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Fresh round of cuts helps Nationals Opening Day roster take shape

Fresh round of cuts helps Nationals Opening Day roster take shape

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Opening Day roster became much clearer Saturday following a slew of player moves by the Nationals.

Right-handed pitcher Joe Ross was optioned to Triple-A Fresno. After consideration of using Ross in the bullpen, the organization decided to send him to Triple A and stretch him out there. Manager Davey Martinez said they view Ross as a starter now and in the future.

Catcher Spencer Kieboom and right-handed starter Erick Fedde will go to Double-A Harrisburg. This is the first instance of a decision based on the change in Triple-A affiliation. The Nationals switched from Syracuse to Fresno in the offseason -- a move they did not have complete control of. So, Kieboom and Fedde will go to Harrisburg in order to be readily available should something happen to a player on the 25-man roster during the opening homestand.

Prospect Carter Kieboom, right-handed starter Henderson Alvarez, right-handed reliever Aaron Barrett, right-handed reliever Scott Copeland and left-handed reliever Vidal Nuno have been reassigned to minor-league camp.

Carter Kieboom impressed at the plate throughout the spring. He continues to learn second base after sliding over from his traditional shortstop position. Barrett takes another step in his comeback following Tommy John surgery and a fractured elbow. Martinez said he thinks Barrett will help the parent club at some point this season.

Washington has three spring training games remaining. Patrick Corbin and Joe Ross pitch in split-squad games Sunday. Monday, the team is back in the District for its final game of the exhibition season. The season opener is Thursday, March 28.

This round of cuts drops the team’s options to 30 players. Koda Glover (forearm), Howie Kendrick (hamstring) and Michael A. Taylor (hip/knee) are unlikely to be ready for Opening Day. That trio appears heading for the injured list. Which leaves two bench spots among utility player Adrian Sanchez, outfielder Andrew Stevenson or first baseman, and out-of-nowhere minor-leaguer, Jake Noll until Taylor and Kendrick are ready. Two bullpen spots are available to Wander Suero, Justin Miller and Austen Williams in that alignment.

The Nationals could keep all three relievers for Opening Day. That would give them a bench of catcher Kurt Suzuki, utility player Wilmer Difo, first baseman Matt Adams, and likely Stevenson as the fourth outfielder.

Another wrinkle: reliever Kyle Barraclough, who has a 5.19 ERA and has allowed three home runs in 8 ⅔ innings, still has options. Sending him down would be a significant pivot after the organization often touted him as one of its featured relievers.

Last, multiple off-days to start the season play into this equation. If the Nationals choose a smaller bullpen group, it will have more time than usual to recover. What we know is these players are coming to play Thursday:

Starting pitchers:
Max Scherzer
Stephen Strasburg
Patrick Corbin (L)
Anibal Sanchez
Jeremy Hellickson

Relievers:
Tony Sipp (L)
Matt Grace (L)
Wander Suero
Trevor Rosenthal
Sean Doolittle (L)

Position players:
Yan Gomes (C)
Kurt Suzuki (C)
Ryan Zimmerman (1B)
Brian Dozier (2B)
Trea Turner (SS)
Anthony Rendon (3B)
Adam Eaton (RF)
Victor Robles (CF)
Juan Soto (LF)
Wilmer Difo (Utility)
Matt Adams (1B)

A few decisions remain to determine who will join them.

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Yankees' season on the brink after 8-3 loss to Astros

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Yankees' season on the brink after 8-3 loss to Astros

NEW YORK (AP) -- CC Sabathia threw a cutter to George Springer and grimaced from the pain in his left shoulder, then covered his face with his glove as he walked to the dugout after what was likely the final pitch of his career.

Three-time Gold Glove winner DJ LeMahieu had the first two-error game of his big league career. Also a pair of miscues by Gleyber Torres .

Gary Sanchez, Torres and Edwin Encarnacion all struck out with the bases loaded, letting Zack Greinke and Ryan Pressly escape.

The Bronx Bombers have gone bust against Houston, and now they're on the brink.

Houston's 8-3 victory over the listless, sloppy Yankees on Thursday night gave the Astros a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series.

And now the Yankees face Justin Verlander in Game 5 on Friday night as they try to avoid what would be their first calendar decade without a World Series appearance since the 1910s.

"We played poorly tonight. There's no other way to explain it," manager Aaron Boone said after addressing the team in a postgame meeting. "We need to flush this immediately."

Sabathia relieved in the eighth inning, knowing the end was near to a 19-season career that included a 251-161 regular-season record with 3,093 strikeouts. After four stints on the injured list this year caused by his balky right knee, the 39-year-old left-hander craved one last October in the limelight, moving to the bullpen.

But his body gave out on his 20th pitch, a metaphor for the entire team against the Astros so far. He walked off the mound toward second, spoke with head athletic trainer Steve Donahue and tried a warmup toss, hoping somehow to push through, but he had to leave.

Even Houston's Gerrit Cole and George Springer joined in the applause as fans gave Sabathia limped off a standing ovation. When he reached the dugout, his face contorted, Sabathia took four steps down toward the clubhouse, then sat near the bottom, his back to the field, as Donahue tried to console him.

"Every single time he went out there, you had to rip the ball or his jersey off to get him off that mound," Yankees slugger Aaron Judge said. "He got everything out of that arm. That's a warrior right there."

Boone said Sabathia could be replaced on the roster Friday, making him ineligible even should the Yankees come back and advance.

"It stinks," reliever Zack Britton said. "It's heartbreaking to watch him leave the field like that. I know how much pain he was in."

Hitting, pitching and fielding all went poof!

New York had not lost consecutive home games to the same opponent since early April, had not made four errors in a postseason game since 1976 -- and never before in the Bronx. Some of the fans who remained in a mostly empty Yankee Stadium applauded sarcastically when shortstop Didi Gregorius caught an infield popup in the ninth.

Earlier, New York also threw a pair of wild pitches.

During the regular season, the Yankees led the major leagues with a .294 batting average with runners in scoring position. In the ALCS, they haven't scored on a hit other than a home run since the opener.

New York was 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position, dropping to 4 for 27 in the four games -- including 1 for 16 in the three straight losses. The Yankees stranded 10 runners, increasing their series total to 33. They struck out 13 times, giving them 43 in the series.

This game started to turn in the first inning, when Sanchez fanned on a low slider from the erratic Greinke as New York failed to build on its 1-0 lead following Brett Gardner's bases-loaded walk. With the Yankees trailing 3-1 in the fifth and the bases full again, Torres struck out on a checked swing on an outside slider in rhe dirt from Pressly, and Encarnacion swung over a fastball , ending the inning.

Win by the homer, lose by the homer.

New York's 306 long balls during the regular season were second to Minnesota's big league record of 307. The Yankees led the majors with 943 runs, and were fourth in percentage of runs scored on homers at 51.1, trailing only Toronto (53.2), Milwaukee (51.5) and Minnesota (51.2).

Boone repeatedly maintained he was unconcerned about the power reliance. New York has plated eight of its 13 runs against the Astros on five homers, two-run drives by Judge and Sanchez, a pair of solo shots by Torres and bases-empty pokes by Giancarlo Stanton and Gio Urshela.

After thriving despite 30 players going on the injured list, the aches have become too onerous, players struggling in their return from late-season injuries.

Encarnacion is 1 for 15 with eight strikeouts, Sanchez 2 for 17 with eight strikeouts, Gregorius 2 for 16, Urshela 2 for 15 and Aaron Hicks 1 for 6 with three strikeouts.

After the best regular season at the plate of his career, Gardner is 2 for 15 with seven strikeouts.

Now time is short.

James Paxton takes the mound Friday after getting just seven outs in Game 2, hoping to avoid what would be just the third four-game losing streak for New York this season. The Yankees' 103 regular-season wins, their most in a decade, may not amount to much.

"I've got to step up," Judge said. "Everybody's got to step up."

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Bryce Harper says he's watched, cheered for the Nationals in road to World Series

Bryce Harper says he's watched, cheered for the Nationals in road to World Series

The Washington Nationals, fans and even us at NBC Sports Washington have been having some fun with Bryce Harper missing out on the Nationals' trip to the World Series. 

But in an interview with The Athletic, the now-Phillies player said he's been watching his former teammates reach levels of postseason success he's never experienced. After leaving in free agency last summer, Harper said he's happy for the team he spent seven years playing for and has even been texting his former teammates. 

"You know, jealousy isn't good," Harper told Jayson Stark.

Harper's Phillies were off to a much better 50-game start to the season than the Nats, who turned a 19-31 late-May record to a World Series run. Much of their success has come from Harper's replacement, Juan Soto. The 20-year-old has surpassed all expectations and his offense, combined with Anthony Redon's stellar season, enabled the Nats to get to the World Series. 

For Harper, who never won a postseason series in Washington, it takes a lot of character to not even be a little jealous.  

And as for those people who have made alterations to the old Harper jerseys purchased in past years?

Again, from The Athletic:

“I mean, they bought the jerseys,” Harper said, laughing. “It’s over. I wear No. 3 now. And I play for the Philadelphia Phillies – you know what I’m saying? I appreciate them supporting me before and buying those jerseys. But now they can do whatever they want with them. They’re all theirs.”

 

You can read the full story here.

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