Capitals

Montero ready for challenge of full-time catching

Montero ready for challenge of full-time catching

SEATTLE (AP) Under the heading of ``catchers'' on the Seattle Mariners' 40-man roster, there is just one name.

That is the challenge being placed before Jesus Montero. Ultimately, he won't have to do it all by himself, but there is no question that Seattle is heading into spring training with the idea that Montero will be its primary catcher. Throw in that Montero is just 23 and headed into his second full season in the majors and the task becomes even more significant.

If there is a major position player concern for the Mariners as they head into spring training in about two weeks, it's their depth behind the plate, where Montero is currently the only sure thing Seattle has. There are a handful of spring training invitees who very well could make the final roster out of spring, and some additional roster moves general manger Jack Zduriencik could make.

But for now, Montero is preparing himself to be Seattle's everyday catcher. Is it a risk to rely so heavily on the youngster? Maybe, especially since he caught only 56 games last season for Seattle. But Montero has a pretty strong understanding of what is going to be asked of him.

``I'm preparing myself to catch every day if I can catch every day,'' Montero said during the Mariners' annual fan gathering last weekend. ``Everybody knows that sometimes I get tired, everybody gets tired. I'm going to try to be behind home plate every single time.''

Whether Montero can become an everyday catcher was one of the primary questions when Seattle traded for him before the start of the 2012 season. Because of the catching rotation he was involved in during his rookie season, there wasn't much resolved about Montero's future as a full-time catcher.

But with the departures of Miguel Olivo (free agent) and John Jaso (trade), the position is now Montero's alone. There is help on the way in the minors with last year's first-round pick Mike Zunino and prospect John Hicks, but neither one is likely to make the Mariners roster out of spring.

``It's more on the mental than the physical side of things. I don't have any doubt he can handle it from a talent perspective, that he can handle the role fundamentally,'' Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. ``But being so young and inexperienced, the mental grind . we ask a great deal of our catchers here. And then the physical grind that goes along with it, that's pretty real. But he knows he's coming here to catch. It'll ultimately be my decision in regard to how much he does catch, but we're going to ask him to catch as much as we feel he can to go out there and perform the way he's capable of performing.''

Montero is coming off a rookie season that ebbed and flowed like most first seasons do. At times he was the Mariners' best hitter and at others he looked young and frustrated at the plate. He finished the year hitting .260 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs.

Part of the situation heading into this season is that Seattle needs Montero to be its primary catcher to keep his bat in the lineup and help figure out a logjam of new acquisitions who all could fill the designated hitter spot - Montero's primary role in his rookie season. The Mariners traded for Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse, and signed Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez, all of whom could likely see playing time at a variety of positions this season. But to maximize the potential of a lineup that's been offensively the worst in baseball the last three years, they need Montero catching and not taking up the designated hitter spot.

Montero was significantly better as a hitter in his rookie season when he was catching. In the 56 games he caught, Montero hit .310 with a slugging percentage of nearly .500, 10 home runs and 32 RBIs. His power numbers dipped significantly as a DH, despite getting nearly 100 more at-bats. Montero hit just five homers as a DH, struck out 60 times and had a slugging percentage of just .310.

``Being in the big leagues, it's not easy, but I know that now. Now I know how it's going to be this year,'' Montero said.

Montero was also given the challenge in the offseason of trimming his frame, cutting down on his body fat and becoming a better runner. At first glance last weekend, Montero appeared to have slimmed down and said, ``I learned to run.'' Just to make sure Montero understood what Seattle was asking, he was brought in last week to be looked over by team personnel to make sure he took his offseason program seriously.

``Last year, you know I'm slow, but (I think) I can run a little better and I gain a little more speed,'' Montero said. ``That's what I did, was run.''

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

las_vegas-sign-no_caps-stanley_cup_final.jpg
Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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