Nationals

Steelers WR Wallace focused on efforts, not boos

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Steelers WR Wallace focused on efforts, not boos

PITTSBURGH (AP) Mike Wallace heard the boos. And the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver knew it didn't have as much to do with the pass that had just clanged off his hands as with the expectations - self-imposed or otherwise - he just can't seem to meet.

Walking back to the huddle, beating himself up a little bit after failing to hold onto a Ben Roethlisberger heave that would have gotten the Steelers out of an early hole last week against San Diego, Wallace tried not to take it personally.

That doesn't mean he succeeded.

``I think they're out to get me a little bit,'' Wallace said with a smile.

Then again, the easygoing 26-year-old understands he has no one to blame but himself. Wallace took a calculated risk last summer when he decided to hold out during training camp. Coming off his first Pro Bowl and entering the prime of his career, Wallace didn't want to leave the Steelers as much as he simply wanted to get paid a little more - OK, a lot more - to stay.

When management balked, Wallace reported less than two weeks before the season started and pledged not to let his uncertain future mess with his head.

It hasn't exactly happened.

Sure, Wallace is on pace to match the 72 receptions he put up a year ago and he needs two touchdowns over Pittsburgh's final three games to set a new career-high.

Yet it's the slip-ups - such as a handful of costly drops and a pair of fumbles - that have outweighed the spectacular. Wallace is in the midst of perhaps the most productive season of his four-year career. It just doesn't feel like it.

While the former third-round pick has shown the ability to adapt to offensive coordinator Todd Haley's short-passing game and he's accepted the fact there are fewer deep shots to go around, he knows he's done little to calm critics who viewed his holdout as a betrayal.

``Anything I do is going to be magnified, good, bad, it doesn't really matter,'' he said. ``I've just got to do what I need to do and I don't give anybody a reason to say anything. Whatever happens I take full responsibility for it.''

And to be honest, he's OK with it.

``I don't want nobody to ever say it's enough,'' he said. ``I always want somebody to have a knock on me. Always, because it's always going to make me a better player and it's always going to give me something to strive for.''

Even if, at the moment, Wallace is content with striving to avoid the kind of mental miscues that have cost the Steelers (7-6) this season. They are, after all, tied with Cincinnati for the AFC's last wild card spot heading into Sunday's game in Dallas (7-6) and could be in a better place.

Wallace has six drops this season, tied for 16th most in the NFL. The names higher on that list include Wes Welker, Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant.

The difference, of course, is that none of those guys skipped training camp, and Wallace knows it.

``I made the bed,'' he said. ``I'll lie in it.''

No matter how uncomfortable it can get.

Wallace raised eyebrows last week when he admitted to having his mind wander during games. Looking back, he admits he probably should have kept that to himself.

``When you're not getting the ball into the games sometime you might get a little frustrated and lose focus in the game, not on the game, but sometimes you get mentally not focused on the things you always need to be focused on,'' he said.

It certainly looked that way against the Chargers. Backed up deep in their own end in the second quarter, Roethlisberger tested his sprained right shoulder and flung it as far as he could. Wallace had a step on the defender and stretched to haul it in, only to have it bounce off his hands to the turf.

Though Wallace rebounded to catch seven passes for 112 yards and two scores, it's the one he couldn't bring in that stuck with him afterward.

``All I keep thinking about was the drop I had,'' Wallace said. ``But you can't dwell on that.''

Besides, there's plenty of other things to think about, including the future. Wallace has tried to block out what will happen once the season ends, adding it would be ``selfish'' if he started wondering where he'll be playing next year.

Maybe, but with 2013 fast approaching, there's a real chance Wallace could be playing his final games in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers signed teammate Antonio Brown to a contract extension while Wallace was working out by himself in Florida. And the rapid development of Emmanuel Sanders combined with the money Wallace could earn on the open market makes the prospect of Wallace sticking around seem unlikely.

If time is growing short, Wallace is trying to make it count. So is his quarterback.

``He has all the confidence in himself and we have it in him,'' Roethlisberger said. ``We're confident that he's going to come out and be great. There's never a second thought in my mind about it.''

In Wallace's either.

``It's not like I'm out here dropping every pass,'' he said. ``I made a lot of plays, too, as well. But I definitely would like to make every single play on the field.

``I've just got to keep working at it and I think things will go my way.''

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NOTES: LB James Harrison (illness) did not practice on Wednesday ... S Troy Polamalu was held out of practice but it was not injury related ... LB LaMarr Woodley, who has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, was a full participant ... Coach Mike Tomlin met with RB Rashard Mendenhall to talk about the one-game suspension Mendenhall received for conduct detrimental to the team. Tomlin called the meeting productive.

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Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win

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USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win

The Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins, 5-0, Sunday afternoon to move back .500 at 10-10.

Here are five observations from the game...

1. Sunday became of a day of salvage for the Nationals.

Washington lost the first two games of its initial series against the Miami Marlins. One of those losses included a subpar Max Scherzer start. Game three provided Miami a surprising chance to sweep. Stephen Strasburg snuffed out that idea with eight scoreless innings. Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, Brian Dozier once.

Kyle Barraclough was on the verge of peacefully pitching the ninth inning to close the game before he walked back-to-back hitters with two outs. Davey Martinez replaced him with closer Sean Doolittle who ended the game in his 10th appearance of the season.

And, guess what? The Nationals are back to even. Again. The upshot for them is how flawed and jam-packed the rest of the National League East remains. The downside is dropping any series against Miami can leave a mark.

Assume the division winner takes 13-15 victories when playing the Marlins 19 times during the season. That idea would force Washington to go between 12-4 and 14-2 the rest of the way against Miami. A run like that -- even against bad teams -- is extremely difficult. Being swept by the worst team in the major leagues would have made it even worse. So, a necessary win was delivered Sunday.

2. Strasburg spent Sunday down in the strike zone, throwing curveballs at his leisure, dominating all afternoon.

Eight innings. Ten strikeouts. Two hits. No runs.

Strasburg threw an astonishing amount of curveballs Sunday: 45 of his 104 pitches were bending toward the plate. He threw 41 fastballs (mostly two-seam fastballs) and 18 changeups. Strasburg came into the game throwing his curveball 21.4 percent of the time this season, just a tick above his career average of 19.7 percent.

The curveballs led to 12 swinging strikes, six called strikes and four foul balls. So, half of them were not put in fair play. That’s a dominating pitch.

Most opposition hitters will mark Strasburg’s changeup as his best pitch -- especially now that his fastball velocity is down to 92-93 mph, generally. Sunday, his curveball commanded the game, an interesting turn with Kurt Suzuki behind the plate a start after Strasburg mentioned he thought predictability was part of the issue when he was knocked around in his last start against the meager San Francisco Giants offense.

3. Anthony Rendon was out of the lineup Sunday because of a bruised left elbow.

X-rays on Rendon’s elbow were negative. Though, he told reporters in Miami on Sunday the elbow remained stiff. Washington played with a three-man bench in the series finale because Rendon has not been placed on the injured list. It also underwent a lineup shuffle.

Victor Robles moved up to the No. 2 spot. Howie Kendrick played third and hit cleanup. Dozier hit seventh and Wilmer Difo was in the eighth spot.

Rendon’s absence is another dig at an offense already without Trea Turner for an unclear amount of time because of a broken right index finger. Both were off to outstanding starts for a team that is not. Rendon’s 1.223 OPS was fourth in the National League coming into play Sunday.

The Nationals are in the midst of a brutal schedule stretch, which means they can’t play with a short bench for long. They have a three-game series starting in Colorado on Monday. If they think Rendon could play Tuesday, they could survive another day with a three-man bench. If they think he won’t play in that series, it makes sense to put him on the 10-day injured list retroactive to Sunday. Thursday is an off day. So, ultimately, Rendon would miss seven games he otherwise would not.

The rub there is potent San Diego and St. Louis are coming to Nationals Park next week. Washington is already laboring. Does it want to deal with those teams without Rendon?

4. Interesting in the sixth inning:

Juan Soto struck out on a changeup. That’s not the interesting -- or surprising -- part. Kendrick was next. He drove a second-pitch changeup from Trevor Richards to deep center field for a sacrifice fly. Only Lewis Brinson’s jump and speed kept Kendrick’s fly ball from being a two-run double.

Kendrick appeared to be sitting on the changeup from Richards, his out pitch and one he used almost as often as his fastball throughout the day. Zimmerman hit a changeup for a home run. Dozier hit a changeup for a home run. Those vetered hitters appeared to adjust in a way Soto did not: instead of trying to push Richards into a fastball count, they sat on the changeup. Big results followed.

5. How about a couple strange things?

Robles bunted against the shift in the sixth inning. It was simultaneously the worst and best bunt in history. Robles bunted the ball so hard, it went almost to the outfield grass...in the air. Marlins first baseman Neil Walker did not get it because he was holding a runner. Second baseman Starlin Castro did not get it because he was shifted toward the middle. Robles was easily safe as a result.

Then a scare from an oddity: an eighth-inning foul ball roared into the Nationals dugout. When Max Scherzer moved to avoid it, he tweaked an intercostal muscle in his left rib cage, according to reporters in Miam. He was in enough pain director of athletic training Paul Lessard came to check on him. Scherzer was all right. That would have been the capper for the Nationals recent run of bad injury luck where balls coming from the opposition are causing fluke injuries.

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Todd Reirden on TJ Oshie's surgery: 'It's a tough situation for our team'

Todd Reirden on TJ Oshie's surgery: 'It's a tough situation for our team'

ARLINGTON — Capitals forward T.J. Oshie had a surgical procedure Friday to repair a broken right collarbone and remains out indefinitely.  

Oshie was not at Capital One Arena for Washington’s 6-0 win in Game 5 of its Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. He was injured with five minutes to go in Thursday’s Game 4 loss in Raleigh when nudged from behind by Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele and slamming hard into the boards near full speed. 

“There's not one person who can take T.J. Oshie's spot for all that he is as a human being, player on the ice, off the ice all the stuff that he adds,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said at his media availability on Sunday afternoon. “But what I did notice is that everybody picked their level up last night. And that's what we're going to need going into Raleigh for [Monday]."

That’s when Washington, ahead 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, can eliminate Carolina in Game 6. It’s something it has done successfully on the road in recent years in Philadelphia (2016), Toronto (2017), Pittsburgh and Columbus (2018). All series the Capitals were up 3-2. In all four they won Game 6. 

But they won’t have Oshie this time and he is the emotional engine that has helped fuel some of those series-ending performances. There is still no exact timetable for Oshie’s return. The Capitals have avoided ruling him out for the season and Reirden artfully dodged a question about whether he’d be ready for training camp. 

A broken collarbone usually doesn’t take longer than two months to heal barring complications. But that’s almost certainly going to be after the playoffs ends even if the Capitals make a repeat run to the Stanley Cup Final. Last year they won it on June 7 in five games against the Vegas Golden Knights. 

“I do know that T.J. Oshie is going to do everything he can, and we're not willing to put a timetable on it right now with regard to any time,” Reirden said. “Just lots of these things take a different course in terms of how they rehab and don't rehab. I just know that I can tell you about T.J., he's all-in at all times, and that's a great person to have around our room at the very least." 

Oshie had 25 goals and 29 assists in 65 regular-season games. He missed 11 of 13 games with a concussion. He had eight goals and 13 assists in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. He also plays the “bumper” role on the top power-play unit and kills penalties.

Oshie tweeted thanks to fans both before and after Washington’s 6-0 win on Saturday. In the third period, periodic “T.J. Oshie!” chants rang from the sellout crowd at Capital One Arena. 

“It was nice to see the crowd give [Oshie] a little love,” center Nicklas Backstrom said on Saturday.  

Added Reirden: “That's obviously a tough loss for us, but we're prepared to go without him as we saw last night. It's a tough situation for our team, but I certainly liked our response last night and was proud of our effort in terms of how we played and how we were playing with him in the back of our mind."

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