Nationals

No. 9 LSU welcomes quick shot at redemption

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No. 9 LSU welcomes quick shot at redemption

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) Zach Mettenberger insists LSU's offense is not as bad as it looks.

``We're close. We're very close,'' Mettenberger said after practice Monday evening. ``We just got to get it to where all 11 guys on offense are doing the right things at the right time.''

LSU (5-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) was unable to score a single touchdown in a 14-6 loss at No. 4 Florida last weekend, but Mettenberger said eliminating minor, correctable errors could drastically enhance the ninth-ranked Tigers' offensive output when No. 3 South Carolina (6-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) visits Death Valley this Saturday night.

``There are a lot of different things that factor into it that fans and the media don't really see but I can assure you that all of our mistakes are correctable,'' he said. ``We've just got to take care of business and get them corrected.''

If the Tigers' fail to do as their quarterback prescribes, their hopes of playing for a national title in Miami could virtually vanish. A victory, however, would provide almost immediate redemption and inject the Tigers right back into the BCS discussion.

``It's a perfect situation,'' safety Eric Reid said. ``We had a tough loss, but at the same time, we can have a big win this Saturday.''

Reid and the rest of LSU's defense remains confident after shutting out the Gators in the first half and forcing two turnovers on fumbles before Florida broke through for a pair of second-half touchdowns. By then end of the game, LSU's defense had played an exhausting 70 snaps and had been on the field for nearly two-thirds of the game (37:24).

``We did have a couple miscues but I feel like we improved a lot,'' said LSU linebacker Kevin Minter, the SEC defensive player of the week after making 20 tackles (one short of a school record), registering two sacks and forcing a fumble. ``This was probably our best game that we played, I feel like, especially with the competition we were going against. Florida has a ridiculous amount of talent.''

LSU coach Les Miles called his defense's performance ``tremendous,'' and said both side of the ball are playing with plenty of effort.

Still, he acknowledged the anemic state of the offense threatens to undermine LSU's season if its execution does not improve.

``We have to play smarter,'' Miles said. ``We have to run it and throw it better.''

LSU has averaged nearly 200 yards on the ground this season, though much of that has come against overmatched opponents. The Tigers managed only 42 yards rushing against the Gators, and the passing game did little to offset the Tigers' struggles on the ground. Mettenberger completed fewer than half his passes for 158 yards, was intercepted once on an overthrow of an open receiver and was sacked four times.

``All of us are making our mistakes at inopportune times,'' Mettenberger said. ``It's a learning process.''

That process has been slowed somewhat by injuries, particularly to the Tigers' top offensive lineman, left tackle Chris Faulk. That has forced some shuffling up front, but Miles said LSU has recruited well and has the talent to fill the voids. The key is how quickly the new starters learn from their mistakes.

``We enjoy the fact that there are some young guys being trained and playing key football early in this season so that we can be the best later in the season,'' Miles said.

Mettenberger and quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe have discussed ways to deal with the pass rush while the reformed offensive line jells, and they decided the shotgun formation was not the answer. Mettenberger said taking the snap under center with a five-step drop allows him to read the defense better than if he has to take his eyes off the opponent momentarily to catch a shotgun snap.

Miles also said it may be time to call more plays for powerful running back Spencer Ware, last season's second-leading rusher.

``He is a guy that, in my opinion, is a pretty dangerous weapon and someone that we have to use more frequently,'' Miles said.

Miles said Mettenberger is continuing to improve, and that everything from dropped balls to fumbles like the one Odell Beckham Jr. had deep in Florida territory are as much to blame for the offense's struggles as any mistakes by the quarterback.

Jarvis Landry said he and fellow receivers plan to work extra with the quarterbacks after practice, as they did last week, in hopes of improving their timing and chemistry.

``Right now it's just trying to work on trust - trust with Zach and timing,'' Landry said. ``For an effective passing game, those things are the highest requirement. It's just being in right place at the right time and Zach trusting us to be there and letting the ball go.''

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Nationals set to enter defining seven-game stretch

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USATSI

Nationals set to enter defining seven-game stretch

WASHINGTON -- Most baseball managers try to operate in monochromatic fashion. They see one goal each day, and it only rests in those 24 hours. Some -- like Davey Martinez -- claim they don’t look at the standings in June. His standard message is to “win today” then move to tomorrow.

Human nature often runs interference on compartmentalization. It even crept up on Martinez on Sunday morning when in the midst of an answer about Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner playing daily. 

“For me, this is a big week,” Martinez said. “We have a chance to make up some ground here. I want these guys readily available to play.”

He’s right. The claim of significance is valid for once in mid-June, not a concept drummed up by overzealous television promos or interminable Internet space. 

The Nationals have seven games in seven days against two teams near the top of the division. Damaged Philadelphia arrives Monday. The Phillies’ bullpen is hurting and ineffective. Bryce Harper could miss the All-Star Game for just the second time in his career. Philadelphia is 6-8 in June. Meanwhile, Atlanta is rolling along. Its lineup remains deep, the pitching functional and Dallas Keuchel set to make his debut here in D.C. next weekend. The Braves hold a 2 ½-game lead in the not-so-great National League East. 

“Not thinking too big picture,” Adam Eaton said. “But knowing we have an in-division rivalry, we’ve got to win those games. It’s important. We’re trying to chase at this point. Not to put too much emphasis on it, but we need to play some really competitive baseball. And we shouldn’t beat ourselves these next four games. Play good baseball and not beat ourselves. If we play the brand of baseball we know how to play, and play clean, we have a good chance.”

Washington is five games under .500. Days are clicking off the calendar. Departing along with them are opportunities to chop at an 8 1/2-game deficit in the division. Following this week, only seven games against Philadelphia remain. However, 13 with Atlanta remain on the schedule, including seven in 10 days in September. The question is if those will matter. Sink this week and they won’t. Pull off a deficit-halving six of seven and everything changes. 

This week’s ramifications will first be felt on the phone lines in a month. The non-waiver trade deadline arrives July 31. Drag back to a double-digit deficit this week and plunk down the “for sale” sign. Rocket through the week and perhaps reinforcements will be found.

Monday brings a dreaded series opener. The Nationals are 6-17 in the first games of series this season. No one knows why. It doesn’t make sense. But, here they are, incapable of winning a first game and constantly playing from behind.

Patrick Corbin will be on the mound attempting to counter the trend. He, like the team when a new opponent shows up, has been in arrears the last three games. Corbin’s ERA dipped to 2.85 following a 116-pitch shutout of Miami on May 25. He’s been bludgeoned since. His ERA is up to 4.11, he will start twice this week, and the Nationals need him to right his ills.

Friday, Corbin threw a bullpen session focused on his line to the plate. Pitching coach Paul Menhart describes what they are trying to accomplish to get Corbin back to the version he was earlier this season:

“His lines and his east-west motion have made it very difficult for him to get the ball to where he wants it to be,” Menhart said. “He needs to be more direct to the plate and have more of a north-south rotation with his upper body and being more stable lower-half wise will allow him to do that and have his deception and hide the ball better and keep that tunnel.”

Corbin agreed. He doesn’t watch much video to cure ruts. He also doesn’t want too much information. The team’s analytics trackers have informed him his arm slot remains in a good place. He thinks his body is still in a running at a high level, dismissing any correlation between his struggles and the workload against Miami. He’s also going through the most common element of reduced success: trying not to chew on it too much.

“I think when I’m away from the field, you think about it more,” Corbin told NBC Sports Washington. “You’re frustrated about it a little bit -- what the heck is going on? But when you get here, you just try to work, try to do things to get better. That’s how I approach it. I’m just looking forward to my next start on Monday going out there and trying to get back to how I know I can pitch.”

Philadelphia arrives after being thumped in Atlanta on Sunday, 15-1. Washington had the opposite day in a 15-5 win. Monday night starts a reckoning of sorts for both. The Nationals will send out their three high-end starters during the four games. Philadelphia is trying to right itself and not let the Braves get out of touch at the top of the division. So, even for the one-day-at-a-time crew, the coming seven carry significant weight, and they’re finally admitting it.

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Capitals re-sign forward Carl Hagelin to a four-year, $11 million contract

Capitals re-sign forward Carl Hagelin to a four-year, $11 million contract

WASHINGTON — The Capitals bolstered their forward depth and its penalty kill by re-signing two-time Stanley Cup champion Carl Hagelin before he hit unrestricted free agency next month. 

Washington has officially re-signed forward Carl Hagelin to a four-year, $11 million contract extension, a move that goes a long way toward re-establishing a third line that had some openings entering the offseason. 

Hagelin, 30, was a pending unrestricted free agent. Washington acquired him from the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 21 just four days before the NHL trade deadline. Hagelin played primarily on the third line – although injuries in the Stanley Cup playoffs pushed him onto the second line. 

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Hagelin had three goals and 11 assists in 20 regular-season games with the Capitals and became an instant staple on the penalty kill. His 47 minutes, six seconds on the PK in those 20 games were enough to rank sixth among all forwards on the team.

Traded twice last season, Hagelin had a total of five goals and 14 assists with the Capitals, Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins in 58 games. He had a sprained knee (medial collateral ligament) with Los Angeles that kept him out for 20 games.  

"[Hagelin] was a good fit,” Washington general manager Brian MacLellan said on April 26. “I thought he fit seamlessly from day one. Really liked him on the third line, the way we used him, we bumped him up obviously with the [T.J.] Oshie injury. Our PK got a lot better. Fits in well with his teammates. It's a really good fit for us, yes." 

The Penguins traded Hagelin to the Kings on Nov. 14. He was a key part of Pittsburgh’s back-to-back Stanley Cup winners in 2016 and 2017, which came at the expense of Washington in the playoffs each time. 

This was the last year of a four-year, $16 million deal that Hagelin signed with the Anaheim Ducks in 2015. He was always viewed as a likely trade chip for Los Angeles, which finished in last place in the Pacific Division and eventually flipped him to the Capitals. 

Even after the disappointing first-round Stanley Cup playoff loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, Hagelin said he was open to re-signing with the Capitals before he hit unrestricted free agency on July 1. His signing follows the trade of defenseman Matt Niskanen on Friday. The NHL Draft is this coming weekend in Vancouver with more moves expected.   

“I liked the fact that I got a good look from the coaches,” Hagelin said on April 26 of his time with the Capitals. “I got to play with good players, I got to play in key situations. I felt comfortable here.”

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