Nationals

At Pro Bowl, Peterson doesn't plan to let up

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At Pro Bowl, Peterson doesn't plan to let up

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Pro Bowl has become so diluted by player withdrawals, Super Bowl qualifiers and minimal effort that the NFL considered pulling the plug on it.

The future of the annual all-star game will be assessed again this spring, based partly on how Sunday's game turns out, and in the event of a cancellation it's a safe bet that Adrian Peterson won't be the reason. Some of his Minnesota Vikings teammates there this week also bring a perspective that goes beyond the simple pleasure of a free midwinter trip to Hawaii.

Fullback Jerome Felton, who helped pave the way for Peterson's 2,097 yards rushing this season, the second-most in league history, is a first-time selection. Tight end Kyle Rudolph, an injury replacement pick along with linebacker Chad Greenway, is also a Pro Bowl rookie. Defensive end Jared Allen wanted to delay surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder until after the game. Kicker Blair Walsh was so appreciative of the honor he paid for long snapper Cullen Loeffler to join him for the week.

Then there's Peterson, who has never played at any speed other than full throttle. Motivation to play hard so soon after the physically taxing season is often missing for many, but he argues that letting up is more dangerous.

``When you play down, you put yourself in jeopardy of getting hurt going through the motions. So I won't be playing down,'' Peterson said earlier this month. ``I'm going to play hard.''

Another motivating factor is the $50,000 bonus for members of the winning team, twice as much as the losers get.

``We get 50 more racks so we can give it to our mom, our dad, our family, or go buy a car. There's a lot you can do with 50,'' Peterson said.

Walsh could help defray the cost of his generosity. Walsh's base salary in 2012 was $390,000, and as a sixth-round draft pick his signing bonus was a lot less than that. He lobbied for Loeffler to be selected to the NFC squad, but Detroit's Don Muhlbach got the spot instead.

So Walsh is bringing Loeffler with him anyway.

``He's a great guy and obviously has done a tremendous job and is just so thankful for the, I think, transformation that he's made from his senior year in college to now,'' Loeffler said. ``As was our team being doubted before the season, so was he and the selection that they made. ... He's being really appreciative and showing tremendous gratitude toward me and bringing me a lot, too, which I'm thankful for.''

Walsh also told punter Chris Kluwe he'd paid for him to go, but Kluwe and his wife are going on their own dime.

``Just taking in the sun, laughing at Blair while he has to practice, and hanging out with Cullen by the pool,'' Kluwe said Thursday in a phone interview. ``He offered to take me as well, but I told him don't worry about it. If I'm going to make it, I'm going to make it on my own. I did appreciate the offer, but I told him it's OK: `You're still on a rookie salary. You don't have to cover the both of us.' So he has a very vested interest in winning the game.''

Kickers and punters rarely back out of the game, so being named as an alternate doesn't mean much. Kluwe and Loeffler have been trying to soak up the scene, hanging out with their wives and Walsh and his girlfriend during the down time.

``While it may not be the greatest game played because guys obviously don't want to get injured and there's a lot of restrictions on what you can do already, guys are excited to be out here,'' Kluwe said. ``It's a pretty big deal because the ability to say you're a Pro Bowler, to have that tag in front of your name, guys like it a lot.''

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This is how the Nationals and Sean Doolittle got here, and this is where they go

This is how the Nationals and Sean Doolittle got here, and this is where they go

WASHINGTON -- The first taste of all this came in late April of last year. Sean Doolittle threw three games in a row for the first time in years, only two of which were save opportunities. 

“Guess the training wheels are off,” Doolittle joked then.

His blistering usage this season followed with another heavy April and May combination born of the team’s other faults. The club was sliding or injury-filled or both, playing tight games and acting desperate in the season’s early months in order to make the later ones matter. A turnaround was even more critical this season following last year’s stumble. Davey Martinez was brought to Washington with a mandate to reach the World Series. They didn’t even make the playoffs in year one.

Look at Doolittle’s year-over-year pattern: April and May of last year, 25 total appearances. April and May of this year, 23 total appearances. By the start of July in 2018, Doolittle was on the injured list. He made it until mid-August this season, leading the league in games finished, being used relentlessly by a manager who had no one to trust at the start, then didn’t turn to those he could once they arrived. Doolittle appeared in eight of the Nationals’ 14 games since the trade deadline passed, all while enduring a home run surge and talking publicly about fatigue.

So, why was he used so often?

“Doolittle's the closer,” Martinez said Sunday. “He's the closer of this team. We've said that before and this is based on conversations with Doo. If he's available, as we talked about, then he's going to pitch the ninth inning. He's always been in the game when he said he was available to pitch.” 

The conversation Sunday morning between Martinez and Doolittle was meant to figure out what’s next for the closer and team following Saturday’s harrowing appearance. Doolittle was pummeled that evening. His failing cost the team continuance of a win streak and a pertinent victory. He knew it. It stung.

So, the decision was to put him on the 10-day injured list because of right knee tendinitis. Martinez backed the news with a declaration: “Talked to him, talked to the medical staff. It came to a head when I talked to him that his right knee's bothering him. So, we want to get it right. So we put him on the IL. Hopefully, it won't take as long, he's back in 10 days and when he does come back, he's our closer. And I reiterated that to him. He's our closer, but we got to get him right.”

Doolittle found a mechanical tweak earlier in the season which made him his most potent. His body position was higher, his release point hidden longer and his drive down the mound maximized. Of late, his fatigue has undermined those priorities. Doolittle is rolling through the load period in his windup. His arm is trying to generate power his body typically would. The ball is exposed earlier. Simply, hitters can see a slower-moving ball sooner. 

While Doolittle rests and retools, Martinez will hunt for how to operate without him. Daniel Hudson (1.08 ERA, heavy usage since arriving) and Hunter Strickland (1.29 ERA) are the logical choices. Why they weren’t being used as such to save Doolittle appearances before is moot now. They’re in. He’s out.

Roenis Elias and Greg Holland are also part of the equation. Elias (hamstring) is heading toward a mound session, perhaps in the next few days. If he didn’t absent-mindedly swing Aug. 2, much could be different. He could handle the seventh, aligning Hudson and Strickland for later outs and saving Doolittle. Instead, he’s thrown ⅔ of an inning since being acquired July 31. 

Holland has thrown two scoreless innings for Harrisburg since being signed and stashed after his release by Arizona. The Nationals are confident they can again retool Holland the way they did last year in a striking turnaround which led to a 0.84 ERA in 24 appearances. If he’s league average at the end of the bullpen, it’s a boost.

Washington has a minimum of eight more games to decipher how the new alignment will be deployed. Max Scherzer’s “probable” return Thursday will force a move in the rotation. Erick Fedde or Joe Ross (most likely Fedde) could end up back in the bullpen or in the minors.

The Nationals are 5 ½ games out of first place in the National League East. They hold a 3 ½-game lead in the wild-card race. Only the juggernaut Dodgers have a better run differential following Sunday’s homer-laden win against Milwaukee. 

Which means there is room for a breath, a reset, a rebuild of their closer. The season is going to boil down to September. Without a top-tier Doolittle, it has a limited chance of finishing where they payroll and demands expect it to.

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Washington Mystics set WNBA record for most 3-pointers in a single game without Kristi Toliver

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Washington Mystics set WNBA record for most 3-pointers in a single game without Kristi Toliver

WASHINGTON – Shey Peddy rarely gets to see the floor as a part of the WNBA-leading Washington Mystics. Sunday was only the 10th game of her WNBA career, playing in garbage time of what was going to be another dominant Mystics victory. 

She only managed three points on one made basket, but it was perhaps the biggest basket of the night. As Peddy, 30, caught a pass at the wing in her right hand, she quickly squared up and delivered a 3-point basket for Washington. It was the Mystics’ 18 such basket from range on the day, a new WNBA record. 

This is just the latest in the plethora of record-breaking performances for the Mystics in 2019. A massive 107-68 victory over the Indiana Fever is starting to feel habitual for those in the Entertainment and Sports Arena. More records falling on a daily basis.

Which, by the way, winning by 39 points also gave the Mystics their 11th win of 20 points or more to build on their current WNBA record. There are seven games still left on the schedule.

“When you shoot 39 threes and make 18 of them and you have 30 assists for the game, coach has to be pretty happy,” Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said postgame. “The world looks really good when you’re making shots.”

Even more impressive is that the Mystics accomplished such a feat without one of their star players Kristi Toliver. Entering the contest she had made the second most 3-point baskets on the team and did so at a 36% clip. But had the Mystics had Toliver, Peddy would not have been in the lineup. She recently signed a seven-day player contract with the team to fill Toliver’s roster spot. 

Production was from all corners of the roster to set the 3-point mark. Ariel Atkins and Aerial Powers both had four each from long range as the bench added six.  Emma Meesseman, who came off the bench, led the unit as they combined for 36 points. 

In total, nine of the 11 eligible players on the gameday roster made a 3-pointer, with all 11 scoring a point. The only one who didn’t get one long ball attempt was center LaToya Sanders.

While the team was unaware of the record, they consciously knew that Sanders was the only one who didn’t shoot a 3-point shot.

“We’re going to get [LaToya] to shoot one. I’m going to give it to her real late in the shot clock, watch,” Natasha Cloud said postgame. 

The center has attempted two threes in her entire seven-year career. 

Like all games throughout the season at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast D.C., there was a match lit underneath the Mystics (20-7) in the opening moments of the contest. They jumped out to a 24-4 lead over Indiana and held the Fever without a basket from the floor for the first seven minutes. 

An admirable 13-0 run by the Fever (9-17) momentarily made it a game in the second quarter. However, right after the spark the Fever’s top player Candice Dupree exited the game with a finger injury. She spent the rest of the game courtside sporting a splint. 

Elena Delle Donne contributed to three of the team’s recording-breaking 3-point baskets. She also recorded her 11th game with 20-plus points as she led all scorers with 25. 

In addition to the setting the WNBA’s 3-point record, having nine separate players hit one also set another record. Recording 30 assists put them two shy of another single-game high. 

It all came as the Mystics closed their toughest stretch of 2019: three games in five days. Their next goal? Rest, and they’ve earned it on their six-game winning streak.

“We can’t take our foot off the gas no matter what. Once we clinched a playoff spot, we didn’t come into this game thinking ‘alright let’s relax.’ We came into this game, ‘okay let’s continue to separate ourselves.'” 

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