Nationals

Stingy Florida defense likes Sugar Bowl challenge

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Stingy Florida defense likes Sugar Bowl challenge

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Rather than boast about Florida's lofty national defensive rankings, safety Josh Evans questions whether they are an accurate reflection of how good his unit really is.

Florida ranks fifth nationally in total defense and third in scoring defense.

Yet in Evans' eyes, the No. 4 Gators (11-1) are second to none defensively, something they will try to prove when they play 22nd-ranked Louisville (10-2) and dynamic quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night.

``Absolutely I feel we're the best,'' Evans said. ``With our front seven and our back end, I see it. If you just look at the games we've played and the schedule we have, to not give up a touchdown against LSU and to not give up any points in the second half against (Heisman Trophy winning Texas A&M quarterback) Johnny Manziel ... that was huge for us.''

Florida's defense fared better than Alabama, the NCAA leader in yards allowed, against the three best opponents both teams faced.

The Gators limited Manziel and the Texas A&M offense to 324 yards for the game and zero points in the second half in a 20-17 September victory at College Station, Texas. Two months later, Manziel and the Aggies rolled up 418 yards in a 29-24 upset of the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The Gators beat LSU 14-6 in Gainesville on Oct. 6, holding the Tigers to two field goals and 200 yards. A month later, LSU gained 435 yards on the Crimson Tide, which needed a last-minute touchdown to escape Tiger Stadium with a win.

In the Gators' lone loss, 17-9 to Georgia, they forced four turnovers and yielded only 273 yards. Alabama gave up 394 yards and 28 points to Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

The Gators also do have one ranking with which Evans won't quibble: First nationally in pass defense efficiency.

Florida has made a believer out of Louisville offensive coordinator Sean Watson.

``They've got excellent players in every level of the defense,'' he said. ``They can really rush four guys because they're so good up front. They have lockdown people in the back end. Their safeties are good coverage players. Their linebackers can cover. They have every piece defensively you could ever want.''

The Gators don't overwhelm anyone with individual statistics. Evans leads them in tackles with a modest 79. Their top sacker, Dominique Easley, has four.

``It's not about stats,'' defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. ``At the end of the day, it's, `What does our team need,' not a, `What do I need,' type of thing. It's a team effort.''

The Gators have not given up more than 363 yards in any game and have allowed only 29 fourth-quarter points.

If the defense has a signature player, it's junior safety Matt Elam, a first-team Associated Press All-America selection who had a team-high four interceptions. With the Gators protecting a 7-6 lead against LSU in the third quarter, Elam tracked down receiver Odell Beckham Jr. after a 56-yard gain and stripped the ball on the sideline. Florida recovered it and converted the turnover into a touchdown.

``That play defined our season because it showed we won't quit, and every game we showed it,'' said cornerback Jaylen Watkins, who has three interceptions. ``He could have gave up on the play or could have just made the tackle, but he went the extra mile to make the strip. It turned the whole game around.''

Florida's final test will come against Louisville's Bridgewater, who ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency and averages 287.7 yards passing. Bridgewater, who led the Cardinals to victories in their first nine games, knows his job won't be easy.

``They have a tough front seven,'' Bridgewater said. ``They push offensive linemen back. They're just physical.''

Having already shut down Manziel and intercepted Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray three times, the Gators welcome the challenge that Bridgewater presents.

``You always want to play against the best,'' senior linebacker Jon Bostic said. ``That's what you come to Florida for. This is another chance to go out and prove to everybody we have the top defense.''

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Adam Eaton calls Todd Frazier ‘childish’ after the ex-teammates get into it again

Adam Eaton calls Todd Frazier ‘childish’ after the ex-teammates get into it again

NEW YORK -- Normal is not something the Nationals do this season.

Monday’s pivot from the mundane -- an otherwise run-of-the-mill 5-3 baseball game -- came when Adam Eaton was jogging toward the visitors dugout in the bottom of the third inning when he stopped to respond to New York third baseman Todd Frazier, whom Eaton said was chirping at him all night.

This is not new. The two were teammates on the Chicago White Sox in 2016 and did not get along. Last year, Frazier and Eaton also had an exchange. The one Monday night at Citi Field prompted several members of the Nationals to hop over the dugout railing while Frazier and Eaton were being restrained near the first base bag. First base umpire Mike Estabrook cutoff Eaton who was walking toward Frazier after initially heading to the dugout following a 4-6-3 double play which ended the inning for the Nationals. When Frazier came toward the Mets dugout from his position at third base, the two began their spat.

Afterward, Frazier declined to comment in the Mets’ clubhouse, saying only, “It was nothing.” Eaton took the opportunity to expound on his displeasure with the incident, its continuation and Frazier himself.

“Yeah, I don’t know,” Eaton said. “Gosh, who knows what goes through that guy’s mind? He’s chirping all the way across the infield. He must really like me, [because] he wants to get my attention it seems like every time we come into town, he really cares what I think about him. I don’t know what his deal is, if he wants to talk to me in person or have a visit or what it is. But he’s always yelling across the infield at me, making a habit of it.

“He’s one of those guys who always says it loud enough that you hear it but can’t understand it. So, he’s making a habit of it. I ignored him a couple times chirping coming across, but I had it to the point where I’m not going to say the saying I want to say but you got to be a man at some point. So, I turned around, had a few choice words with him. It’s funny, I was walking towards him, he didn’t really want to walk towards me but as soon as someone held him back then he was all of a sudden he was really impatient, like trying to get towards me. Just being Todd Frazier. What’s new?”

Asked if he is surprised such exchanges are still happening three years after they played together, Eaton said he was.

“Yes, absolutely,” Eaton said. “He’s very childish. I’m walking with my head down, play’s over, I’m walking away. I can still hear him. I’m a 30-year-old man with two kids, got a mortgage and everything. He wants to loud talk as he’s running off the field. At the end of the day, I got to be a man about it. I tried to stay patient with the childishness, but it is what it is. I got to stand up eventually.”

He did, and what could have been merely Game 47 for a struggling team turned out to be something else.

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Patrick Corbin’s rough beginning a hole Nationals can’t emerge from

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Patrick Corbin’s rough beginning a hole Nationals can’t emerge from

NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 5-3, Monday to drop their record to 19-28. Here are five observations from the game…

1. A wondrous, very Mets day preceded the game.

Their general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen, held a press conference to announce...Yoenis Cespedes -- already out because of dual heel surgeries -- suffered multiple ankle fractures during a ranch accident over the weekend. Van Wagenen then went on to profess his support for maligned New York manager Mickey Callaway -- for the most part. Last, and most important to writers, three boxes of donuts were in the press box with a note: “Have a great series! -- BVW”.

Things are always a little different in Flushing. That was a problem for the Nationals.

In what could be labeled a “reverse-lock” situation, Washington’s $140 million starter, Patrick Corbin, was outpitched by unknown and often ineffective Wilmer Font, whom the Nationals smacked around just five days ago. The Nationals, as they often do, dragged themselves back into the game after trailing 4-0. A Juan Soto single drove in Anthony Rendon in the eighth to cut the lead to 4-3. Rendon was on base four times.

And, again, it was just enough to produce a close loss. Washington put two runners on with none out against dynamic New York closer Edwin Diaz before Kurt Suzuki flew out, Trea Turner grounded into a fielder's choice and Adam Eaton flew out.

The Nationals drop to nine games under .500 following one-run and two-run defeats. They also fell to 2-14 in series openers.

2. A rough, short evening for Corbin.

He trudged through the night on 98 pitches. Corbin lasted just five innings. He walked three, gave up four earned runs, struck out seven.

His night was a mess early. Amed Rosario and Pete Alonso homered in the first inning. Two walks in the third -- one with two outs -- led to two more runs scoring. He zipped through the fourth and fifth before being removed.

Corbin has endured two blowups this season in an otherwise quality first two months: Monday and April 29 against St. Louis. The latter outing featured four walks and a homer allowed against one of the league’s better offenses. Monday’s bad outing came against a Mets lineup which did not feature Robinson Cano to start and entered the evening 21st in wOBA.

Bad timing. Bad night.

3. Tanner Rainey made his Nationals debut Monday. He was interesting.

Rainey gave up a hustle double to pinch-hitter Cano -- yes, hustle and Cano -- but otherwise showed a sharp fastball-slider combination.

Rainey was the return for Tanner Roark in the offseason trade that sent Roark to Cincinnati during the Winter Meetings.

He has command trouble. He also throws 98-100 mph with ease. Asked in spring training where that velocity comes from, Rainey said his legs and weight lifting. No secret sauce. He lifted more, he threw harder. And he subsequently repeated the process.

Rainey’s velocity will always intrigue. The question is if he can command his two-pitch arsenal enough to become an actual bullpen weapon. The baseline tools are there.

4. A shuffle in the relief corps is coming.

Tony Sipp (oblique) was activated from the 10-day injured list Monday. Dan Jennings was designated for assignment. That experiment is over. Jennings signed a minor-league contract April 15. He was in the majors April 30. He’s gone less than a month later. He did not pitch well.

The Nationals claimed right-handed Javy Guerra off waivers Monday. Guerra was designated for assignment by Toronto. Guerra pitched 14 innings for the Blue Jays this season, with a 3.86 ERA and 3.17 FIP. In other words, distinctly better than most in the Nationals bullpen.

Washington expects Guerra to arrive in New York on Tuesday. Kyle McGowin is likely to be sent back to Triple-A Fresno to make room. So, two fresh pitchers in the bullpen early in the week.

Trevor Rosenthal should also be back shortly. He is expected to throw an inning for Double-A Harrisburg on Tuesday. Rainey will likely be sent back to the minor leagues to make room there.

And, a situation in West Palm Beach, Fla., to keep an eye on: reliever Austen Williams had to be shut down to allow his shoulder to rest. Williams threw 40 pitches at the spring training facility the first week of May, when he appeared on his way back from the 10-day injured list. However, he has stopped throwing after experiencing further shoulder soreness. He was placed on the injured list April 19 because of a sprained right AC joint.

5. Matt Adams worked with the team on the field Monday, which he expects to do the next two days.

He’s on the verge of being activated before the week is out.

“I watched him [Monday] and he took some really good swings,” Martinez said. “We’ll see how he feels [Tuesday]. I’m assuming that he might be a little sore, because he did take some swings and he’s going to continue to do baseball activities [Monday]. But we’ll see how he feels.”

Adams’ 15-day absence has handcuffed Martinez in multiple ways. Take Sunday. Right-handed slider-thrower Steve Cishek on the mound. Left-handed hitters’ OPS against Cishek is 143 points higher than right-handers. But, no Adams meant no left-handed pinch-hitter.

Those issues should be over soon.

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