Nationals

Oregon State goes with Vaz against Arizona State

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Oregon State goes with Vaz against Arizona State

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) Oregon State coach Mike Riley was faced with a delicate decision after the Beavers' first loss of the season last weekend - whether to start Cody Vaz or Sean Mannion at quarterback against Arizona State on Saturday night.

Mannion was the team's starter at the beginning of the season, leading the Beavers to wins in their first four games and averaging 339 yards in passing. But the 6-foot-5 sophomore hurt his left knee and required surgery. Vaz, a junior who hadn't started since he'd been in Corvallis, took over and led the Beavers to two straight wins.

Then came Washington. Mannion returned as starter but threw four picks before he was replaced by Vaz, who fell just short of pulling off a Beavers comeback in a 20-17 loss last Saturday.

That put Riley in a difficult spot.

``Obviously, it's one of those things that's not easy,'' Riley said. ``You look at the integrity of the competition and you try to make a decision for the team that's right this minute. We think Cody's playing a little bit better right now and deserves the start.''

Mannion was gracious, telling Vaz he was ``behind him 100 percent.'' He also vowed to get better.

``It's a little disappointing, but I'm confident in myself, and I've got a ton of confidence in my teammates,'' Mannion said. ``You know, this is a team. It's not about any one player.''

Overall, the 13th-ranked Beavers (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12) were banged up as they looked toward rebounding from the Washington loss against the Sun Devils. Receiver Markus Wheaton suffered a concussion after a hard hit in the loss to the Huskies, but should return against the Sun Devils. Running back Storm Woods had a sore left knee but said he's probably play.

Oregon State will likely be without cornerback Jordan Poyer, who has five interceptions this season and is tied for second nationally. Poyer has a sprained right knee and didn't practice this week, although Riley wouldn't definitively rule him out for Saturday night's game.

Arizona State is expected to see the return of defensive tackle Will Sutton, who returned to practice this week. Sutton, considered one of the top defensive players in the Pac-12, injured his right knee early in the Sun Devils' 43-21 loss to Oregon on Oct. 18 and hasn't played since.

The loss to the Ducks was the first of two straight at home for Arizona State (5-3, 3-2) after a three-game winning streak. The Sun Devils fell 45-43 to UCLA last weekend, but they are still in the thick of the Pac-12 South race behind USC and the Bruins.

``Our guys had a great spirit and a great attitude, just like they have had for me all year long. I know they are going to go up there for me and play hard and prepare to win and that is what we have to do,'' Sun Devils coach Todd Graham said. ``That is the great thing about things in the south right now, it is wide open and no one is sitting any better than we are.''

Arizona State, just a win away from bowl eligibility, has a three-game losing streak in Corvallis, although the Sun Devils defeated the Beavers 35-20 last year in Tempe.

Whether the Beavers play Vaz or Mannion shouldn't make much of a difference for Arizona State, which is ranked third in the nation in pass defense, allowing opponents an average of just 148.8 yards per game. Conversely, the Beavers are ranked 15th in the nation for pass offense with an average of nearly 312 yards a game.

In fact, the game figures to be a battle of defenses. Arizona State and Oregon State are ranked first and second, respectively, in the Pac-12 for overall defense. The Sun Devils are allowing just 322 yards a game, while the Beavers are allowing an average of 344.1.

Vaz is averaging 201 yards passing per game in his two-plus appearances, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He said he has some goals against Arizona State, and they have nothing to do with any competition with Mannion.

``I just want to make the most of it. I'm going to do whatever it takes to win,'' he said earlier this week. ``We can't try to force anything offensively, we've got to convert on third downs - that's kind of been our Achilles' heel in the last few games, not staying on the field. We just have to move the ball down the field, convert on third down, and we'll be fine.''

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John Gant homers, pitches Cardinals to 6-4 win over Nationals

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USA TODAY Sports

John Gant homers, pitches Cardinals to 6-4 win over Nationals

ST. LOUIS -- Even John Gant cracked a smile.

Gant homered for his first major league hit and pitched one-run ball into the sixth inning, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Washington Nationals 6-4 on Tuesday night for their season-high seventh consecutive victory.

Kolten Wong had three hits and three RBIs as St. Louis (65-55) pulled within four games of the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs and moved within one game of the Philadelphia Phillies for the second NL wild card. The Cardinals also improved to 18-9 since Mike Shildt was named interim manager on July 13, the most wins for a manager through his first 27 games in franchise history.

"Things are starting to click for us," Wong said. "We're playing confident. We're out there playing aggressive and I think it's the kind of baseball Cardinals fans have been waiting for."

The Nationals (60-60) have dropped six of eight to fall eight games behind Atlanta in the NL East.

"We've just got to keep pulling the same rope, keep grinding it out, keep trying to win ballgames," Nationals slugger Bryce Harper said.

Gant (5-4) permitted four hits and struck out six in 5 1/3 innings. He has given up just two earned runs over 11 1/3 innings in his last two starts, both wins.

The 26-year-old Gant was 0 for 30 for his career when he drove a 1-1 pitch from Gio Gonzalez (7-9) over the wall in left in the second. The two-run shot gave Washington a 3-0 lead.

"I was jogging kind of my hands in the air," said Wong, who scored on Gant's homer. "I already knew it was going out. Looking back I think he almost caught me."

Added Gant, "I thought it was going to hit the wall maybe but when I finally looked up and (Wong) was looking back at me, that's when I knew it was going over the wall."

Gant, who has a reputation for being a stoic player, admitted to smiling "once or twice" once he got back to the dugout.

Wong's solo homer made it 6-1 in the sixth, but Washington responded with three in the eighth. Harper hit a two-run shot, and Daniel Murphy singled in Anthony Rendon.

Matt Adams then struck out looking against Dakota Hudson, ending the inning, and Jordan Hicks worked the ninth for his fourth save in eight chances.

Paul DeJong also doubled and scored for St. Louis one night after he connected for a game-ending homer in a 7-6 victory. Matt Carpenter walked in the sixth to extend his on-base streak to 32 games.

"We have a 25-man roster and we have confidence in all of them," Shildt said. "They're here for a reason and guys are looking to contribute every night and in different ways."

Gonzalez was charged with five runs and five hits in four innings. The veteran left-hander is just 1-4 in his last six starts.

"I wasn't hitting my spots," Gonzalez said. "Just not being as consistent in the strike zone as I should be. It's just one of those games you can't explain."

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Need to Know: Redskins have faith in their young cornerbacks but will keep their options open

Need to Know: Redskins have faith in their young cornerbacks but will keep their options open

RICHMOND—Here is what you need to know on Wednesday, August 15, one day before the Washington Redskins host the Jets in their second preseason game. 

Talking points

The Redskins paid Orlando Scandrick $1 million and he didn’t play so much as a preseason snap for them. The money is gone, and the Redskins are left with what is mostly a youthful group at cornerback

The senior citizen is Josh Norman, who is 30 and entering his seventh NFL season. Quinton Dunbar is next on the age scale at 26. Those two will be the starters at cornerback on the outside. After them, youth rules the day. 

Fabian Moreau, 22, will take the slot corner position that Scandrick was going to fill. He is in his second NFL season having played just 59 snaps as a rookie. 

That’s 59 more NFL snaps than the next three players on the depth chart have combined. Rookies Greg Stroman, a seventh-round pick this year, Adonis Alexander, a supplemental sixth-round pick, and undrafted free agent Danny Johnson, all 22 years old, are the next men up if any of the top three on the depth chart falter or get injured. 

“I’m very impressed with them all,” said Jay Gruden. “You know, obviously Adonis not as much because he just got here, and he’s been hurt but he’s got the skill set that we’ve noticed, as far as your sixth corner, I think he’d be a very good guy to have in your building to develop. Watching Stroman and watching Danny Johnson compete and play, I’ve been impressed. Watching Fabian move inside, I’ve been very impressed.”

That all sounds good. However, Gruden made sure that everyone knows that the cornerback depth chart is not set in stone.

“We still have time if it doesn’t work out or if somebody gets injured, we still have time to make moves also ourselves,” he said.

The Redskins have about nine practices and three preseason games before they have to set their roster. If it proves that their confidence in the young corners is not well founded, they could look to pick up an alternative on the waiver wire, in the free agent market (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is still available), or via a trade.

The best-case is that the kids work out. But if not, there are alternatives. 

Bureau of statistics

The 2017 Redskins were sixth in the league in pass defense according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. 

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The agenda

Today: No media availability

Upcoming: Preseason Jets @ Redskins (Aug. 16) 1 day; Final cut (Sept. 1) 17 days; Season opener @ Cardinals (Sept. 9) 25 days

In case you missed it

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page,Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler