Nationals

Strong 2nd half, Headley's season give Padres hope

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Strong 2nd half, Headley's season give Padres hope

SAN DIEGO (AP) A strong second half, fueled by Chase Headley's breakout season, showed that there's promise for the low-budget San Diego Padres.

That hope was strengthened when the Oakland Athletics, who have baseball's lowest player payroll, won the AL West.

General manager Josh Byrnes said the TV in the Padres' clubhouse was tuned to the A's game against Texas on Wednesday.

``Seeing Oakland, if that doesn't sort of get your attention, big market or small, our players were riveted watching that game,'' Byrnes said Thursday. ``I thought it was a great achievement. We want to be that team.''

The Padres, who had the second-lowest payroll, went 42-33 after the All-Star break. While far better than their awful start, it wasn't enough to prevent them from finishing 76-86, their fourth losing record in five seasons. They were fourth in the NL West, 18 games behind the San Francisco Giants.

San Diego hasn't been to the playoffs since 2006.

The Padres believe they have most of the pieces in place to contend next year under manager Bud Black. Byrnes said they'll need to add starting pitching, mostly because their rotation was hit with a rash of injuries early in the season that contributed to the team winning only 17 games through May and being 22 games under .500 - 24-46 - on June 20.

``I do think the personality of who we want to be, the mix in there of Buddy, players, coaches, is very good,'' Byrnes said. ``So I think we've taken a big step in kind of the personality we want. To me, from a personnel standpoint, I think our starting pitching needs to get better. Even the winning we did over the last 100, 110 games, wasn't on the backs of our starting pitching. At times, even in September, we kind of ran out of gas. But it's a tough area to address and a lot of our good ones are hurt, so projecting when they return next year, how many innings we can count on are unknowns and will make the planning tricky. But as far as things we're trying to go get in the offseason, the focus will be on starting pitching.''

The Padres had only two pitchers throw more than 100 innings, lefty Clayton Richard with 218 2-3 and Edinson Volquez with 182 2-3. Besides Richard and Volquez, 22 pitchers threw at least 16 innings.

While the pitching was an issue, Headley's season was phenomenal. He won the NL RBI title with 115. Among his other career-bests were 31 homers, 173 hits and 95 runs scored.

The Padres have given several players long-term deals, but Headley isn't among them. Byrnes said the team has discussed a multi-year deal for the third baseman, but the Padres control his rights for two more seasons. At the very least, Headley will certainly cash in via arbitration.

Asked if the Padres were wrong for not extending Headley, Byrnes said: ``Probably, yeah.''

Byrnes pointed out that the extensions the team has given were either to players approaching free agency - left fielder Carlos Quentin and closer Huston Street - or younger players including center fielder Cameron Maybin, pitcher Cory Luebke and catcher Nick Hundley. Luebke was among several Padres pitchers who required surgery and Hundley struggled after getting his deal and later was injured.

Byrnes said Headley falls in between those two groups.

``The good news is, two years is a long time,'' Byrnes said. ``If having such a good year makes negotiations difficult, we've got a lot of time. He's a home-grown guy, he's invested in this franchise, but the system is designed for a reason. It protects him, because he's going to get a nice raise because he had such a nice year, and it protects us because we control him for at least two more years.''

Until this year, Headley hadn't put up the power number expected of a third baseman. The switch-hitter said he worked hard at elevating the ball on the pull side.

On that topic, Byrnes and Black said they support moving in the fences in certain parts of Petco Park. Byrnes said the club is still discussing the matter and that no decision has been made.

``I think there are certain parts of the park that play a little bit extreme, that I think will help balance out some well-hit balls,'' Black said. ``In simple terms, if you hit a ball a long ways, and hit it well, it should be a home run.''

Black said the areas that need to be addressed are right-center, which has flummoxed Padres hitters since the park opened in 2004, and a bit in left-center.

``My sense is it wouldn't be a drastic change,'' Byrnes said. ``I think the extreme parts of the park would be corrected. ... We know when a ball's really crushed, the park has been a bit unfair.''

The Padres were purchased in August by a group headed by the O'Malley and Seidler families and local businessman Ron Fowler. They haven't said what their target player payroll is for 2013.

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Nats rookie Juan Soto makes second MLB debut, retroactively hits HR on first-ever MLB at-bat

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USA Today Sports

Nats rookie Juan Soto makes second MLB debut, retroactively hits HR on first-ever MLB at-bat

The Washington Nationals hosted the New York Yankees to finish a once-suspended game, tied at 3-3 in the sixth inning. Though it seemed like just a makeup, it was anything but for rookie Juan Soto.

It’s true that Soto struck out as a pinch hitter in his first-ever game on May 20. Since then, the 19-year-old has caught fire, batting .312 with five home runs and 12 RBI in 23 games this season.

But the makeup of the suspended game took place on May 15, five days before Soto was called up to give the Nats an extra bat. Soto would make his major league debut once again.

Though it’s uncommon for a player to compete in a game prior to his major-league debut, it’s been done before. Barry Bonds hit a go-ahead single in a suspended game that dated a month before his debut. Closer Jeff Reardon threw a scoreless inning and picked up a win in a suspended game nearly two months before his debut, as well.              

After Anthony Rendon hit an opposite-field single in the bottom of the sixth, Soto pinch hit for Matt Adams who has missed the previous two games with a hand injury.                                                  

And Soto, with a chance to change his first career at-bat from a pinch-hit strikeout to anything but, did just that. He turned on a fastball and sent a rocket to right field. Aaron Judge took a few steps before looking up toward the bleachers. The ball landed in the second deck.

Talk about a first career at-bat. A no-doubt, two-run shot to give the Nationals the lead in a game that took place before his first major-league debut.

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Texas A&M big man Robert Williams likes potential fit with Wizards, John Wall

Texas A&M big man Robert Williams likes potential fit with Wizards, John Wall

In terms of the needs on their roster and the guys most likely to be available when they are on the clock at No. 15 in the first round, few players in this draft class seem as obvious a fit with the Washington Wizards more than Robert Williams of Texas A&M. So, it was no surprise that he not only visited them in Washington on Monday, but received the only individual public workout they have held during this year's predraft process.

Williams could be the answer to their longstanding quest for an athletic big man. No need to bring in five other guys for the usual six-player workout when Williams deserves a longer and more extensive look than most prospects they are considering.

The 20-year-old was put through a variety of drills Monday afternoon, just days before the 2018 NBA Draft. He likes the fit with Washington, if that's how things end up sorting out.

"I definitely feel like they could use a big like me, a defensive-style athletic big like me. I definitely see myself fitting here," he said.

Williams is one of the best big men in this year's draft. He is 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds with a 7-5 wingspan. He used that length to dominate in the paint at the college level.

Williams averaged a modest 10.4 points for the Aggies in 2017-18, but also 9.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. That was his sophomore year. He averaged 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks as a freshman.

He was a shot-blocking force the day he stepped on campus and believes those skills will translate to the professional ranks. In the NBA, Williams believes he can thrive because his defensive versatility will be even more valuable in a day and age where switching is paramount.

"I feel like I can guard all positions. That’s one of my biggest attributes," he said. "It’s just about embracing it, having fun stopping a guard. Once you’re comfortable with it, you can do it."

Williams may adapt to the NBA quickly on the defensive end and that's where the Wizards need help the most. They haven't had a consistent rim-protector in years. Last season, point guard John Wall led the team in blocks per game.

Offense is where the questions lie with Williams. He wasn't a big scorer in college and does not have much of an outside shot. The fact he shot just 47.1 percent from the free throw line this past season suggests he has a lot of work to do before he can stretch the floor.

Williams will need to find a niche offensively, likely as a rim-runner off pick-and-rolls. He sees a lot of potential in a possible pick-and-roll pairing with Wall.

"He’s an elite passer and an elite guard. Coming off a pick-and-roll, you have to pay attention to him as well as have to pay attention to me as well. It’s a win-win situation," Williams said.

Williams believes his offensive game will open up with more space at the NBA level. The Wizards have Wall surrounded by three-point shooters in Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Markieff Morris. Toss Williams into the middle and he could go to work in the paint doing the rest.

If Williams were drafted by the Wizards, he could look at Clint Capela of the Houston Rockets as a model to follow. Like Houston, the Wizards have two All-Star guards. An athletic big man who doesn't need plays run for him could be the perfect complement.

No one needs to tell Williams that, he is well-aware. He said that at nearly every stop during the predraft process Capela's name has come up.

"I knew that’s what you were going to say," Williams said to a reporter (raises hand) who asked about the Capela comparison.

Williams continued to say they are different players and it's not entirely fair to compare them. That exchange showed Williams has an edge to him, sort of like Morris. He's clearly not afraid to be honest when some players would not.

Despite downplaying the comparison, Williams can see what makes Capela successful.

"I’ve watched him. He’s a great player," Williams said. "He is around the right people. He just plays his role. He runs off a lot of screens. He gets up there and does what he has to do."

Williams is gearing up for Thursday's draft and trying to decide who he will walk the stage with, as the NBA has introduced a new tradition of each player walking with two people. He said it will likely be his mother and sister. Perhaps by the end of the night he will also walk that stage wearing a Washington Wizards hat.

For more on Williams, check out our extensive draft profile on him.

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