Nationals

Temple ready to try again in the Big East

Temple ready to try again in the Big East

PHILADELPHIA (AP) For seven winding years in exile, Temple morphed from winless to bowl winners, played as an independent and a mid-major, always with eyes on the prize of returning to the conference that gave the Owls the boot.

The wait is over. Finally, Temple has come back to the Big East.

No hard feelings.

The Owls will play Saturday against South Florida in their first game as a Big East team since they predictably lost 34-17 to Boston College on Nov. 20, 2004. Led by second-year coach Steve Addazio, the Owls hope they play their way into the win column faster than they did in their first miserable Big East stint: They lost every Big East game from 1991-1994, until finally beating Pittsburgh 29-27 on Oct. 14, 1995.

The Owls would go almost two years before winning another Big East game.

Losing was an accepted fact of life for the Owls in their 14-year run of futility in the Big East.

They won only 14 conference games over that span - with five of those wins over Rutgers. Perhaps their two most memorable games were against Virginia Tech. They beat the No. 14 Hokies on the road 28-24 in 1998 for one of two conference wins that season. In 2003 at Lincoln Financial Field, the Owls lost 24-23 to the No. 12 Hokies when they missed a tying extra point in overtime.

``Ten years from now nobody's going to remember who won this game. They'll remember how they played in it,'' Temple coach Bobby Wallace said after the loss.

Odds are, if a team played against Temple, they'd remember they won.

When the automatic wins were no longer worth the embarrassment of being attached to an unsuitable team like Temple, the Big East ousted the program.

The Owls were evicted from the Big East after 14 years for failing to meet minimum requirements for membership, most notably in attendance, facilities and fielding a competitive team.

Fast forward to Saturday's homecoming game at The Linc.

Times change - and so do pick-pocketed conferences stretched coast-to-coast in desperate need of teams. Temple was the ugly duckling that ditched the glasses, straightened the hair, lost the pocket protector and became more attractive the second time around.

``We don't resemble the Temple program or the culture that was asked to leave the Big East in January `01,'' Temple AD Bill Bradshaw said.

Temple might be out of the football business had the program continued down the path it was stuck on when the Big East gave it the heave ho. The Owls went 1-22 as an independent and the future was as bleak as the past it left behind.

``We were an independent and it was disastrous. It was disastrous on many fronts,'' Bradshaw said. ``If you're not Notre Dame, Army or Navy, you don't have a chance as an independent.''

They found their footing and their home under coach Al Golden in the Mid-American Conference. Before bolting for Miami, Golden was doing his best Bill Snyder impersonation to resurrect the Owls among the football living. He went under the hood of the program and recruited kids on blind faith that they could play a part in a special turnaround. Sure enough, one win turned to four wins and that turned into the program's first bowl game since 1979.

Addazio was hired last season and led the Owls to a 9-4 record and a win in the New Mexico bowl.

The Owls set a team record for wins in three consecutive seasons (26) from 2009-11, won nine games twice, and won their second bowl win in school history and first since 1979 over that span.

Addazio addressed the Owls (1-2) this week and told them he could not wait to kick off a Big East season.

``I was just really fired up,'' he said. ``I was like, here we go, we're in Big East conference play.''

The Owls have a sturdier foundation for their second run in the Big East, even if the final record won't look that much different this season.

``Every way. Name what way,'' Addazio said. ``The university is totally committed to this in terms of the resources to put the facilities in place, to be able to fund the program properly, the commitment of the whole athletic department, everything. It's real clear that everyone at Temple is aligned.''

The largest impact of Temple's addition, though, may be in men's basketball next season. The Owls give the league another perennially strong program to help make up for the eventual losses of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Owls were picked to finish last in the Big East and, because of quirks in the schedule necessitated by the conference move, are coming off their second off week.

``You can argue that last year or the year before would have been a better time to come into the Big East,'' Bradshaw said. ``But timing is sometimes interesting. I'm certain that we'll be back in the Big East competing for the championship soon.''

South Florida knows how difficult it can be chasing a conference title. The Bulls have yet to win a Big East title, much less flirt again with the level of success they achieved while climbing to No. 2 in the country in October 2007. An uncharacteristic 2-3 start has drawn attention to a shaky won-loss record that suggests USF's meteoric rise not only has leveled off, but is in gradual decline.

``We can win conference championships here. We can win national championships here,'' coach Skip Holtz said.

The Owls, once headed for extinction, would gladly settle for their first winning record in the Big East.

That journey starts Saturday.

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Nationals rally, but find themselves treading water again

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Nationals rally, but find themselves treading water again

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals lost to the Chicago Cubs, 6-5, Sunday to drop their record to 19-27. Here are five observations from the game…

1. A word about Anthony Rendon first.

His three-run homer dragged the Nationals to within 6-4 on Sunday night. He also walked and a soft liner off his bat was caught by a leaping Addison Russell at shortstop. He was stellar in the field. After an initial rusty patch when returning from the injured list, he is back to his normal self and one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League. He could finally be going to his first All-Star Game.

Second, a word about Howie Kendrick.

He homered -- again -- his seventh already this season. Things around the Nationals’ poor start are not great. They would be severely amplified if Kendrick wasn’t walking around with a .317 batting average and an almost 1.000 OPS.

Their work was not enough Sunday. The Cubs took a 4-0 lead early, then hung on late, spoiling the Nationals chance for a rare second consecutive series win.

2. “Little things” kicked in again Sunday.

A fourth-inning passed ball by Kurt Suzuki moved a runner to third with one out. Kyle Schwarber’s sacrifice fly drove him in.

Juan Soto’s late break from second with two outs in the sixth inning led to third base coach Bob Henley giving a rare stop sign at third base. Albert Almora Jr.’s throw for center field went soaring over bot the catcher and pitcher at home plate. If Soto broke early or Henley took his usual chance, another run would have scored.

The Nationals’ overall defense was cleaner Sunday. Rendon made multiple quality defensive plays, Brian Dozier also two slick stops. But, two smaller incidents flipped two runs in what became a 6-4 game.

3. Jeremy Hellickson is going in reverse.

He lasted just three innings Sunday, and was lucky to make it there. Hellickson opened the game by loading the bases via walks. Despite him laying the groundwork for a devastating first inning, he allowed just a run.

Runners made it to second and third to start the second inning, but just one scored. A leadoff homer for Anthony Rizzo bumped the Cubs’ lead to 3-0 in the third. Hellickson wiggled away from a double in the inning to finish his evening in arrears, 3-0.

He threw 64 pitches, just 30 strikes.

The outing was the second time this season Hellickson lasted just three innings in a start. He gave up five earned runs the last time. Four of his previous five outings delivered a Game Score of 34 or lower (50 is the starting point with potential to go up -- or down). A non-analytical measure of those outings is to simply call them uncompetitive.

The trouble for Washington is it has no clear option to replace Hellickson and his 6.23 ERA in the rotation, if it decided that was the best course of action going forward. Joe Ross could swap spots wit Hellickson, flipping Ross into the rotation and Hellickson into the bullpen. Kyle McGowin, called up from Triple-A Fresno on Friday, relieved Hellickson on Sunday. He’s not big-league ready.

Austin Voth is the only minor-league starter on the 40-man roster but not on the 25-man roster. Voth has a 3.89 ERA in Fresno this season.

4. Trevor Rosenthal continues to creep toward a return.

He threw a bullpen session in Nationals Park on Sunday after a day off Saturday. Rosenthal pitched in back-to-back games Thursday and Friday for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators.

Rosenthal is going to Harrisburg to throw another inning Monday, then be re-evaluated. He had another rough outing Friday for the Senators: ⅓ of an inning, 21 pitches, 11 strikes, a walk and hit allowed.

Nationals manager Davey Martinez said the misses were up and down in the zone. Rosenthal was previously pulling pitches to his left.

“I watched video,” Martinez said. “His mechanics are pretty good right now.”

Is he close to returning?

“I think he’s really close,” Martinez said. “We’ll see how this next outing goes for him.”

5. More progress for the injured.

Matt Adams (left shoulder strain) took 40 swings Sunday, felt good afterward, and is nearing a pre-game stint on the field, possibly Monday with the team in New York.

Ryan Zimmerman (plantar fasciitis) continues to swing and play defense. He was expected to run Sunday, the final step in his rehabilitation. He could be ready “very soon” according to Martinez.

Tony Sipp (oblique) took Sunday off after pitching an inning Saturday for Single-A Potomac.

Outfielder Andrew Stevenson (back spasms) was sent back to Triple-A Fresno on Sunday. He will begin playing games with the Grizzlies on Monday.

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Cubs drop protest, but not stance about Sean Doolittle's delivery

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Cubs drop protest, but not stance about Sean Doolittle's delivery

WASHINGTON -- Sunday afternoon’s discussions still revolved around Saturday night’s close, which Washington manager Davey Martinez referred to as a “fiasco” on Sunday.

Chicago manager Joe Maddon started a chaotic situation when he popped out of the dugout following Sean Doolittle’s first pitch in the ninth inning Saturday. Maddon contended Doolittle’s “toe-tap” was an illegal delivery, akin to when Chicago reliever Carl Edwards Jr. tried to add a pause in spring training, but was told the move was illegal.

The umpires told him, and Doolittle, the delivery was legal. Chicago filed a protest with the league. After consulting with Major League Baseball and MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer, Joe Torre, the Cubs dropped their protest Sunday morning.

A point of differentiation is whether the pitcher is taking a second step. Umpires previously determined Edwards was taking a second step. They determined Doolittle was not. This is a judgment call for the umpires and is not reviewable.

Official Baseball Rule 5.07(a) states in part: “The pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch. If there is a runner, or runners, on base it is a balk under Rule 6.02(a); if the bases are unoccupied it is an illegal pitch under Rule 6.02(b).”

The league, according to Maddon, said there is a difference between Edwards placing his full foot on the ground and Doolittle grazing the mound with a cleat when he delivered. Maddon continued to not agree with the interpretation.

“We went through the whole process,” Maddon said. “Our guys in the office spoke to MLB and I talked to Mr. Torre. The whole thing I wanted to really get done was protect Carl. I really didn’t anticipate a whole lot to be done with it. Even though I still don’t agree with the conclusion, because I think it’s exactly what Carl did, only a different version of it. But the point was, I would not be a good parent if I had not spoken up for my guy. And that’s what I was doing last night and, again, it’s just to eliminate any gray area there just for future because it’s going to happen again down the road somewhere and you’re just trying to delineate what is right and what is wrong. In my mind, it wasn’t a judgment call, I thought it was black-and-white. It wasn’t gray.”

Maddon said multiple times that Doolittle tapped with his toe in addition to grazing the mound, both of which, he contended, were not legal or different than Edwards' attempt at deception.

The congenial Doolittle was steamed postgame Saturday and remained irritated Sunday. Saturday, he took multiple shots at Maddon during his postgame commentary. He also taunted the idea when throwing warmup pitches while Maddon argued with umpires by making exaggerated kicks with his leg and multiple stops with his foot. Doolittle switched to a delivery without any stops -- one he often uses -- after the protest as a way to show Maddon he didn’t need the tweak to be successful.

“In that moment, he's not trying to do anything other than rattle me and it was kind of tired,” Doolittle said Saturday. “I don't know. Sometimes he has to remind people how smart he is and how much he pays attention to the game and stuff like that. He put his stamp on it for sure.

"I actually have to thank him. After they came out the second, the [Kyle] Schwarber at-bat, I threw two fastballs and a slider and a fastball to [Kris] Bryant and those were probably the best ones I've thrown in a while. I don't do the tap when there's somebody on base so I can keep my pickoff move available if I need it. I've had a lot of traffic recently, so I've had practice doing it, so it wasn't like a huge adjustment to me. I don't know. In a way, I kind of need to thank him."

Asked Sunday if Doolittle’s comments were relayed to him, Maddon smiled and said yes.

“Listen, I have no issue with that whatsoever,” Maddon said. “We’re all emotional. I’ve said a lot of things I didn’t want to say years ago -- even in this ballpark. I think if he understood the entire context, he might have had a different opinion. Even if he was the manager himself -- if he was me -- or if he was being protected by his manager under similar circumstances, I think his stance may be different.”

No one -- the league, Maddon or Doolittle -- changed their perspective a day later.

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