Nationals

Smith leading a Syracuse running game revival

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Smith leading a Syracuse running game revival

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) When Syracuse decided to go to a no-huddle offense before the start of the season, the Orange lost focus.

``We went into this up-tempo thing, we threw it together, and you just kind of naturally think that it's about passing,'' Syracuse offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. ``We wanted to really stretch it out, spread `em out, throw the ball around. It worked. It did some nice things.''

That it did. In the first two games of the season, Ryan Nassib completed 75 of 112 passes for 804 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions. The end result? Two losses - 42-41 at home to Northwestern 42-29 to then-No.2 Southern California at MetLife Stadium -as the run game became an afterthought.

Coach Doug Marrone said during preseason camp that none of the running backs had stood out, and that assessment seemed accurate. In the first six games, junior Jerome Smith, the back with the most experience, had 78 carries for 355 yards, an average of 13 carries for 59 yards.

Not exactly the sort of production expected at a school that built a winning tradition on the legs of some of the greatest running backs in history. Sitting at 2-4 and with the season slipping away, though, Hackett had one of those ``Duh!'' moments.

``I looked at it and said, `We need to run this ball more. We've just got to start pounding this rock more.' That's what we were lacking,'' he said. ``It was something we just recommitted to. Now, when in doubt, call a run. That's more my mentality.''

Since a bad loss at Rutgers - Syracuse had four turnovers and a blocked field goal in New Jersey - everything has changed in the run game and the Orange has rebounded with three wins in four games.

Smith had 133 yards rushing as the Orange gained 251 yards on the ground in a 40-10 victory over Connecticut. Smith has followed that with three more 100-yard outings, including a career-high 144 vs. Louisville to bring his season total to 875.

``I finally decided to do my job,'' said Smith, whose experience entering the season was minimal (37 carries, 134 yards). ``Up until six weeks ago, I wasn't doing my job. I wasn't putting in the time I was supposed to. Everything, it seems like it's starting to work out now. I'm pretty excited.''

Smith's backfield mate, Prince-Tyson Gulley, has yet to crack the 100-yard barrier, but he's become a solid contributor with 383 yards on 89 carries.

All it took was a change in mindset.

``You want to bring that punch, bring that violence. I think that's a huge deal,'' Hackett said. ``I think for Jerome that switch has flipped for him. You've got to take it to people. You can't accept the blows. He's got to give it, and I think that's what has set him apart from where he was. He tries to deliver that blow every time.

``They've really been running angry. They've been running with a purpose. They're looking to go after people, they're not looking just to kind of dance around and escape. They're looking to go downhill.''

And into the postseason.

Syracuse (5-5, 4-2 Big East) has two games left, at Missouri (5-5) and Temple (3-6, 2-4). One more win is needed for bowl eligibility.

``It just kind of started clicking, gelling on all levels,'' offensive guard Justin Pugh said of the ground game. ``This is a great school for running backs, and hopefully (Smith) will be the next in line.

``It's something we take pride in.''

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Max Scherzer grits his way through broken nose in stellar outing, win vs. Phillies

Max Scherzer grits his way through broken nose in stellar outing, win vs. Phillies

WASHINGTON -- With a broken nose, pronounced black eye and seven shutout innings, Max Scherzer provided a striking capper to the Washington Nationals' day-night doubleheader sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Scherzer himself? He shrugged off his work in the Nationals' 2-0 victory Wednesday night as business as usual.

"Trust me, this thing looks a lot worse than it actually is," Scherzer said. "I felt zero pain. There's been plenty of other injuries where I felt a lot of pain and I've had to pitch through. I'll hang my hat on those starts, but tonight I felt zero pain. This is part of what you have to do. You take the ball every fifth time.

"That's my responsibility to the team, to make sure I always post, and I knew I could post tonight."

Brian Dozier and Victor Robles hit solo homers to support Scherzer (6-5) as Washington won for the 16th time in 23 games. Philadelphia has dropped seven of its last nine and 12 of 18.

In the first game, Patrick Corbin struck out eight while allowing one run over seven innings as the Nationals earned a 6-2 victory in the delayed series opener after the teams were rained out Monday and Tuesday.

Scherzer bunted a ball off his face during batting practice Tuesday, but it didn't stop him from making his scheduled start. His injury may have provided an extra layer of intimidation in the form of a black eye more worthy of a boxing ring than a baseball diamond.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner sported a pronounced bruise arcing beneath his right eye, adding another hue to a glare that already featured one blue eye and one brown eye.

"Going out there and throwing, the only thing I had to deal with was the swelling underneath the eye," Scherzer said. "It was kind of jiggling around, and so in warmups I just had to get used to knowing what it was feeling like to throw the ball and just have that swelling."

While he wasn't at his most efficient on a humid night, piling up 117 pitches, Scherzer was rarely threatened. He struck out 10, yielded only four hits and permitted just two runners to reach scoring position. And he finished strong, striking out three in a row after Cesar Hernandez led off the seventh with a double.

"It really is one of the most impressive things I've seen in a while," Dozier said. "He's probably the best pitcher in our generation, and you don't get that status unless you take the ball every fifth day, no matter if you're doing good, doing bad, you got a broken nose. You always want the ball."

Bryce Harper, Scherzer's former Nationals teammate, was 0 for 4 with four walks in the doubleheader and was loudly booed before each plate appearance -- especially in the better-attended nightcap. This series is his second trip back to Washington, where he played from 2012-18, since signing a 13-year, $330 million contract with Philadelphia in March.

Dozier belted a two-out solo shot in the second off Jake Arrieta (6-6), who allowed two hits and struck out three over six innings and had the misfortune of matching up with Scherzer on the wrong day.

"Max is just one of the best to ever toe the rubber, honestly," Arietta said. "We have ran into him a couple of times. That's just what he does. He is tough to square up, and he is throwing three or four pitches for strikes with electric stuff. Just a tough one."

Robles homered off reliever Pat Neshek in the eighth. Neshek departed two batters later with a left hamstring strain, and manager Gabe Kapler said he was likely to land on the injured list less than a week after returning from an absence of more than three weeks caused by a shoulder strain.

Wander Suero pitched a perfect eighth for Washington, and Sean Doolittle worked the ninth for his 15th save in 18 tries.

Philadelphia was 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position between the two games.

Corbin (6-5), whose start was pushed back twice this week, allowed a solo homer to Scott Kingery in the first inning of the opener. But he let just one other runner to reach third while ending a personal three-game skid.

"It's not ideal, but you have to deal with it to make sure you are ready," said Corbin, who is one strikeout shy of 1,000 for his career. "I was glad we got that one in today."

Dozier and Gerardo Parra had RBI doubles against Phillies starter Zach Eflin (6-7). They later hit back-to-back homers in the eighth inning off Cole Irvin to seal the victory.

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This Nationals fan's Max Scherzer broken nose shirt is the best thing you'll see today

This Nationals fan's Max Scherzer broken nose shirt is the best thing you'll see today

Nationals ace Max Scherzer added another incredible chapter to his legendary career Wednesday, pitching seven shutout innings against the Phillies after breaking his nose in a batting practice accident the day before. 

To honor Scherzer's toughness, one amazing Nats fan wore arguably the greatest shirt ever seen at a baseball game.

(Photo: NBC Sports Washington)

This isn't a good shirt. This is a GREAT shirt, worthy of the man who's face it features. 

Someone get this fan a signed Scherzer baseball. 

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