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Nowitzki encouraged after knee surgery, won't rush

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Nowitzki encouraged after knee surgery, won't rush

DALLAS (AP) Now that Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki is through the first knee surgery of his career, he'll lean on the longest absence of his 14 NBA seasons to figure out how soon he can come back.

The short answer: He won't rush it.

The 11-time All-Star walked gingerly but without a noticeable limp in his first post-op meeting with reporters Tuesday, four days after arthroscopic surgery on his ailing right knee. He says he's encouraged but wouldn't go much past that.

Coach Rick Carlisle has said Nowitzki would miss six weeks, but declined Tuesday to offer any updated time frame.

``A timetable at this point is pretty ridiculous to talk about,'' said Nowitzki, hunched over the podium with the legs stiffened on his 7-foot frame. ``It's hard to say right now when the swelling is going to be gone.''

All the 34-year-old Nowitzki knows is he came back too soon after sitting out nine games when the same knee was sore during Dallas' championship season two years ago. He's almost certain to surpass that career high in games missed with the season starting next Tuesday at the Los Angeles Lakers. The Mavericks figure to be at least 10 games in before his return.

``We definitely need to find a way to win some games and play some decent basketball until I come back,'' Nowitzki said. ``But I don't think that's going to change our approach with rushing back. I don't think we're going to rush things here.''

Nowitzki said he didn't have any problems with the knee as he went through offseason workouts, but soreness and swelling kicked in not long after training camp started late last month. He had the knee drained twice and tried to play through it - just as he did with chronic ankle trouble early in his career - before finally giving in to surgery.

He played just one preseason game - the opener in his native Germany.

``It's not that I was afraid of surgery or scared,'' Nowitzki said. ``I wanted to be there, especially with all these new guys. I wanted to be a part of starting the season. Now that's out of the question, but it's the right moment to do it.''

Nowitzki said the surgery took care of ``some stuff that needed to be cleaned out'' but declined to be more specific. He said doctors didn't find anything unusual in a knee that's been through so many seasons. He said workouts will get more intense once the swelling subsides, but he figures he'll have to be on the court at least a week or two before he can think about getting into a game.

With Nowitzki out, the Mavericks could have four new starters for the opener against the Lakers as they undergo their second roster makeover in two seasons since winning their first title. Some of the scoring load could fall to free agent guard O.J. Mayo, while veterans with as much service time as Nowitzki - Vince Carter and Elton Brand - could get a lot of his minutes at power forward.

The Mavericks would like to replace some of Nowitzki's scoring and rebounding with another newcomer in his friend and fellow 7-footer, center Chris Kaman. But Kaman remains sidelined with a strained calf, and Carlisle wasn't sure about the timing of his return Tuesday either, although it seems certain it will be sooner than Nowitzki.

``When Dirk's in the game, it seems like everybody gets easier shots because the defense is so focused on him,'' said new point guard Darren Collison. ``But that just means we've got to work a little bit harder, get into the paint a little more. We've got the personnel to do it, so we'll be fine.''

Meanwhile, Nowitzki will be picking through his suit closet every game day for a while. Just don't expect a new fashion line to crop up.

``If I would have known that, I probably would have stepped it up a little bit and got some new suits this summer,'' Nowitzki said. ``I'm bringing the same suits back from the White House, from the championship trophy ceremony. It's going to be a bunch of repeats.''

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Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter athttps://twitter.com/lschuylerd

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Saved! Baines surprise pick for Hall, Lee Smith also chosen

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Saved! Baines surprise pick for Hall, Lee Smith also chosen

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Harold Baines was given a save as big as any Lee Smith ever posted.

In a vote sure to spark renewed cries of cronyism at Cooperstown, Baines surprisingly was picked for the baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday after never coming close in any previous election.

"Very shocked," the career .289 hitter said on a conference call.

Smith, who held the major league record for saves when he retired, was an easy pick when the Today's Game Era Committee met at the winter meetings.

It took 12 votes for election by the 16-member panel -- Smith was unanimous, Baines got 12 and former outfielder and manager Lou Piniella fell just short with 11.

George Steinbrenner, Orel Hershiser, Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Davey Johnson and Charlie Manuel all received fewer than five votes.

Smith and Baines both debuted in Chicago during the 1980 season. Smith began with the Cubs and went on to record 478 saves while Baines started out with the White Sox and had 2,866 hits.

Baines had 384 home runs and 1,628 RBIs in a 22-year career -- good numbers, but not stacking up against the greats of his day. He never drew more than 6.1 percent in five elections by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, far from the 75 percent required.

"I wasn't expecting this day to come," the six-time All-Star said.

The Hall board-appointed panel included longtime White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

"I'm glad he was on that committee this year to help to get into the Hall of Fame," Baines said.

Reinsdorf praised his former player in a statement. Baines currently serves as a team ambassador in community relations department of the White Sox.

"So happy for Harold. He's a great player and a great human being," Reinsdorf said. "I am so honored that I was a member of the committee. He deserved to be in long ago. I am just so excited."

"Not only was Harold one of my favorite players to watch, but I have nothing but admiration for him as a player and as a human being," he said.

Tony La Russa, Baines' first big league manager, also was on the panel that elected him.

In the past, Phil Rizzuto and Bill Mazeroski were among the players who benefited from friendly faces on Veterans Committees to reach the Hall. That panel has been revamped over the years, and the Today's Game Era group was created as part of changes in 2014.

"The era committees were established as a sort of a court of appeals for an opportunity in the event that over time it was felt that maybe somebody slipped through the cracks," Hall President Jeff Idelson said. "And in the case of someone who received 6 percent of the vote in the BBWAA election, the reason that may have happened could be for many, many reasons."

Baines, now 59, had a smooth, consistent, left-handed stroke. But he never finished higher than ninth in an MVP vote, and never was among the top five AL hitters in the yearly batting race. His single-season high was 29 home runs at a time when lots of players hit more.

Smith's fastball helped him become a seven-time All-Star in an 18-year-old career. Known for his slow trudges from the bullpen to the mound, he owned the saves record when he retired during the 1997 season while with Montreal. Trevor Hoffman and then Mariano Rivera reset the mark.

Smith never reached 51 percent in 15 BBWAA elections. Still, he kept believing his day would come.

"I'm pretty patient, though, and I think I waited long enough. But it's sweeter," he said on a conference call. "You look at those things, well, OK, who's on the ballot this year? Who's on the ballot next year? But I'd never, never, never give up hope.

"And then when they started with the second-chance ballot, I thought my chances got a little better. This probably today was probably the (most) nervous I've been with this Hall of Fame voting thing," he said.

Smith became the seventh pitcher who primarily was a reliever to make the Hall, joining Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Hoyt Wilhelm. The 61-year-old has long worked for the San Francisco Giants as a minor league pitching coach and instructor.

Baines was a designated hitter for much of his career after knee trouble ended his days in the outfield. DHs have struggled to gain backing from Hall voters. Baines joined Frank Thomas as the only players in the Hall who spent more than half his games as a DH.

"Everything I hear or read is DH is really not part of the game, I guess. But I disagree. But maybe this will the open up the doors for some more DHs," Baines said.

Both closers and DHs could see the numbers increase again very shortly.

Rivera is eligible for the first time and big-hitting DH Edgar Martinez will be back on the ballot when results of the next BBWAA election are announced Jan. 22.

Induction ceremonies are scheduled for July 21 at Cooperstown, New York.

Between now and then, there's certain to be more debate about who else should be in the Hall. Drug-tainted Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are on the upcoming BBWAA ballot, influential players' union head Marvin Miller has been denied seven times by various committees, and admitted steroids user Mark McGwire wasn't among Sunday's candidates.

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Nationals on periphery in Las Vegas

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USA Today Sports

Nationals on periphery in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS -- Marlins Man walked into a modest eatery Sunday here in Las Vegas to look over the options. His bright orange jersey stood out among the cowboy hats and zombie-like Sunday exodus inside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

While another Las Vegas weekend closed, sending an army of roller bags across the casino floor toward the exit and airport, baseball started to creep into the home of the 2018 Winter Meetings. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo wandered across the marble floor. Media members from cities across the country became situated. Television stations raised their studios and radio talkers began to ramble. Everyone is wondering if the show in Vegas will be filled with drama or just another stall along the way to the offseason’s biggest news.

We know Rizzo turned in his homework early. Patrick Corbin’s money and introduction arrived late last week. Corbin, presumably, is the Nationals’ largest offseason expenditure. Surprising comments from Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner to 106.7 The Fan on Friday made that seem to be the case. He described Bryce Harper as all but gone, speaking wistfully, if not definitively.

Which means Rizzo is here for smaller shopping and the rest of baseball waits on Harper and Manny Machado.

A look through the Nationals shows few remaining gaps. Rizzo publicly contends he feels all right about starting the season with a Wilmer Difo/Howie Kendrick platoon at second base. The outfield is clear without Harper. Joe Ross and Erick Fedde will fight for the final rotation spot. Two new catchers have arrived. The bullpen was upgraded. Rizzo didn’t wait and watch what other teams were doing.

“We like the club we have at present,” Rizzo told NBC Sports Washington last week. “But, we’re never satisfied. There’s tweaks and combinations we can go after. We’ll be looking for values out there. What works for us, how do we construct the periphery of the roster. You can never have enough pitching and we’re always on the look for good starting and relief pitching. That could be something we attack either via the free agent market or trade market.”

One thing the market remains full of is left-handed relievers. The Nationals currently have three. One of which is Sammy Solis.

Washington decided to tender him a contract and the sides reached a one-year deal. There was consideration not to tender him a contract, which would have ended Solis’ time with Nationals. Instead, he’s back despite two back-to-back poor seasons following a strong 2016. Last season was a wreck. Solis finished with a 6.41 ERA. The other two lefties, Sean Doolittle and Matt Grace, were excellent. So, are the Nationals in the market for one more left-handed reliever to be sure?

“We’ve got right now on the roster three really competent left-handed pitchers,” Rizzo said, “in Doolittle, Grace who had a magnificent season last year and Sammy Solis, who we feel is a bounceback candidate. We feel good about the left-handed spot. We feel good about our bullpen as a whole.”

The Nationals were mid-pack last season in relievers’ ERA in both the National League and Major League Baseball. Their bullpen does appear close to done: Doolittle, Trevor Rosenthal, Kyle Barraclough, Koda Glover, Grace, Solis, Justin Miller and Wander Suero are eight quick spots down there.

One upside here for Rizzo is he can wait. He doesn’t need to jump at the flush reliever market, which includes several decent left-handed options, because of the team’s prompt signings. A discount may arrive later. A factor to remember in regard to Solis is the Nationals would only be on the hook for 1/6th of his salary if they cut him in spring training. That’s a small penalty if someone in West Palm Beach appears more capable.

Washington also needs a left-handed bat off the bench that can play first base. Matt Adams, Justin Bour and Lucas Duda are names that could fill that slot. None will rattle the meetings.

This is life on the periphery, as Rizzo puts it. Will they talk to a lot of agents here? Yes. Will they consider an upgrade at second base? Of course. Are they part of the gigantic Harper and Machado storylines unlikely to conclude in Las Vegas but en route to dominate the conversation? Not really. At least not if Lerner’s public declaration is filled with flat facts. They offered Harper, he can do better elsewhere, and now life is quieter, even in Las Vegas.

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