationals’ lineup. Now fully healthy, Turner was expected to play a role in helping Washington absorb the loss of Anthony Rendon in the middle of its lineup.

Normally, poor at-bats would prompt Turner to head down to the replay room for a quick look at his mechanics. He goes into the clubhouse in between innings and examines his previous swings to see if he needs to make any adjustments. It’s a practice Turner has grown to rely on over the course of his major-league career.

But this season, Turner hasn’t had access to the replay room after MLB banned in-game video as part of its health protocols for playing in the middle of a pandemic. Instead, he’s had to wait until after each game before being able to break down his swing. It’s made for slower progress, but after going 5-for-9 with two home runs and four RBIs over the first two games of the series in New York, he feels that his adjustments have started to pay off.

“I felt good in the box and I feel like my approach was good but not having video is a little different and I feel like in years past I was pretty good at going back and just checking out the swing real quick and making the little adjustment I need to make in game,” Turner said in a Zoom press conference after Tuesday’s 2-1 win.

“Finally made the right adjustment a few games ago and started putting the barrel on the ball and feeling a little better. The last four or five games or so my contact has been a little bit stronger and it was just a matter of time for the hits to start to fall.”

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Turner hasn’t been the only member of the baseball community to express how the lack of video access has changed their approach. On Saturday, Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash told MLB Network Radio that he wasn’t pleased with MLB’s decision to ban something that had become an integral tool for coaches and players during games.

“Without being too controversial, I think it's absolutely ridiculous,” Cash said. “It's probably one of the worst things that I've seen Major League Baseball do in take video away from players. Video is what makes us good. It helps us learn, it helps us coach, it helps us attack. And it's been taken away from us because of one team, or a couple teams' stupid choices.”

“We can't even watch a game; we cannot watch our own game. Our players cannot come in and watch a game in the clubhouse. It is asinine. The entire protocol system, how they came up with that, it is wrong. They're doing an injustice to players.”

While it’s unknown whether the real reasoning behind MLB’s decision is related to health protocols or the sign-stealing scandals that surrounded the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox over the offseason, Turner isn’t making any excuses. In fact, the results are beginning to turn his way.

Entering play Tuesday, Turner had a hard-hit percentage of 40.9 percent, well above his career rate of 32.5. His batting average on balls in play was just .238 (league average is .300), indicating he had been getting unlucky on some well struck balls. In fact, his groundball rate is down five percentage points from his career average while his flyball rate is up 10 percent.

Then came his home run off Mets starter Rick Porcello in the first inning. Turner took a breaking ball high and away and hit it off his back foot on a line straight into the seats in right field.

It was only Turner’s second opposite-field homer of his career after he hit none all of last season. Yet even with the adjustments he’d been making to his swing, he said that he didn’t go into the at-bat looking to hit anything to right field against Porcello.

“I think it’s just swing path and pitch,” Turner said. “I’ve hit a few balls to right-center out in certain stadiums, mostly probably at home, and I don’t know if those are opposite field per se. They might be more center field but I just think when you’re facing righties, to hit an opposite-field home run is fairly tough. He tried going toward that backdoor sinker and I just felt like it was the right swing on the right pitch and just keeping it fair and not slicing the ball.”

Turner will continue tweaking away at his swing, hoping to produce results like he has so far in the New York. But with or without the video replay room, he doesn’t expect the opposite-field homer to be the start of a new trend.

“I don’t have necessarily that oppo power some of these big guys get,” Turner said. “I usually have to pull them but every once in a while, if you get the right pitch on the right swing, it sneaks out. So I’ll take it.”

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