Nationals

Old rivals Memphis, No. 6 Louisville meet again

Old rivals Memphis, No. 6 Louisville meet again

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Saturday will seem like old times when No. 6 Louisville travels to face Memphis.

The game could also offer a look into the future, albeit briefly.

The former Conference USA rivals will be meeting for the 87th time but this one has the feel of a Big East Conference game. That's because Memphis is scheduled to join Louisville in the league next season.

For schools very familiar with each other, that makes their rivalry more intriguing even if Louisville has already announced it will be leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

For the Cardinals (8-1), this is another test in a season that has seen them play Northern Iowa, Missouri and Duke. That Memphis reminds Louisville coach Rick Pitino of his own squad makes it that much more important, especially since the Tigers (6-3) began the season ranked.

``It's probably not, in our minds, as the big as the Kentucky rivalry but to a lot of the fans it's just as important as that game,'' Cardinals point guard Peyton Siva said. ``We're just going in here with the mindset that it's a top-ranked opponent.

``Memphis is always good, every year. We grew up watching them with the Derrick Roses and everything.''

Pitino's only regret is that Memphis and Louisville won't be conference rivals for long. He was a vocal advocate for adding Memphis to the Big East. While he's excited for Louisville's opportunity in the ACC he's disturbed by the tradition lost in the changing landscape of college athletics and what it has meant for schools like Memphis to be left in limbo.

``I pushed very hard for Memphis to get in the Big East,'' Pitino said. ``I feel bad that they were looking so forward to it and now it's falling apart.

``It's sad but we are corporations today. That's what it's all about. We are corporations and we're being taken over by bigger corporations.''

Pitino is more concerned though with the health of his team. Louisville is already without center Gorgui Dieng, who broke his left wrist in last month's Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.

Other players are hurting as well, causing Pitino to be more cautious in practice.

``I'm trying to hold this thing together right now and it hasn't been easy because we are a little banged up,'' he said.

Siva said recent practices have been a bit shorter with less work on the team's signature press defense. The Cardinals have worked through injuries throughout his four years he said and Saturday's test against a physical opponent would be no different.

``I just think it's basically another Big East game,'' Siva said. ``We've played a lot of tough opponents in the Big East and we've dealt with it before.''

Siva, the Big East's preseason player of the year, has gotten a boost this year from backcourtmate Russ Smith. Smith's 24 points and seven steals last year against the Tigers were both career bests.

He set a career high with 31 points in Louisville's last outing, a 99-47 win over Missouri Kansas City, and is averaging 20.3 points a game this season.

``It's a lot easier this year with him being able to attack, teams have to focus on him without the focus being just on me,'' Siva said.

Louisville's offense has been sparked mainly by its defense. The Cardinals are forcing more than 22 turnovers a game and lead the nation in turnover margin at plus-9.2. Louisville has scored 35 percent of its points off turnovers and Smith (3.2 steals per game, fifth nationally) and Siva (2.7, third in Big East) are among the nation's top takeaway artists.

``Let's face it, when you're a big steal team you're going to get a lot of layups,'' Pitino said. ``There's no better fast break than a steal.''

Last year's matchup was the first since the 2005 Conference USA tournament championship game that saw Memphis guard Darius Washington Jr. collapse to the court after missing two of three free throws that would have won the game.

Siva said his Louisville teammates don't know much about the long history between the schools but they do respect how much the game means to both cities.

Especially since both schools could learn a lot about themselves from it.

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Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win

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USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win

The Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins, 5-0, Sunday afternoon to move back .500 at 10-10.

Here are five observations from the game...

1. Sunday became of a day of salvage for the Nationals.

Washington lost the first two games of its initial series against the Miami Marlins. One of those losses included a subpar Max Scherzer start. Game three provided Miami a surprising chance to sweep. Stephen Strasburg snuffed out that idea with eight scoreless innings. Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, Brian Dozier once.

Kyle Barraclough was on the verge of peacefully pitching the ninth inning to close the game before he walked back-to-back hitters with two outs. Davey Martinez replaced him with closer Sean Doolittle who ended the game in his 10th appearance of the season.

And, guess what? The Nationals are back to even. Again. The upshot for them is how flawed and jam-packed the rest of the National League East remains. The downside is dropping any series against Miami can leave a mark.

Assume the division winner takes 13-15 victories when playing the Marlins 19 times during the season. That idea would force Washington to go between 12-4 and 14-2 the rest of the way against Miami. A run like that -- even against bad teams -- is extremely difficult. Being swept by the worst team in the major leagues would have made it even worse. So, a necessary win was delivered Sunday.

2. Strasburg spent Sunday down in the strike zone, throwing curveballs at his leisure, dominating all afternoon.

Eight innings. Ten strikeouts. Two hits. No runs.

Strasburg threw an astonishing amount of curveballs Sunday: 45 of his 104 pitches were bending toward the plate. He threw 41 fastballs (mostly two-seam fastballs) and 18 changeups. Strasburg came into the game throwing his curveball 21.4 percent of the time this season, just a tick above his career average of 19.7 percent.

The curveballs led to 12 swinging strikes, six called strikes and four foul balls. So, half of them were not put in fair play. That’s a dominating pitch.

Most opposition hitters will mark Strasburg’s changeup as his best pitch -- especially now that his fastball velocity is down to 92-93 mph, generally. Sunday, his curveball commanded the game, an interesting turn with Kurt Suzuki behind the plate a start after Strasburg mentioned he thought predictability was part of the issue when he was knocked around in his last start against the meager San Francisco Giants offense.

3. Anthony Rendon was out of the lineup Sunday because of a bruised left elbow.

X-rays on Rendon’s elbow were negative. Though, he told reporters in Miami on Sunday the elbow remained stiff. Washington played with a three-man bench in the series finale because Rendon has not been placed on the injured list. It also underwent a lineup shuffle.

Victor Robles moved up to the No. 2 spot. Howie Kendrick played third and hit cleanup. Dozier hit seventh and Wilmer Difo was in the eighth spot.

Rendon’s absence is another dig at an offense already without Trea Turner for an unclear amount of time because of a broken right index finger. Both were off to outstanding starts for a team that is not. Rendon’s 1.223 OPS was fourth in the National League coming into play Sunday.

The Nationals are in the midst of a brutal schedule stretch, which means they can’t play with a short bench for long. They have a three-game series starting in Colorado on Monday. If they think Rendon could play Tuesday, they could survive another day with a three-man bench. If they think he won’t play in that series, it makes sense to put him on the 10-day injured list retroactive to Sunday. Thursday is an off day. So, ultimately, Rendon would miss seven games he otherwise would not.

The rub there is potent San Diego and St. Louis are coming to Nationals Park next week. Washington is already laboring. Does it want to deal with those teams without Rendon?

4. Interesting in the sixth inning:

Juan Soto struck out on a changeup. That’s not the interesting -- or surprising -- part. Kendrick was next. He drove a second-pitch changeup from Trevor Richards to deep center field for a sacrifice fly. Only Lewis Brinson’s jump and speed kept Kendrick’s fly ball from being a two-run double.

Kendrick appeared to be sitting on the changeup from Richards, his out pitch and one he used almost as often as his fastball throughout the day. Zimmerman hit a changeup for a home run. Dozier hit a changeup for a home run. Those vetered hitters appeared to adjust in a way Soto did not: instead of trying to push Richards into a fastball count, they sat on the changeup. Big results followed.

5. How about a couple strange things?

Robles bunted against the shift in the sixth inning. It was simultaneously the worst and best bunt in history. Robles bunted the ball so hard, it went almost to the outfield grass...in the air. Marlins first baseman Neil Walker did not get it because he was holding a runner. Second baseman Starlin Castro did not get it because he was shifted toward the middle. Robles was easily safe as a result.

Then a scare from an oddity: an eighth-inning foul ball roared into the Nationals dugout. When Max Scherzer moved to avoid it, he tweaked an intercostal muscle in his left rib cage, according to reporters in Miam. He was in enough pain director of athletic training Paul Lessard came to check on him. Scherzer was all right. That would have been the capper for the Nationals recent run of bad injury luck where balls coming from the opposition are causing fluke injuries.

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Todd Reirden on TJ Oshie's surgery: 'It's a tough situation for our team'

Todd Reirden on TJ Oshie's surgery: 'It's a tough situation for our team'

ARLINGTON — Capitals forward T.J. Oshie had a surgical procedure Friday to repair a broken right collarbone and remains out indefinitely.  

Oshie was not at Capital One Arena for Washington’s 6-0 win in Game 5 of its Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. He was injured with five minutes to go in Thursday’s Game 4 loss in Raleigh when nudged from behind by Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele and slamming hard into the boards near full speed. 

“There's not one person who can take T.J. Oshie's spot for all that he is as a human being, player on the ice, off the ice all the stuff that he adds,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said at his media availability on Sunday afternoon. “But what I did notice is that everybody picked their level up last night. And that's what we're going to need going into Raleigh for [Monday]."

That’s when Washington, ahead 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, can eliminate Carolina in Game 6. It’s something it has done successfully on the road in recent years in Philadelphia (2016), Toronto (2017), Pittsburgh and Columbus (2018). All series the Capitals were up 3-2. In all four they won Game 6. 

But they won’t have Oshie this time and he is the emotional engine that has helped fuel some of those series-ending performances. There is still no exact timetable for Oshie’s return. The Capitals have avoided ruling him out for the season and Reirden artfully dodged a question about whether he’d be ready for training camp. 

A broken collarbone usually doesn’t take longer than two months to heal barring complications. But that’s almost certainly going to be after the playoffs ends even if the Capitals make a repeat run to the Stanley Cup Final. Last year they won it on June 7 in five games against the Vegas Golden Knights. 

“I do know that T.J. Oshie is going to do everything he can, and we're not willing to put a timetable on it right now with regard to any time,” Reirden said. “Just lots of these things take a different course in terms of how they rehab and don't rehab. I just know that I can tell you about T.J., he's all-in at all times, and that's a great person to have around our room at the very least." 

Oshie had 25 goals and 29 assists in 65 regular-season games. He missed 11 of 13 games with a concussion. He had eight goals and 13 assists in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. He also plays the “bumper” role on the top power-play unit and kills penalties.

Oshie tweeted thanks to fans both before and after Washington’s 6-0 win on Saturday. In the third period, periodic “T.J. Oshie!” chants rang from the sellout crowd at Capital One Arena. 

“It was nice to see the crowd give [Oshie] a little love,” center Nicklas Backstrom said on Saturday.  

Added Reirden: “That's obviously a tough loss for us, but we're prepared to go without him as we saw last night. It's a tough situation for our team, but I certainly liked our response last night and was proud of our effort in terms of how we played and how we were playing with him in the back of our mind."

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