Nationals

Robbie Keane has a striking season for LA Galaxy

201210311605579421281-p2.jpeg

Robbie Keane has a striking season for LA Galaxy

CARSON, Calif. (AP) Robbie Keane bristles at the very suggestion that anybody on two continents might have even wondered if he's lost a step.

Sure, Keane had a rough summer at Euro 2012. So did his entire Irish national team, outscored 9-1 in three ignominious losses.

The charismatic striker has proved he's still on top of his formidable game during a dynamic season for the Los Angeles Galaxy, and he's hoping to keep showing his form with another month in the MLS playoffs.

Not that anybody should ever doubt him in the first place.

``I played in the English Premiership for a long time, scored over 120-odd Premiership goals,'' Keane said Wednesday after training with the Galaxy, who open defense of their MLS Cup title against Vancouver on Thursday night. ``I think you don't really have to (prove anything). I think the records speak for themselves.''

In his first full MLS season, Keane finished fourth in the league with 16 goals in just 28 games despite making numerous trips around the world as Ireland's captain. He led Los Angeles in scoring while Landon Donovan and David Beckham struggled with nagging injuries, propelling the Galaxy through four largely outstanding months of play.

``I feel good. I feel really sharp,'' Keane said. ``I'm just going to continue to do what I've been doing in recent form.''

But none of it will mean much to Keane unless the favored Galaxy manage a victory over the Whitecaps in their knockout playoff game, setting up a conference semifinal series against top-seeded San Jose.

``I never look back. Always look forward, always,'' Keane said. ``I've never done that as a player, through good times or bad times. I'm one of those people in life, always on to the next day.''

Keane's recent past has been particularly sharp. He scored five goals in five games during a late-season stretch that secured Los Angeles' spot in the playoffs, constantly penetrating defenses with the speed and skill that hasn't changed much since he scored 125 Premier League goals, 11th-most in history.

Keane's teammates are even more impressed because he has spent a big chunk of the season warding off jetlag and exhaustion. The trip to Euro 2012 was a rough assignment, and Keane took a significant share of the criticism for creating little offense up front for Ireland, the first team knocked out of contention.

``I know how difficult it is, traveling back and forward and playing in international games and then coming back and playing in regular-season games,'' Beckham said. ``It's tiring on the body and on the mind at times, but Robbie has been able to overcome that. It's a testament to him as a person and as a player. His first full season, he's come in, he's scored goals, he's had assists, he's worked hard for the team, and he's one of the big reasons we're in the position we're in right now.''

Beckham also can relate to the criticism Keane receives from Irish fans. After all, he faced many of the same complaints about his role on England's national team in recent years.

Keane remains steadfast in his commitment to Ireland, although embattled manager Giovanni Trapattoni left him off the 26-man squad for a friendly against Greece on Nov. 14 while he evaluates new players.

That's good news for the Galaxy if their playoff run picks up steam, because Keane has been arguably their best player during a season that included two goals on his 32nd birthday in July during a 2-0 win at Chicago.

``He's an outstanding player, and his form has been excellent,'' Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. ``He's been a great leader. He shows he wants to be here.''

Keane is making $3.4 million as an MLS designated player this season, and he's warming up to the L.A. lifestyle. Keane and Beckham attended the Los Angeles Lakers' season opener together on Tuesday night, hobnobbing with Russell Brand and Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine at courtside.

``His English has gotten a heck of a lot better,'' Arena said with a grin. ``When he's complaining, we understand him a heck of a lot better now than we did when he first got here.''

Beckham even had a lively conversation with Lakers guard Steve Nash, a part-owner of the fifth-seeded Whitecaps.

The Galaxy's good feelings about their late-season surge could abruptly vanish if they can't beat defense-minded Vancouver, the first Canadian team to make the MLS playoffs despite winning just three of their last 17 games.

``I know people will be looking at them as maybe the underdog, but I don't see it that way,'' Beckham said. ``I don't think there are any underdogs in a one-off game. ... If we continue to play the way we've been playing in the last 15 games or so, we're probably the best team, and the momentum is in our favor. But it's completely different when you get to the playoffs.''

Quick Links

This time, closer Sean Doolittle costs the Nationals a game

This time, closer Sean Doolittle costs the Nationals a game

NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 6-1, Wednesday to drop their record to 19-30. Here are five observations from the game...

1.  What to say when the only person to trust can’t deliver?

That’s the status for these Washington Nationals, now 11 games under .500 after Sean Doolittle's worst outing since arriving in Washington, sliding further and further away, unable to stumble into wins and only capable of hunting down ways to lose.

A night after curious bullpen usage which delivered yet another wrenching loss, and was followed Wednesday afternoon by a pep-talk focused team meeting, manager Davey Martinez dispatched his knee-quaking posse of relievers in superior fashion.

Joe Ross opened the seventh with an out. Matt Grace followed with two. Six outs to go in a 1-0 game for the league’s worst bullpen.

Kyle Barraclough started the eighth. He struck out J.D. Davis. Adeiny Hechavarria doubled, though the ball should have been caught by Juan Soto. Pete Alonso grounded out. Todd Frazier came to the plate and options arrived. A mound visit was followed by a four-pitch walk to Frazier. Doolittle entered the game to face light-hitting veteran Carlos Gomez. Stomach-churning chaos followed.

Doolittle hit Gomez with his first pitch -- his first beaned batter of the year and first since May 29, 2018. Juan Lagares doubled two pitches later to clear the bases. Wilson Ramos was intentionally walked. Pinch-hitter Rajai Davis hit a three-run homer two pitches into his at-bat.

That was the end for Doolittle, who walked off the mound with a stunned look. The one reliable piece in the league’s worst bullpen had as disastrous a night as possible, flushing Max Scherzer’s start, throwing aside rare quality work from other relievers, sending the Nationals to their fourth consecutive loss in this can’t-get-right season.

What followed was a stupefied clubhouse beginning to process just how dire the situation is on May 22.

Adam Eaton wondered where answers are and said they need to come now.

“We need to do something different sooner rather than later,” Eaton said. “We've talked about this for weeks now. Just haven't been playing good baseball.”

Martinez said he was “shocked” by Doolittle’s off-kilter outing.

“I tell them all the time: This thing will turn around,” Martinez said. “It’s going to turn around. But we have to believe that it will. We have to will it. It’s time that we just believe that we’re good enough to play here, cause we are. And we’ve got to make it happen. We’ve got to make things happen. And stay strong. Stay together. Stay strong. Pull for your teammates. And this thing will turn around.”

Doolittle had a hard time wrapping his head around his rare 12-pitch crumbling.

“I don't know, it's tough and it's a tough spot to come in and the context of how our season's going it hurts you even more,” Doolittle said. “To have Max pitch so well tonight and the guys grind it out....shoot I don't know. I'm really frustrated. I'm disgusted with myself and I let the team down. And it hurts.”

Scherzer was stern in his comments about a spiraling season.

“When you face adversity, this is when you reveal yourself,” Scherzer said. “Whether you have the mental fortitude to come back and you can block out all the negativity that's probably going to surround us right now. You've got to come forward to the game with that positive attitude of knowing what you can control and that you have the right mindset that you're going to go out there and compete and compete at 100 percent. You have to think of all the little things you can do.”

There were those two words again: “little things.” They have conspired against the Nationals this year, undermining an-almost $200 million payroll, increasingly putting the manager’s future in jeopardy and ratcheting up calls for sweeping change. There’s been nothing little about them, and nothing the Nationals have figured out on the field or off to stop them from snuffing out the year before the season is even close to half done.

2. Scherzer needed 109 pitches to make it through six innings. The most important of those was his final one. The 11-pitch sixth gave the Nationals three fewer outs to pawn off on the bullpen. Scherzer opened the inning at 98 pitches before briskly working through Todd Frazier, Carlos Gomez and Juan Lagares.

He allowed four hits, struck out nine and walked two. The night drove Scherzer’s ERA down to 3.41. It all mattered little in the end.

“You just take it inning by inning, try to execute pitches,” Scherzer said. “I thought tonight I had a good inning out of the windup, had a good rocker step, and there were some pitches that I threw tonight that I executed well because I was nice and tall throughout my delivery. It kind of let me be able to pick up some consistency kind of early in the game and late in the game. When my delivery is right, and my slot is in the right spot, that’s when I execute all my pitches. So I felt like I was in better position tonight overall than I have been in the past.”

Why was Scherzer back to the mound after 98 pitches in five innings? Because of losses six weeks ago, three weeks ago, last week and this week. A team 10 games under .500 has to squeeze everything it can out of its ace on May 22. Time for a margin of error has eroded. What happened back then (losing series to Miami, for instance) piles up to have a grand influence on later.

3. Grace has been used as a matchup left-hander recently. He’s found that life more appealing.

Grace matched up with Cubs left-hander Anthony Rizzo and recorded an out Sunday. He faced Robinson Cano on Tuesday to pick up a ground out. Wednesday, Grace was brought in to face left-handed pinch-hitter Dominic Smith. Smith grounded out to first. Grace remained in to face Amed Rosario and recorded another ground ball out.

The Nationals are trying to put Grace in spots to get his feet back on the ground after a night as the punching bag at the end of a blowout loss against the Chicago Cubs last Friday (and a down season overall). So far, this role has been better.

4. Remember the extended minor-league assignments for after players were hurt? That’s gone. And the results are not great.

Matt Adams was activated Wednesday. Adrian Sanchez was sent to Double-A Harrisburg to make room on the 25-man roster.

Adams did all his rehabilitation work with the major-league team. He took batting practice on the field and in the batting cages before that. He also took ground balls and infield practice. What he didn’t do was go on a minor-league assignment despite not playing since May 3. The Nationals judged him ready to play because his swing looked in place against a pitching machine.

Wednesday, he made a crucial error in the first inning. Robinson Cano rolled a small ground ball to first, Adams fielded, pivoted and threw toward second base, where the runner on first was heading. The ball never came close to the bag. It went to the outfield instead, which presented the Mets with runners on second and third and one out instead of a runner on first and one out (or a chance at a longshot double play). It, most importantly, cost Scherzer more pitches.

Scherzer pitched his way out of it as he often has this season. He came into the game leading the league in FIP (fielding-independent pitching).

Trea Turner played just two games for Triple-A Potomac after missing seven weeks. Asked how many games he would have preferred to play there, Turner said one. He made two wayward throws his first game back with the Nationals.

So, instantly putting these guys back on the field -- which is every player’s preference and a spot the Nationals’ record has leveraged them into -- is not ideal.

5.  Kyle McGowin will start Friday. His visit to the rotation is expected to be temporary.

McGowin will pitch in Jeremy Hellickson’s spot. He was up to give length in the bullpen. Like Erick Fedde, he’ll be drawn away from the relievers to fill a rotation spot.

McGowin is a sinker-ball pitcher. He made one start at the end of last season. He also is currently suspended by the Pacific Coast League after a substance was found in his glove following an inspection by umpires during his last outing.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

 

Quick Links

Redskins sign linebacker Jon Bostic to try and help make up for the loss of Reuben Foster

Redskins sign linebacker Jon Bostic to try and help make up for the loss of Reuben Foster

Two days after losing Reuben Foster for the year, the Redskins made a move to at least provide reinforcements to a weakened linebacker group.

On Wednesday, Washington announced that they have signed Jon Bostic, a six-year veteran. The 'Skins also officially placed Foster on injured reserve.

Bostic was a 2013 second-round pick of the Bears out of Florida. He's since bounced around to New England, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh, where he started 14 times for the Steelers in 2018 and posted 73 tackles. He's been traded twice in his career and missed all of 2016 with a foot injury. 

So, what does the move accomplish for the Redskins?

Well, Bostic — or any other free agent signing at this point — isn't going to have close to the level of talent and potential that Foster had. However, getting another option at linebacker was necessary for the Burgundy and Gold, and the 28-year-old has played in 30 contests over the past two years, so he's relatively established. 

Yes, he's far from a gamechanger, considering he has just one interception and 5.5 sacks as a pro. But he's regarded as a solid run defender and tackler and should at least push Mason Foster and Shaun Dion Hamilton. His presence also could alleviate some of the pressure that would've been on rookie Cole Holcomb. 

Signing a defender who's been with five franchises in six years isn't exactly inspiring, but Bostic has experience as a starter and could give the Redskins useful snaps on first and second down at a minimum. Now it's on him to take advantage of the opportunity he's been given.

MORE REDSKINS NEWS