Nationals

Serena beats Venus in South African exhibition

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Serena beats Venus in South African exhibition

JOHANNESBURG (AP) Serena Williams delivered on her promise to avenge an earlier loss to Venus, beating her 6-3, 6-4 in South Africa on Sunday for just her fourth win in 13 exhibition matches between the sisters.

Serena, the current Wimbledon, U.S. Open and Olympic champion, lost in straight sets to Venus in Nigeria on Friday.

Venus laughed and joked and played to the crowd throughout the match at Ellis Park Indoor Arena.

Serena was serious in the first set but lightened up in the second, rallying with a delighted ball girl at one point while Venus left the court for a bathroom break.

The youngster - playing with the racket of Venus - took Serena by surprise with a cross-court forehand winner after a series of gentle shots back and forth, delighting 4,000 fans at Ellis Park Indoor Arena in Johannesburg and earning a hug from Serena at the net.

``South Africa, you guys are completely amazing,'' Serena said. ``I've loved my time I've had here. It's been incredible. I have to come back and spend weeks here on vacation.''

As during their match in Lagos, Venus laughed and joked and played up to the crowd throughout the contest.

Serena was serious in the first set but lightened up in the second as the duo produced a flurry of powerful serves, extended rallies and sizzling winners, which thumped into the advertising boards behind the baseline.

``Did you see the point where I had to hit five volleys and still got passed?'' Venus said.

Venus gave a little fist pump and a smile after an ace in the fourth game, then an extravagant bow at the crowd's applause for her big backhand winner in the next.

After a standout year in which she won seven titles and went 31-1, Serena cracked a smile when Venus sent what should have been an easy winner into the net late in the first set.

With her big serve working well, Serena laughed in the second set when she slipped and fell on the court - only for Venus to miss another simple winner.

Serena broke for a 4-2 lead in the first set and again after a hectic rally to lead 5-4 in the second. Afterward, the sisters disappeared among a throng of fans to sign autographs on the edge of the court.

South Africa Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula requested the popular pair return for another visit.

``This won't be their last visit to South Africa,'' Mbalula said. ``If they don't want to come back, we'll chase them on Twitter and find them.''

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Follow Gerald Imray at:http://twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

WASHINGTON -- If any bump was coming from a return home or Mike Rizzo’s public pregame words or simply being out of New York, it was not apparent Friday.

Three errors committed in the first four innings. The first reliever into the game, Joe Ross, allowed three earned runs before recording a second out. Starter Kyle McGowin barely made it through the fourth inning of an eventual and desperately needed 12-10 win.

The rally kept the Nationals from creeping toward of new level of dubiousness in this muck-filled season. They pushed 2 ½ games in front of the Marlins for the National League’s worst record. Juan Soto hit a three-run homer in the eighth. Matt Adams followed with a solo homer. Sean Doolittle had trouble, but closed the game. Those efforts kept this from being another story about the bullpen (five more runs allowed Friday).

So, here’s a different question to ponder (there are a million or none, depending on point of view) after Friday night: How did the Nationals end up with 27-year-old McGowin starting a surprisingly pivotal game?

The nuts-and-bolts version is because of injuries. Both Anibal Sanchez -- who threw a simulation game Friday -- and Jeremy Hellickson are on the injured list. The deeper answer comes from looking at the recent erosion of pitchers in Washington’s minor-league system.

McGowin made his second career start Friday because there is no one else. No hot minor-league prospect, no early-round pick who has been up and down and received another shot, no veteran stashed in the minor leagues for such situations.

Looming behind all of this is the 2016 trade of three pitching prospects to acquire Adam Eaton. Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning were all sent to Chicago for Eaton’s advanced-stats and cost-friendly contract. The departure of three starting pitchers in one shot reverberated Friday when the Nationals were forced to use McGowin in a spot start as the seventh starter of the season.

This is more a volume than quality issue. Neither Lopez or Giolito were effective in limited chances at the major-league level with Washington before being traded. Once in Chicago, Giolito became arguably the worst pitcher in baseball in 2018. No one allowed more earned runs or walks that season. Lopez had a quality season, finishing with 3.1 WAR.

The two have reversed outcomes in 2019. Giolito has rediscovered his velocity. After throwing 100 mph in the 2015 Futures Game, his velocity caved. Giolito was down to 92-93 mph with the Nationals and, initially, Chicago. Thursday, he hit 97 mph in the ninth inning of a shutout against Houston. The outing drove his ERA down to 2.77.

Lopez is struggling. His 5.14 ERA is venturing toward Giolito’s status of a year ago. His walk total -- always the concern -- is up, as are his homers allowed.

But what Giolito and Lopez have, at age 24 and 25, respectively, is potential. Giolito, who often fussed with his mechanics in Washington, has discovered a delivery to expedite his fastball and an approach to boost the effectiveness of his changeup. Lopez’s 2018 showed he can be a solid back-end rotation member. They were expected to follow behind Erick Fedde and Joe Ross in establishing a future rotation. But, those two are in Chicago, Ross is in the bullpen, where he gave up three runs Friday, and Fedde just returned to the rotation after being moved to the bullpen.

So, it was McGowin on the mound Friday. Four innings, six hits, five runs, one walk, two strikeouts, two home runs allowed. Why? No better choice is available.

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Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

The Nationals welcomed 10-year-old cancer patient Parker Staples as the newest addition to their team on Friday, in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic Foundation.

While battling lymphoma, Staples learned he would receive a wish and didn’t hesitate about what he wanted to choose. After being sidelined for two years during treatment, Parker couldn’t wait to celebrate his remission by becoming part of his favorite baseball team. 

Staples was introduced to his new teammates and got signed autographs from Matt Adams, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, and Yan Gomes. He also got to spend time hitting and playing catch with his new teammates, as well as being interviewed as the newest member of the team. It gets even better than that, Staples threw the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park leading up to the Marlins-Nationals game Staples 

"My favorite moment was throwing the first pitch. It was really cool," Staples said.

"Probably the biggest day of my life."

The Nationals are hosted the Miami Marlins in the series opener Friday.

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