Nationals

Pressure builds on Bears during another late swoon

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Pressure builds on Bears during another late swoon

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Lovie Smith isn't going to get caught up in any outside discussion about his job security with the Bears scuffling along and in danger of missing the playoffs after a 7-1 start.

Chicago's coach says his only focus is on trying to get a wild-card spot by beating Arizona this weekend and then winning the regular-season finale at Detroit.

``This week, we're to that `must' game,'' Smith said Monday at Halas Hall. ``I mean, the tournament has begun for us, so it's about Arizona as soon as the players get a chance to watch the video. We have to find a way to get to 10-6 and see what happens.''

After losing 21-13 to the rival Packers on Sunday, the Bears have to win two road games to finish 10-6 and have a chance for the last NFC playoff berth. There are scenarios where they could get in at 9-7, but they involve numerous tiebreakers.

There has been plenty of speculation that Smith and his staff could lose their jobs if the Bears don't make the postseason. Smith's final year of his current contract is 2013, and new general manager Phil Emery has not yet started contract talks on an extension. Nor has Emery had a comment on Smith's job status.

Smith isn't going there, either.

``We're just looking at how we can get to nine (wins),'' he said. ``Every year there are people in situations like this. Unless you've clinched a position right now, a playoff position, you're still having to win football games to get in. But you don't look at all the scenarios. You just look at what you need to do. And for us we need to win a game this week and then win another one the following week. It's as simple as that.''

Injured Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher defended his coach Sunday, telling WFLD-TV that fan and media criticism of Smith is unwarranted.

``Two of the people I don't care about: fans or media,'' Urlacher said. ``They can say what they want to about our head coach, about our players. ... It does bother me. They don't know what they're talking about, obviously.

``I know there are a lot of experts in the media, a bunch of smart guys out there who know exactly what they're talking about all the time. They don't know what they're talking about. Lovie is the head coach of this football team and hopefully will be for a long time.''

Urlacher also took a shot at the Soldier Field fans: ``Our crowd was pretty good today for the most part. They were loud for a minute there, the boos were really loud, which is always nice.''

``The only team in our division that gets booed at home is us,'' Urlacher said. ``It's unbelievable to me.''

Smith said he couldn't comment specifically since he hadn't heard the comments.

``I just know who Brian Urlacher is,'' Smith said. ``I know that he loves being a Chicago Bear. He's helped us win a lot of football games around here. He's a leader. He's disappointed like we all are right now in a position we were in yesterday and he's going to come to work this week getting ready for Arizona.''

Quarterback Jay Cutler also came to his coach's defense.

``I know Brian is frustrated that he can't be out there to help us,'' Cutler said during his weekly appearance on WMVP-AM radio. ``I think everyone in that locker room is supporting Lovie, and we'll see what happens.''

Much of the criticism of Smith centers around the team's inability to beat Green Bay. The Bears have lost eight of their last nine against the Packers and six straight. Sunday's game gave Green Bay the NFC North title.

``We'll keep trying to figure that out,'' Smith said of the failures against Green Bay. ``Right now when you've lost as many as we have, I can't give you a good reason for it. ... We've made progress. We were in the game early on. We just couldn't finish the job.''

The other big issue facing the team is poor finishes under Smith. With seven straight December defeats, they haven't won in the month since 2010. During Smith's nine seasons, they are 15-19 in December.

``I think you have to look at each individual team and why it happened then,'' Smith said. ``We could be playing good football teams at the time. I think on some of those, a few of the years, you'd like to think that we didn't have to play certain guys a few times. There are a lot of things that could happen.''

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Why Trea Turner’s ‘jealous’ of Loudoun South, LLWS competitors

Why Trea Turner’s ‘jealous’ of Loudoun South, LLWS competitors

When Trea Turner sees the Little League World Series – or even thinks about it – there’s one feeling that comes to mind: Jealousy.

“I always wanted to go to this tournament,” he told NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas. “Tried every year. We had some good teams and made some good runs, but never got a chance. I’m a little jealous.”

The team is in Pittsburgh this week – a nearly 200 mile drive from where Virginia’s Loudoun South Little League team is looking to advance after two impressive no-hitters. And while it might be a longshot for them to make it to the big leagues one day Turner wasn’t the only current Nationals player whose dream started back in Little League.

Turner played in Little League from the age of five to 13. “My dad coached,” he said. “Most of my best friends to this day are still from of that age group and their fathers as well were coaches.” They were a close-knit group, he said.

Erick Fedde remembers his time in Little League – as a catcher. “I didn’t really pitch much until my sophomore year of high school,” he said. “Everybody pitches when they’re little. I think I was playing left field or something. I was always like I want to pitch [in high school], but I don’t want to tell the coach.”

Luckily, his mom intervened. 

“My mom pushed me,” he said. “[She told me] ‘you should tell them you want to pitch.’”

Hunter Strickland’s dad also coached him in Little League – and seeing the Little League kids, he said, brings back memories with his dad and brothers. “He definitely pushed us,” he said of his dad as a coach. “But, I respect it. It’s made us into the people we are today. It makes you a better player, a better person just from the discipline.”

Andrew Stevenson played in the Little League World Series in 2005 with his team from Lafayette, La. His heroics in a game against a team from Kentucky lead the Associated Press roundup of the tournament at the time. He scored the winning run after making it to first on a bunt single and then getting to home from third on a throwing error.

“He may be the fastest player up here,” his team manager, Mike Conrad, told the AP at the time.

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Hunter Strickland explains the weight-room mishap that broke his nose

Hunter Strickland explains the weight-room mishap that broke his nose

PITTSBURGH -- Hunter Strickland’s face has been fixed. A small piece of tape still resides in the middle of his broken nose, but the good news is the break was clean. When he went to a local hospital for X-Rays, his nose was reset and clearance to pitch was provided. His ego remains a work in progress.

Strickland broke his nose Tuesday when a weight-lifting bar was inadvertently pulled onto his face. The Nationals large reliever -- 6-foot-3, 225 pounds -- went to use a red cord tethered to a squat rack above the empty bar for hip mobility exercises. And, well, we’ll let him tell it:

“So I pulled the cord in front of the bar so this wouldn’t happen, and obviously it didn’t work out too well,” Strickland said. “When I sat down to get on the ground to do the hip stuff, I went to reach up and grab the cord, and I guess one of the loops still got hung up behind it. And when I grabbed it, I guess my weight pulled the bar off it, and it crushed me.”

Tuesday, Strickland went to throw afterward and felt fine. The doctors also told him he couldn’t further damage his reset nose -- harken back to the wise words of Max Scherzer, “You don’t pitch with your nose” -- so he felt ready to pitch. Davey Martinez opted not to use him a few hours after the incident. 

Strickland had never broken his nose prior. He comes from a large family which jousted in athletics, where he is the middle child with two older brothers, a younger brother and two younger sisters, but never broke his nose. So, the shot to the face was a surprise, to say the least.

“I had no idea,” Strickland said. “I didn't know what happened. Obviously, it hit me pretty good so it kind of dazed me for a second there. After that, I looked up in the mirror. My nose was crooked and bleeding everywhere. Just kind of put two and two together -- got knocked out by a bar.”

Members of the Nationals medical staff immediately came to him in the cramped visitor’s clubhouse workout space. The area is so tight, players were throwing a medicine ball off the concrete wall just outside entrance Wednesday. Blood and confusion made Strickland briefly worry something more significant had happened. Wednesday, he was relieved and available.

“That’s why I’m thrilled it’s not as bad as it could be,” Strickland said. “That’s one of the things they look at with the X-rays, to make sure the passages are still straight and clear. I’m able to breathe and get the blood out of there, so we’ll be good to go. It’s good. Everything checked out.”

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