Nationals

Underachieving Cowboys hope for 2nd-half change

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Underachieving Cowboys hope for 2nd-half change

IRVING, Texas (AP) The season that once looked so promising for the Dallas Cowboys is halfway done.

After losses in four of their last five games, the Cowboys (3-5) have plenty of work to do just to have another .500 season. As for any chance of making the playoffs, that already seems like a big stretch because only one NFC team has won fewer games than Dallas at this point.

No matter how the situation is described - coach Jason Garrett prefers ``urgency'' and despises the term ``desperation'' - the Cowboys have clearly faltered since kicking off the entire NFL season with a victory at the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants two months ago.

``Obviously we didn't expect to be 3-5,'' tight end Jason Witten said Thursday. ``At this point where we're at, it's tough to swallow. You've got to change it.''

Stephen Jones, the team's executive vice president and the owner's son, said the Cowboys have ``absolutely'' underachieved.

``I just think it's urgent. We need to win a game,'' Jones said. ``We can do a lot for our season if we can get this one.''

Dallas starts the second half of its season Sunday at Philadelphia (3-5), which will be trying to avoid its first five-game losing streak in coach Andy Reid's 14 years.

After that, the Cowboys have three home games in a 15-day span, including their Thanksgiving Day game against Washington (3-6), the only team below them in the NFC East standings. They play five of six overall at home, including Pittsburgh - the only remaining opponent that currently has a winning record.

``We have played the hardest part of our schedule,'' said Jones, speaking to reporters during the open portion of practice. ``We had higher expectations than this. We are disappointed with our record. We have to play better, we have to finish. The bottom line at the end of the day, you are what you are. We are 3-5. We have to improve.''

Despite the disappointment with the season so far, Jones reiterated that the organization is pleased with foundation that Garrett is setting for long-term success.

Jones said he ``won't even comment'' on speculation about the future for Garrett, who is 16-16 since replacing Wade Garrett midway through the 2010 season.

``That's ridiculous,'' Jones added.

Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, during a radio interview on the Dan Patrick Show on Wednesday, said he felt Garrett ``is probably coaching for his job for the rest of the year.''

Johnson won consecutive Super Bowl titles at the end of his five seasons in Dallas (1989-93). Garrett was a backup quarterback to Troy Aikman for the 1993 team coached by Johnson.

``First of all, I think Jason is incredibly smart. No one understands the game more,'' Jones said. ``He grew up at a breakfast table knowing about the NFL. His father was a coach. His father was a scout. He understands the league. He leads our team in a great way. ... The players respect him. He demands accountability.''

Quarterback Tony Romo said Garrett has done a phenomenal job with his even approach and calming influence. Garrett again Thursday was talking about focusing on the task at hand - playing Philadelphia - and not worrying about anything else.

``When you do that, I think there's a certain level of confidence,'' Garrett said.

In his same interview with Patrick, Johnson said only a handful of NFL players are self-motivated and that the best motivator is fear of letting down teammates, being embarrassed or losing their jobs. He said there's no fear in Dallas, which he went on to describe as a country club setting where ``everybody is buddies.''

Jones said he had no comment on what Johnson said in the interview.

``Obviously he's great for this franchise and won a lot of Super Bowls,'' Witten said. ``I haven't seen him around a whole lot. These guys are working hard.''

Like Jones, Garrett said he had no comment. But the coach then went on to say he believes that his team practices and meets the right way.

``We create the right atmosphere of urgency for our players,'' Garrett said. ``It's what I learned as a player and as a coach in this league, and that's what we're trying to create here with our football team.''

NOTES: RB DeMarco Murray (foot) didn't practice Thursday, making it more likely he will miss his fourth consecutive game. ... Also not practicing were cornerback Mike Jenkins (back), a new addition to the list, defensive tackles Jay Ratliff and Sean Lissemore with ankle injuries, and center Phil Costa (ankle).

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This time, closer Sean Doolittle costs the Nationals a game

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This time, closer Sean Doolittle costs the Nationals a game

NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 6-1, Wednesday to drop their record to 19-30. Here are five observations from the game…

1.  What to say when the only person to trust can’t deliver?

That’s the status for these Washington Nationals, now 11 games under .500 after Sean Doolittle's worst outing since arriving in Washington, sliding further and further away, unable to stumble into wins and only capable of hunting down ways to lose.

A night after curious bullpen usage, manager Davey Martinez dispatched his knee-quaking posse of relievers in superior fashion.

Joe Ross opened the seventh with an out. Matt Grace followed with two. Six outs to go in a 1-0 game for the league’s worst bullpen.

Kyle Barraclough started the eighth. He struck out J.D. Davis. Adelny Hechavarria doubled, though the ball should have been caught by Juan Soto. Pete Alonso grounded out. Todd Frazier came to the plate and options arrived. A mound visit was followed by a four-pitch walk to Frazier. Doolittle entered the game to face light-hitting veteran Carlos Gomez. Stomach-churning chaos followed.

Doolittle hit him with his first pitch -- his first beaned batter of the year and first since May 29, 2018. Juan Lagares doubled two pitches later to clear the bases. Wilson Ramos was intentionally walked. Pinch-hitter Rajai Davis hit a three-run homer two pitches into his at-bat.

That was the end for Doolittle, who walked off the mound with a stunned look. The one reliable piece in the league’s worst bullpen had as disastrous a night as possible, flushing Max Scherzer’s start, throwing aside rare quality work from other relievers, sending the Nationals to their fourth consecutive loss in this can’t-get-right season.

2. Scherzer needed 109 pitches to make it through six innings. The most important of those was his final one. The 11-pitch sixth gave the Nationals three fewer outs to pawn off on the bullpen. Scherzer opened the inning at 98 pitches before briskly working through Todd Frazier, Carlos Gomez and Juan Lagares.

He allowed four hits, struck out nine and walked two. The night drove Scherzer’s ERA down to 3.41.

Why was Scherzer back to the mound after 98 pitches in five innings? Because of losses six weeks ago, three weeks ago, last week and this week. A team 10 games under .500 has to squeeze everything it can out of its ace on May 22. Time for a margin of error has eroded. What happened back then (losing series to Miami, for instance) piles up to have a grand influence on later.

3. Grace has been used as a matchup left-hander recently. He’s found that life more appealing.

Grace matched up with Cubs left-hander Anthony Rizzo and recorded an out Sunday. He faced Robinson Cano on Tuesday to pick up a ground out. Wednesday, Grace was brought in to face left-handed pinch-hitter Dominic Smith. Smith grounded out to first. Grace remained in to face Amed Rosario and recorded another ground ball out.

The Nationals are trying to put Grace in spots to get his feet back on the ground after a night as the punching bag at the end of a blowout loss against the Chicago Cubs last Friday (and a down season overall). So far, this role has been better.

4. Remember the extended minor-league assignments for after players were hurt? That’s gone. And the results are not great.

Matt Adams was activated Wednesday. Adrian Sanchez was sent to Double-A Harrisburg to make room on the 25-man roster.

Adams did all his rehabilitation work with the major-league team. He took batting practice on the field and in the batting cages before that. He also took ground balls and infield practice. What he didn’t do was go on a minor-league assignment despite not playing since May 3. The Nationals judged him ready to play because his swing looked in place against a pitching machine.

Wednesday, he made a crucial error in the first inning. Robinson Cano rolled a small ground ball to first, Adams fielded, pivoted and threw toward second base, where the runner on first was heading. The ball never came close to the bag. It went to the outfield instead, which presented the Mets with runners on second and third and one out instead of a runner on first and one out (or a chance at a longshot double play). It, most importantly, cost Scherzer more pitches.

Scherzer pitched his way out of it as he often has this season. He came into the game leading the league in FIP (fielding-independent pitching).

Trea Turner played just two games for Triple-A Potomac after missing seven weeks. Asked how many games he would have preferred to play there, Turner said one. He made two wayward throws his first game back with the Nationals.

So, instantly putting these guys back on the field -- which is every player’s preference and a spot the Nationals’ record has leveraged them into -- is not ideal.

5.  Kyle McGowin will start Friday. His visit to the rotation is expected to be temporary.

McGowin will pitch in Jeremy Hellickson’s spot. He was up to give length in the bullpen. Like Erick Fedde, he’ll be drawn away from the relievers to fill a rotation spot.

McGowin is a sinker-ball pitcher. He made one start at the end of last season. He also is currently suspended by the Pacific Coast League after a substance was found in his glove following an inspection by umpires during his last outing.

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Redskins sign linebacker Jon Bostic to try and help make up for the loss of Reuben Foster

Redskins sign linebacker Jon Bostic to try and help make up for the loss of Reuben Foster

Two days after losing Reuben Foster for the year, the Redskins made a move to at least provide reinforcements to a weakened linebacker group.

On Wednesday, Washington announced that they have signed Jon Bostic, a six-year veteran. The 'Skins also officially placed Foster on injured reserve.

Bostic was a 2013 second-round pick of the Bears out of Florida. He's since bounced around to New England, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh, where he started 14 times for the Steelers in 2018 and posted 73 tackles. He's been traded twice in his career and missed all of 2016 with a foot injury. 

So, what does the move accomplish for the Redskins?

Well, Bostic — or any other free agent signing at this point — isn't going to have close to the level of talent and potential that Foster had. However, getting another option at linebacker was necessary for the Burgundy and Gold, and the 28-year-old has played in 30 contests over the past two years, so he's relatively established. 

Yes, he's far from a gamechanger, considering he has just one interception and 5.5 sacks as a pro. But he's regarded as a solid run defender and tackler and should at least push Mason Foster and Shaun Dion Hamilton. His presence also could alleviate some of the pressure that would've been on rookie Cole Holcomb. 

Signing a defender who's been with five franchises in six years isn't exactly inspiring, but Bostic has experience as a starter and could give the Redskins useful snaps on first and second down at a minimum. Now it's on him to take advantage of the opportunity he's been given.

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