Nationals

Taurasi wins USA Basketball female athlete of year

Taurasi wins USA Basketball female athlete of year

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) Diana Taurasi has been chosen USA Basketball's female athlete of the year for 2012 after leading the Americans to a fifth straight Olympic gold medal.

Taurasi averaged 12.4 points a game to guide the United States to an undefeated record in London. She has won the award three times now, earning the honor also in 2006 and 2010, matching Lisa Leslie. Only Teresa Edwards has won the award more times with four.

Taurasi shot 46 percent from the field and 96 percent from the free throw line during the Olympics.

U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said in a statement Wednesday that Taurasi was ``spectacular as a leader on and off the court.''

Auriemma, who coached Taurasi at UConn, is ``constantly amazed by her will to win, her drive and how much she makes everyone around her better.''

LeBron James was the USA Basketball male athlete of the year.

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So far, so good for the Fernando Rodney Experience in Washington

So far, so good for the Fernando Rodney Experience in Washington

BALTIMORE -- Stories about Fernando Rodney are believable because they include Fernando Rodney, owner of The Lucky Plantain, dancer, reliever, impressionist, baseball’s oldest active player.

Was he once locked in the bullpen bathroom at Oakland Coliseum for two innings, almost missing a save opportunity? Maybe. Someone had heard that. They were going to ask. Did he once try to convince a coach to let him fly to the Dominican Republic for a single off-day? Probably, because, why not? Does he bark at teammates? Yes. Confirmed. Multiple times over.

All of these things -- the mystery, light-heartedness, 17 years as a reliever -- come together with his pitching to form what’s become known as the FRE: Fernando Rodney Experience. 

Rodney is 42 years old. He expected to pitch this year, but not for the Nationals. Season 17 started in Oakland. It did not go well. Rodney did not pitch often, he walked almost as many as he struck out and the A’s let him go May 28. Six days later he signed with the Nationals.

They needed to talk first. Manager Davey Martinez asked Rodney what was wrong in Oakland. They knew each other from Rodney’s 2012 peak in Tampa Bay, when Rodney put together a devastating season: 0.60 ERA, 48 saves, 76 strikeouts, 15 walks, 43 hits allowed, 641 ERA-plus (for a comparison point, Mariano River’s best single-season ERA-plus was 316). So, Martinez was aware of what Rodney could do at his best. The question was what could he do now? Was he finally burned up after all these years? Rodney threw his 16,000th major league pitch this season. What could be left in there?

Martinez knew if Rodney had anything near his career normal (3.84 ERA), the Nationals had a space for him. He explained pitching irregularly in Oakland was the culprit. Martinez told him lack of frequency would not be an issue in Washington. So, Rodney packed for Fresno.

Rodney was back on a major-league mound less than three weeks later. Martinez immediately began using him in high-leverage situations in the eighth or ninth inning. And, Rodney looked like himself: nothing easy, nothing stressful (for him), a changeup that travels like a river bends and a mid-90s fastball. He is prone to putting a runner on base. He is also as likely to get out of it. Such is his pitching life for almost 20 years.

“Kind of an erratic-type good pitcher,” Brian Dozier said. “He’s not always going to paint, paint, paint. Changeups are effective.”

This is not an insult. Martinez has mentioned Rodney’s propensity to allow baserunners and his big-league life proves it to be true. Rodney has allowed a hit or walk in 28.8 percent of his 920 big-league appearances. He has thrown 9,910 strikes and 6,172 balls, according to Fangraphs. The only thing typically easy about a Rodney appearance is his trip to the mound in the bullpen cart.

His fastball speed fluctuates -- on purpose. Last year in Minnesota, he began throwing a two-seam fastball more often to go with his four-seam fastball and changeup. Since joining Washington, Rodney has thrown 99 mph, stating afterward, “Sometimes you have to let the hitter know.”

That sentence made closer Sean Doolittle laugh out loud. “Love it,” he said. Dozier giggled, too. These are common reactions around Rodney.

Wednesday in Baltimore, he explained his view of marital challenges to Justin Miller (and a reporter). Who knows what portion of what was said is true, but he was having fun, Miller was laughing, so off he went.

Rodney has six children -- four boys, two girls (“lots of rice and beans,” he says) -- and uses as many voices when speaking. He doesn’t change tense, he changes the sound. Why? Why not?

“What I love [laughs], I love how he does a lot of different voices,” Dozier, who was also teammates with Rodney in Minnesota, said. “He’ll come in one day talking like somebody and spend the whole day talking like that. He’ll do these different voices all the time.

"Some people think he’s serious, but nothing’s really serious that he talks about. It’s so light. He’s an interesting cat. He’s an amazing teammate. What I love about him in that regard is, he’ll pitch six days in a row if you allow him to.” 

Rodney’s regular voice is deep and he is husky. His new teammates have been impressed by his power in the weight room, and those who did not know him prior weren’t sure about his approachability because he is a stern physical figure at 5-foot-11, 240 pounds. Any concern quickly melts when Rodney starts to joke in Spanish or is walking to left field at Citizens Bank Park shimmying to K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “My Boogie Shoes”, a dance routine which ends with him hopping into the air for a final kick. This is not someone here to menace.

Why so much fun? Why not? Rodney has made nearly $50 million living the volatile life of a major-league reliever. It beats the hard work his father put in fighting the elements as a fisherman in the Dominican Republic. As the sun rotated during the day, so did his hat, starting a natural-born trend his son carried into the major leagues. Rodney also thinks the askew lid makes a runner on first think he is looking that way when he is not. So, there’s that, too.

He feels well. The years haven’t dampened his spirit or fastball much. Maybe one more in the major leagues, he thinks. Then off to Miami with the kids. They like to play baseball in the Dominican Republic and Rodney is ready to be an out-of-the-ordinary shuttle service. 

“I think that’s a blessing,” he said.

For now, his 2.84 ERA in early work for the Nationals has him occupied. Rodney can be seen daily with a neon green ball about the size of a softball. He throws it off the outfield wall to help his grip of a normal-sized baseball be “more powerful.” He’s advised Wander Suero on his changeup. The veteran relievers have crossed paths with him somewhere along the line. They respect his work.

He could have stopped. But, he loves baseball. He loves pitching. Rodney debuted May 4, 2002. For him, there has been nothing else. Not yet.

“I feel today like 29,” Rodney said. “Feel good. My body feel good. A lot of rice and beans. A lot of fish. A lot of meat. Milk. Over medium eggs.”

Then he laughed, because why not?

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Don't expect the Patriots' early-season slip up to come against the Redskins

Don't expect the Patriots' early-season slip up to come against the Redskins

When the weather outside becomes cold and the calendar turns to November or December, there's probably no team NFL opponents would rather avoid than the New England Patriots. The dominant franchise and defending champions always seem to get stronger as the season goes on. However, in the opening weeks, they sometimes show a vulnerability we're not used to seeing.

In recent years, New England has been prone to dropping an early-season contest that makes you go "Really? They lost to that team?" or "You just don't usually seem the Patriots play like that." In 2018 it was a Sunday night loss to the Lions that dropped them to 1-2. They followed that up with six consecutive wins. The year prior, a surprise last-second loss to the Panthers in Week 4 put the Patriots at 2-2. The team then won 11 of 12 games to close out the regular season.

Keep going back, the trend remains the same. In the end, New England always figures it out and rights the ship, but it shows that the formula to taking down the power of the NFL could just be getting a lucky draw on the schedule.

That's where the Redskins come into play. Slated to face the Patriots at home in Week 5 following four tough games to open up the season, Washington could most definitely use an upset no matter their record. 

Being that it is a relatively early-season game, and adding in the fact that New England does have a lot of questions to answer despite coming off yet another Super Bowl, there is reason to think the Redskins could be this year's "slip-up" game for the Patriots. Yet according to NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry, they may be one week too late.

"Unfortunately for Redskins fans I would say almost 100 percent of the time by Week 5 they have it figured out," Perry said on the Redskins Talk Podcast. "It's the first four weeks that have at times been a disaster."

Based on past showings, that does seem to be the case for the Patriots. New England hasn't lost a Week 5 matchup since 2013, and they entered that contest already sitting at 4-0. Perry also used the "We're on to Cincinnati" moment in 2014 to show how much of a swing their season takes once they hit Week 5. In that season, the Patriots rebounded from a rough showing against the Chiefs on Monday night to beatdown the Bengals and then rattle off six more wins. 

So, as much as Redskins fans want to believe that their team is in prime position to pull off the shocking win against the Patriots, the timing doesn't seem to be quite right. As Perry put it, there's always a point in the season where the switch is flipped. More often than not, "it's usually by Week 5."

While the Redskins may not catch the Patriots on their worst day in 2019, that isn't to say there is no chance Washington can come out on top. New England is entering the season with some things that still need to be ironed out, especially on the offensive side. Even if it is the daunted Week 5, Perry thinks that some of these problems may still be around.

"I think there are legitimate issues offensively for the Patriots this year both at receiver and tight end," Perry said. "I don't know if they're necessarily past those questions being answered by the time that Redskins game rolls around."

With Rob Gronkowski in retirement and Josh Gordon indefinitely suspended, some big weapons will be missing. That hasn't stopped the Patriots from getting production before, but Brady may not have as much to work with as he had in year's past. N'Keal Harry could emerge at the position, but he'll only have four games with Brady under his belt at that point.

When the teams meet in Week 5, Brady may just be working with one reliable target, and Perry believes that is an advantage for Washington.

"Outside of Julian Edleman, that receiver group is pretty weak," Perry said. "That would be the path to success for the Redskins I would say would be to really limit the passing game and keep it close that way."

Part of shutting down the passing game relies on getting pressure on Brady and giving him less time to sit in the pocket and pick apart the defense. With a strong front unit on their defense, the Redskins have a chance to do just that. But, it won't come easy against New England's offensive line.

"The offensive line up the middle is really good. It's been about as strong as it's been," Perry said. "That's one of the strongest parts of their team in all honesty."

Perry feels that if the Redskins are going to get to Brady, their best bet is to put a powerful and athletic body across from the smaller-sized center David Andrews and win that matchup.

If Washington can do that, there's a chance the passing game takes a hit, as Brady had some struggles last season when being pressured.

"He was bailing out of throws on pressure up the middle and that was forcing him into a lot of mistakes," Perry said of Brady during stretches of last season. "A lot of throwaways, some interception-worthy types of throws. So that's the kind of thing that the Redskins should be trying to do to make life difficult for them."

Week 5 promises to be an important one for Washington, and an upset win over New England could change the direction of the season. But, they can't bank on getting the Patriots off-game. Like always, a win against New England will be tough.

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