Nationals

Some veterans to play final game for Steelers

Some veterans to play final game for Steelers

PITTSBURGH (AP) For the first time since he was taken in the third round in the 2009 draft, Mike Wallace will miss a regular-season game for the Steelers.

It might well be the first of many games Pittsburgh plays without the speedster receiver going forward.

An injury in his left hip and hamstring area will prevent Wallace from playing in the Steelers' season finale Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. He will be an unrestricted free agent, leaving his status with the team for beyond this season in question.

Wallace isn't the only veteran who might have attended his final practice as a Steelers player Friday. On the heels of a non-winning season and with salary-cap issues upcoming, Pittsburgh (7-8) has some decisions to make on several longtime stalwarts who have been tenured contributors to championship teams.

Wallace, Casey Hampton, Rashard Mendenhall, Max Starks, James Harrison, Larry Foote and Charlie Batch have a combined 59 years of service for the Steelers, 12 starts in Super Bowls for the team and 11 championship rings.

There is reason to believe the game against Cleveland (5-10) will be the final one for many in that group as part of the organization.

``I don't know who's going to be out the door or who's going to be re-signed, but it's always a business first,'' Foote said. ``From a selfish standpoint on defense, we were No. 1 in the league - so bring us all back, keep us all. But I never know what's their plans and (general manager) Kevin Colbert can run a team better than I can.''

Starks, who will start his 96th game at tackle for the Steelers on Sunday, and Hampton, the team's nose tackle for the past 12 seasons, both hinted this week they could envision playing elsewhere.

The Steelers' most recent two second-round draft picks - and rookies of the year - are tackles. That doesn't bode well for Starks, who rebounded from injury each of the past two years to become a reliable starter for the Steelers by the time the season ended.

``I think the writing's on the wall, so to speak,'' Starks said. ``I had a great run - nine years here. I've gotten to be a part of three Super Bowl teams and got a chance to grasp two of those Lombardis, so it's an excellent career. If I have to move on, this will always be home for me.''

Hines Ward wept at his retirement press conference in March when he said he couldn't envision himself in another uniform. The gregarious Hampton chuckled this week at that notion - maintaining that he'd while he'd like to stay a Steeler, he'd play elsewhere if he had to.

A 35-year-old pending free agent, there's no guarantee the team will make a strong effort to keep Hampton.

Like Hampton and Starks, Foote said on Friday that he doesn't want to be a backup. But unlike Starks and Hampton, Foote can attest to the grass not always being greener.

Foote asked out of Pittsburgh following the 2009 Super Bowl victory because he knew Lawrence Timmons was primed to take his starting right inside linebacker's job. Foote signed with his hometown Detroit Lions, who were coming off an 0-16 season.

A year later, the Lions cut him - and Foote was given a three-year deal from the Steelers. He gradually re-earned a starting job back for this season.

Foote is coming off a solid season in which he led the team in tackles. Also, the player presumably drafted this past April to replace him, Sean Spence, missed the season due to a knee injury.

``Hopefully I'm back, but you've got to approach it that way,'' Foote said. ``Especially being long in the tooth as you say, all the older guys. That's just the nature of the game.''

At 34, Harrison is an even older member of the Steelers' linebackers corps. Harrison had back and knee injuries that slowed him early this season, and he has only five sacks.

A former NFL defensive player of the year, Harrison has a projected salary-cap hit of more than $10 million next season. It's unlikely the Steelers would keep him at that number.

``Right now, I'm looking forward to finishing out, playing this game against the Browns and after that's done I'll get things together as far as looking forward to next year,'' Harrison said.

Mendenhall was similarly evasive when asked about his future on Friday. The former first-round pick has only 163 yards rushing in five games this season because of injury, deactivation and suspension. A pending unrestricted free agent, he is seemingly destined to be on his way out.

At 38, Batch is the NFL's oldest non-kicker, and the Steelers could elect to add some youth to the quarterback position.

It won't be age that keeps the Steelers from bringing Wallace back. Failure to come to an agreement on a new contract might, though.

Wallace held out through the entirety of Steelers' training camp in Latrobe, Pa., this summer before signing a one-year tender as a restricted free agent. He finished the year with fewer catches and receiving yards than he had in each of the previous two seasons and with a 13.1 yards-per-reception that is well below his career average.

``This year obviously didn't go exactly how I wanted it to go, but I'm happy with the start to my career and I feel like I'm on the right path to do some great things,'' Wallace said.

But will they take place in black-and-gold? Wallace paused when asked if he'd consider re-signing with Pittsburgh.

``I don't know. We'll see,'' he said. ``But I've got big plans. No matter what the situation is I've definitely got big plans for myself and my family.''

Like several other Steelers after a rare non-winning season, those plans just might not include Pittsburgh.

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With no access to in-game video, Trea Turner’s swing has taken time to adjust

With no access to in-game video, Trea Turner’s swing has taken time to adjust

Heading into the Nationals’ four-game series with the New York Mets this week, Trea Turner was hitting just .196 on the young season with one home run. The vaunted base stealer had been thrown out on the basepaths three times while having yet to swipe a bag successfully. In the field, he’d racked up three errors.

It was a frustrating start for the 27-year-old shortstop, who’s coming off a season in which he played with only nine fingers and still found a way to serve as a catalyst atop the Nationals’ lineup. Now fully healthy, Turner was expected to play a role in helping Washington absorb the loss of Anthony Rendon in the middle of its lineup.

Normally, poor at-bats would prompt Turner to head down to the replay room for a quick look at his mechanics. He goes into the clubhouse in between innings and examines his previous swings to see if he needs to make any adjustments. It’s a practice Turner has grown to rely on over the course of his major-league career.

But this season, Turner hasn’t had access to the replay room after MLB banned in-game video as part of its health protocols for playing in the middle of a pandemic. Instead, he’s had to wait until after each game before being able to break down his swing. It’s made for slower progress, but after going 5-for-9 with two home runs and four RBIs over the first two games of the series in New York, he feels that his adjustments have started to pay off.

“I felt good in the box and I feel like my approach was good but not having video is a little different and I feel like in years past I was pretty good at going back and just checking out the swing real quick and making the little adjustment I need to make in game,” Turner said in a Zoom press conference after Tuesday’s 2-1 win.

“Finally made the right adjustment a few games ago and started putting the barrel on the ball and feeling a little better. The last four or five games or so my contact has been a little bit stronger and it was just a matter of time for the hits to start to fall.”

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Turner hasn’t been the only member of the baseball community to express how the lack of video access has changed their approach. On Saturday, Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash told MLB Network Radio that he wasn’t pleased with MLB’s decision to ban something that had become an integral tool for coaches and players during games.

“Without being too controversial, I think it's absolutely ridiculous,” Cash said. “It's probably one of the worst things that I've seen Major League Baseball do in take video away from players. Video is what makes us good. It helps us learn, it helps us coach, it helps us attack. And it's been taken away from us because of one team, or a couple teams' stupid choices.”

“We can't even watch a game; we cannot watch our own game. Our players cannot come in and watch a game in the clubhouse. It is asinine. The entire protocol system, how they came up with that, it is wrong. They're doing an injustice to players.”

While it’s unknown whether the real reasoning behind MLB’s decision is related to health protocols or the sign-stealing scandals that surrounded the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox over the offseason, Turner isn’t making any excuses. In fact, the results are beginning to turn his way.

Entering play Tuesday, Turner had a hard-hit percentage of 40.9 percent, well above his career rate of 32.5. His batting average on balls in play was just .238 (league average is .300), indicating he had been getting unlucky on some well struck balls. In fact, his groundball rate is down five percentage points from his career average while his flyball rate is up 10 percent.

Then came his home run off Mets starter Rick Porcello in the first inning. Turner took a breaking ball high and away and hit it off his back foot on a line straight into the seats in right field.

It was only Turner’s second opposite-field homer of his career after he hit none all of last season. Yet even with the adjustments he’d been making to his swing, he said that he didn’t go into the at-bat looking to hit anything to right field against Porcello.

“I think it’s just swing path and pitch,” Turner said. “I’ve hit a few balls to right-center out in certain stadiums, mostly probably at home, and I don’t know if those are opposite field per se. They might be more center field but I just think when you’re facing righties, to hit an opposite-field home run is fairly tough. He tried going toward that backdoor sinker and I just felt like it was the right swing on the right pitch and just keeping it fair and not slicing the ball.”

Turner will continue tweaking away at his swing, hoping to produce results like he has so far in the New York. But with or without the video replay room, he doesn’t expect the opposite-field homer to be the start of a new trend.

“I don’t have necessarily that oppo power some of these big guys get,” Turner said. “I usually have to pull them but every once in a while, if you get the right pitch on the right swing, it sneaks out. So I’ll take it.”

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'Washington Rexes' name suggestion creates a stir on Twitter

'Washington Rexes' name suggestion creates a stir on Twitter

As the Washington Football Team searches for a permanent new moniker, it's no surprise that some rather unique names have been suggested. Take the Washington UFOs or Washington Wanderers as examples.

The newest member of that group is the Washington Rexes, a name highlighted by the team as part of the fan recommendations initiative it's taking. The name was recommended by a fan named Carl, and the reasoning behind it certainly unique.

"Washington Rexes. I know this seems strange, but hear me out. Washington is home to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, which houses an impressive collection of dinosaur skeletons, including a Tyrannosaurus Rex, one of the largest and most terrifying predators in history," Carl wrote. "Rexes would be an impressive nickname, implying strength, power, and ferocity. The mascot would be amazing. Plus, who doesn't love dinosaurs?" 

As wild as it may seem, Carl does kind of bring up some good points. The dinosaur is a very strong and scary animal, so it checks the intimidation box. The Smithsonian gives it the local connection and naming the stadium "Jurrasic Park" or something of that nature actually works. Wait, is Washington Rexes genuinely a good idea?

Well, for the most part, Twitter did not think so.

If dinosaurs weren't their thing, some suggested picturing it as an homage to former Washington quarterback Rex Grossman. 

Washington Rexes probably won't be the eventual name of the team. But, Carl deserves an A+ for creativity. 

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