Nationals

Monday's Sports in Brief

Monday's Sports in Brief

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) In what must be an increasingly frustrating scene for the rest of college football, another season ended with Alabama coach Nick Saban and his players frolicking in the middle of a confetti-strewn field. Eddie Lacy ran all over Notre Dame, AJ McCarron turned in another dazzling performance through the air, and the Tide defense shut down the Fighting Irish until it was no longer in doubt.

The result was a 42-14 blowout in the BCS title game Monday night, not only making Alabama a back-to-back champion, but a full-fledged dynasty with three crowns in four years.

Despite the dazzling numbers by McCarron - 20 of 28 for 264 yards - he was denied a second straight offensive MVP award in the title game. That went to Lacy, who finished with 140 yards rushing on 20 carries and scored two TDs. Not a bad finish for the junior, who surely helped his status in the NFL draft should he decide to turn pro.

The Crimson Tide wrapped up its ninth Associated Press national title, breaking a tie with Notre Dame for the most by any school and gaining a measure of redemption for a bitter loss to the Irish almost four decades ago: the epic 1973 Sugar Bowl in which Ara Parseghian's team edged Bear Bryant's powerhouse 24-23.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) - Alabama is No. 1 at being No. 1.

The Crimson Tide (13-1) was voted national champion by The Associated Press for the ninth time, more than any other program in college football, after routing Notre Dame 42-14 on Monday night.

Notre Dame, No. 1 coming into the BCS championship, dropped to No. 4.

The Tide received all 59 of the first-place votes in the final media poll of the season and will be a candidate to start next season No. 1

Oregon (12-1) finished second, matching its best final ranking from 2001. Ohio State (12-0), the only undefeated team in major college football but banned from the postseason because of NCAA sanctions, was third. Georgia and Texas A&M tied for fifth to cap another banner season for the Southeastern Conference.

PRO FOOTBALL

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) - It doesn't sound good for Robert Griffin III.

An injury that sidelines RG3 well into next season is a very real possibility - or at least it seemed that way after coach Mike Shanahan described the results of tests on the rookie's right knee.

Shanahan said the results prompted the team to send Griffin to Florida on Tuesday to see renowned orthopedist James Andrews for more examinations, essentially a second opinion that will decide the team's fate for the 2013 season.

``There is a concern,'' Shanahan said. ``That's why he's going to see him.''

Griffin tore his ACL while playing for Baylor in 2009, and Shanahan said that old injury caused Griffin's latest MRI to prove inconclusive and produce ``differences of opinion'' in those who have looked at it.

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) - Pete Carroll says the ``field'' in FedEx Field is ``horrible.''

Mike Shanahan doesn't go that far, but he agrees the grass isn't always greener at the Washington Redskins stadium.

The playing surface was a mess when Seattle Seahawks beat the Redskins on Sunday in the NFC wild card playoffs. There were plenty of bare sports, and dirt was flying with many of the steps taken between the hash marks. Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III and Seattle defensive end Chris Clemons left the game with knee injuries.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Andy Reid was introduced as the new coach of the Kansas City Chiefs one week after he was fired following 14 mostly successful seasons in Philadelphia.

The 54-year-old Reid was joined by Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, team president Mark Donovan and several other executives at a packed news conference at Arrowhead Stadium.

He takes over for Romeo Crennel, who went 2-14 in his first full season as coach. Crennel was fired last Monday, the same day that Reid was dismissed following his tenure in Philadelphia that included 130 wins, six division titles and an appearance in the Super Bowl.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians returned to Indianapolis on Monday night after being released from a Baltimore hospital following a 36-hour stay for an undisclosed illness.

Team owner Jim Irsay told The Associated Press in a text message that Arians was accompanied by two team doctors, had been medicated and appeared to be on the mend.

``He was in good spirits (and) is trending (in) right direction,'' Irsay wrote.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The Philadelphia Eagles received permission to interview Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden for their coaching vacancy.

Gruden, the younger brother of Jon Gruden, just finished his second season with the Bengals.

NEW YORK (AP) - Matt Cavanaugh will not return as the New York Jets' quarterbacks coach after four seasons with the team.

Cavanaugh's contract was due to expire in a few weeks and he was told he would not be part of Rex Ryan's staff next season. Cavanaugh was responsible for the development of Mark Sanchez, who took a step back in his fourth season and was benched late in the year.

PRO HOCKEY

The NHL appears headed toward a 48-game season for the second time in two decades.

``I think 48 is most likely at this point, unless the players can expedite their ratification process,'' NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email Monday to The Associated Press.

The NHL shortened its 82-game slate to 48 games for the 1994-95 season after a 103-day lockout. A 301-day lockout in 2004-05 made the NHL the first major North American professional sports league to lose an entire season.

When the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement was agreed to Sunday morning - after 16 hours of negotiations - there was some talk of having a 50-game season start later this month.

The NHL and the players' association are working on a memorandum of understanding, which could be completed soon, then voted on by owners and players. The league has circulated a memo to teams telling them to be ready to play by Jan. 19, the date the shortened season is expected to start.

PRO BASKETBALL

Head coach Scott Skiles and the Milwaukee Bucks have decided to part ways after just over four seasons together, ending a working relationship that seemed to have been teetering on the brink for quite some time.

The decision came two days after the Bucks lost their fourth straight game to fall to 16-16 on the season, a person with knowledge of the move told The Associated Press. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the move has not been announced. USA Today first reported the parting.

SOCCER

ZURICH (AP) - Lionel Messi became the first four-time winner of the FIFA Player of the Year award after shattering the world record with 91 goals last year for Barcelona and Argentina.

The 25-year-old won for the fourth straight time, beating Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta in voting announced Monday. His 91 goals topped Gerd Mueller's mark of 85 for Bayern Munich and Germany in 1972.

Abby Wambach became the first American to win FIFA Women's Player of the Year since Mia Hamm in 2001 and 2002. Pia Sundhage was voted top women's coach after leading Wambach and the U.S. team to the gold medal at last summer's London Olympics.

TEN

SYDNEY (AP) - Former champion Li Na advanced to the second round of the Sydney International with a 7-6 (2), 7-5 win over Christina McHale on Monday, and Sam Stosur extended her miserable start to 2013 with another first-round loss.

HOBART, Australia (AP) - Top-seeded Hsieh Su-wei lost to former doubles partner Peng Shuai of China 6-2, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4) in the first round of the Hobart International on Monday.

AUTO RACING

NAZCA, Peru (AP) - Defending champion Stephane Peterhansel was back in front of the Dakar Rally in the Peruvian dunes a day after officials rubbed out his stage two win and overall lead.

Peterhansel finished third on the third stage from Pisco to Nazca and it was good enough to lead overall from stage winner Nasser Al-Attiyah. The Qatari started the day seventh and rose to second by cutting four minutes off Peterhansel's lead to trail by 6 minutes, 33 seconds.

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Joe Maddon's protest prompts Sean Doolittle to call his act 'tired'

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Joe Maddon's protest prompts Sean Doolittle to call his act 'tired'

WASHINGTON -- Sean Doolittle stood at his locker in the clubhouse still roiled by what occurred in the ninth inning Saturday. 

His clean inning for his eighth save was not on his mind. Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon was.

The Cubs appeared to enact a pre-planned grouse when they say Doolittle next. Chicago quality assurance coach Chris Denorfia was talking to the umpires as Doolittle warmed up in the 5-2 game. Following Doolittle's first pitch, Maddon popped out of the dugout to begin his banter, and eventual protest, of Doolittle's delivery.

At question was Doolittle's toe tap. With no runners on base, he raises his front leg, drops and holds it for a count, then grazes the dirt with is cleat before he fully comes to the plate. Doolittle started this almost a year ago during a late May series in Miami. No one had complained since -- until Maddon emerged from the Cubs' dugout.

If the umpires deem the move illegal, the outcome is a ball called with the bases empty or a balk called with runners on base. Saturday, home plate umpire Sam Holbrook told Doolittle he was doing nothing wrong. Which turned the postgame discussion around the event to Maddon's intentions. 

A starting point would be one of Maddon's relievers, Carl Edwards Jr., tried to add a similar move in spring training. But Edwards was putting his full foot on the ground and was told the move was illegal. 
Doolittle was more inclined to believe Maddon's primary motivation was to rattle him at the start of the save opportunity, and he calmly, but clearly, took digs at Maddon for the process. 

"After the first time Joe came out, the home plate umpire was like you're fine, just keep it moving," Doolittle said. "Don't start, stop and start again. Just keep it moving. I was like, that's what I do all the time anyway, so...in that moment, he's not trying to do anything other than rattle me and it was kind of tired. I don't know. Sometimes he has to remind people how smart he is and how much he pays attention to the game and stuff like that. He put his stamp on it for sure. 

"I actually have to thank him. After they came out the second, the [Kyle] Schwarber at-bat, I threw two fastballs and a slider and a fastball to [Kris] Bryant and those were probably the best ones I've thrown in a while. I don't do the tap when there's somebody on base so I can keep my pickoff move available if I need it. I've had a lot of traffic recently, so I've had practice doing it, so it wasn't like a huge adjustment to me. I don't know. In a way, I kind of need to thank him."
Doolittle wasn't finished. He was later asked if he thought Maddon was trying to get him to change his mechanics.

"Well, yeah, that's part of the mind game that he was trying to play and I get that," Doolittle said. "I guess I should take it as a compliment that he felt like he had to do that in order to try to throw me off my game in that situation. They're trying to get you to over-think it and change something in the middle of a save opportunity to give them a chance where you start making mistakes or are over-thinking it. 

"But once the home plate umpire tells me, he said, you're fine, just keep it moving, it's just a tap, at this point, I've been doing it for over a year. We're a month-and-a-half into the season, so I know their guy had to make an adjustment; I thought it was a thinly veiled attempt to kind of throw me off."

Members of the Nationals staff were also irked. Among their concerns was the chance for Doolittle to injure himself if he suddenly changed his delivery.
Maddon was adamant the situation was created by Edwards not being allowed to alter his delivery.

“It’s really simple," Maddon said. "That’s exactly what Carl (Edwards) was told he can’t do. And I was told it was an illegal pitch and he can’t do it. I went to Sam (Holbrook), and I told him that. And he said, ‘in our judgment.’ I said, ‘there’s no judgment. If he taps the ground, it’s an illegal pitch, period.’ There’s nothing to judge. You can judge whether he did or not. It’s obvious that he did. If you can’t tell that, then there’s something absolutely wrong. So that was my argument.

"I said if you guys don’t clean it up, I’m going to protest the game.  So we protested the game. For me, I don’t know how many he actually did make that were illegal pitches. I don’t know how they’re going to rule with this. It’s their rule. It’s not mine. I didn’t ask for it in the first place. They took it away from Carl. They took it away from (Cory) Gearrin. They’ve taken it away from a couple guys and they seem to be somewhat aware, but not aware of what had happened."

Wherever the truth resides, Saturday night became another installment in the oddities when Chicago and Washington play. The Cubs walked Bryce Harper 13 times in 19 plate appearances in 2016. The 2017 five-game National League Division Series which ended in Nationals Park included Stephen Strasburg's mystery illness and PR gaffe about who would pitch Game 4 in Chicago. Add Saturday night to the strangeness and buckle up for Sunday's series finale.

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Strasburg dazzles as another quick start leads to a Nationals win

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Strasburg dazzles as another quick start leads to a Nationals win

The Washington Nationals bounced back to beat the Chicago Cubs, 5-2, Saturday to improve to 19-26. Here are five observations from the game…

1. Davey Martinez can’t draw up a night on the mound much better than riding Stephen Strasburg long enough to get to one inning of Sean Doolittle.

Of course, that was only possible thanks to the brilliance of Strasburg, who tossed eight stellar innings Saturday. He was efficient throughout, throwing just 93 pitches and walking only one. Strasburg allowed four hits, two runs (only one earned), and struck out seven Cubs.

Strasburg “only” induced 15 swinging strikes, far from his best number this season, but still pretty good. It didn’t matter, especially with how quickly he was able to make work of the Cubs, getting ground ball after ground ball all night long.

NBC Sports Washington’s own Todd Dybas pointed out midway through the start how Strasburg was going back to his fastball after multiple starts in this recent successful stretch where he featured his curveball prominently. That pattern held throughout his eight innings, and tonight, nearly half (7) of Strasburg’s swinging strikes came on the four-seamer.

Strasburg’s success tonight continues a great recent stretch. He’s allowed just 10 earned runs in his last 42.1 innings, spanning six starts. He’s got 54 strikeouts and just six walks in those starts, a remarkable 9:1 ratio. 

It all adds up to one of the best stretches of Strasburg’s career, as he continues to cement himself as one of three true aces on the current Washington staff. And tonight may have been the most impressive outing yet, considering how deep he went into the game and how hot the opponent’s bats had been.

2. The Nationals are hoping their lineup sees an uptick in performance with guys like Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, and Trea Turner getting back in the swing of things after time on the IL. Those three combined for five hits, three RBI and three runs Saturday.

But it would go a long way for the offense if Brian Dozier finds his stroke as well.

The powerful second baseman is a notoriously slow starter, but when he gets on a hot streak, he can carry a team. It’s only two games, but this may be the start of one of his patented “in the zone” streaks at the plate.

Dozier has gone 3-for-4 and 2-for-4 in back to back games, including a stretch where he reach base six straight times. That includes tonight’s home run to start the scoring for the Nats.

It’s been hard to fault Davey Martinez for his daily lineup construction with all the injuries. Now that his team is getting healthy, it will be interesting to see where Dozier fits in. The top of the order seems well set with Turner, Rendon, and Soto sandwiching one or two of Howie Kendrick, Victor Robles and Adam Eaton. 

Where does that leave Dozier? Probably in the 6-7 range. But if he keeps swinging the bat like he has against the Cubs, that could change. In a week, Martinez has gone from not having enough viable options to potentially having too many. I’m sure he’s happier with the latter.

3. A pattern has emerged in recent wins for the Nationals. When they get off to a quick start, they win. When they don’t, they lose.

In four of their last five victories, the Nats have scored first, including early-inning leads of at least three runs in each game.

In the four losses during the same stretch, the opposing team scored first each time, including three times in the first inning. In those losses, the Nationals were ultimately outscored by a combined 31-8.

In other words, quick starts have been crucial to the team’s success. It’s a narrative that would make sense even if the numbers didn’t back it up. With the way the team has struggled so consistently this season, it would be natural to feel deflated after an early deficit. That feeling is magnified with the lack of faith in the bullpen's ability to keep games within reach.

Saturday night against the Cubs kept this pattern going, with the Nats jumping on the board first with a Brian Dozier home run in the second inning, followed by the three-run fourth inning. That would prove to be all the support Strasburg needed, and once again Washington was able to ride early momentum to a relatively easy win.

4. The team as a whole was looking to bounce back Saturday night, but so was their best reliever.

Doolittle has been, far and away, the most reliable, valuable member of the Nationals bullpen in 2019, but against the Mets Thursday, he wasn’t himself. The lefty allowed four hits and two earned runs in his inning of work, walking one and striking out two on 31 pitches.

Coming off his worst inning of the season, Doolittle was back to his usual self against the Cubs.  He only needed seven pitches (six strikes) to make quick work of Chicago in the top of the ninth inning and earn his eighth save, even with some funny business.

Joe Maddon came out to protest with the umpires about Doolittle tapping his toe on the mound after beginning his windup. It’s a move the Cubs’ own Carl Edwards Jr. had been banned from doing, so his manager was obviously upset to see the Nats’ star closer getting away with something similar.

It’s unclear if anything else will come from the points Maddon brought up, but on Saturday at least, Doolittle was unfazed even after getting “iced” by the opposing manager.

5. For all the struggles the Nats have faced this season, they might be in the midst of a turning point.

It may not feel like it to frustrated fans who just want to see the team reel off several straight wins, but the Nationals have put themselves in position to potentially "win" their third straight series against a quality opponent. Yes, technically the Los Angeles series was a 2-2 split, but considering the Dodgers had only lost four games at home all season prior to the Nats’ trip, we’ll count the split as a win.

They followed that up taking two of three from the Mets, who have faltered of late but are still talented enough to be heard from in the National League East this season.

And now, after bouncing back from last night’s tough 14-6 loss, the Nats have earned an opportunity to grab another series win Sunday night. Of course, they’ll need a strong start from Jeremy Hellickson, which is less likely than it was Friday with Scherzer or Saturday with Strasburg.

Eventually, if the Nationals want to make any real noise, they will need an elongated winning streak. They’ve yet to win more than two consecutive games at any point this season, and have already experienced three losing streaks longer than that.

The talent is there, especially as much of the team gets healthy, and the schedule is finally lightening up. Nats fans are tired of hearing it, but this may finally be the successful stretch they’ve been waiting for. At the very least, the opportunity is there.

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