Nationals

Vogelsong took long journey to World Series start

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Vogelsong took long journey to World Series start

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Ryan Vogelsong stood on the cut grass at AT&T Park in his crisp San Francisco Giants uniform, giving an interview for Japanese broadcaster NHK in English. No need for an interpreter.

The backdrop on the scoreboard said it all: World Series.

Halfway around the world and back, Vogelsong's journey is ready to go global. The resilient right-hander will start Game 3 in Detroit opposite Anibal Sanchez on Saturday night looking to move the Giants to the brink of another championship and cap a comeback that has become more improbable each time out.

``A lot of faith. A lot of hard work,'' said Vogelsong, who will take the mound with San Francisco ahead 2-0 in the best-of-seven series. ``You also have to have some things go your way to get opportunities.''

For so many years, they so often didn't.

``I feel like every day I come in here with a little chip on my shoulder that I need to work harder than the next guy, and try and get myself better on a daily basis,'' Vogelsong said. ``Definitely game day, there's a chip there. I feel like I still have a lot to prove in this game.''

Vogelsong was drafted in the fifth round by the Giants in 1998 and became the primary piece of a trade to get future ace Jason Schmidt from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001. The promising prospect later underwent elbow ligament replacement surgery, failed in the big leagues, bounced out of the minors, had mixed results in Japan, then struggled with the Phillies' and Angels' minor-league affiliates and at age 33 figured his career might be over.

One last chance came a year ago from the most unlikely team: the defending World Series champion Giants.

Vogelsong, now 35, didn't make the club out of spring training. He went back to riding buses and staying in motels for Triple-A Fresno, not an easy decision with his wife, Nicole, and son, Ryder, then 20 months old, left to share the burden.

While Vogelsong was sitting in the stands at a game in Las Vegas charting pitches between starts, his manager asked for his cellphone number. Barry Zito had been placed on the disabled list with a sprained right foot and the Giants were looking for a replacement.

Sure enough, just before Vogelsong boarded the bus, his phone rang. Giants vice president Bobby Evans was on the other end with news that set Vogelsong on a path to this World Series: he was heading back to the big leagues to make a fill-in start for San Francisco against - who else? - the Pirates.

He held the Pirates to four hits and two runs in 5 2-3 innings for his first major league victory in almost five years.

``I just believe that God had a plan for me this whole time,'' Vogelsong said. ``I feel like all the stuff that I went through - going to Japan and going to winter ball at 33 years old, and getting back here last year, is stuff that He was doing for me to get me prepared for this moment.''

Now Vogelsong is living in one of America's most scenic cities amid a reshaped reality.

No more eating fish guts as he did to bond with Japanese teammates. Instead, he's spraying sparkling wine from Napa Valley with the rest of his Giants teammates after every series victory.

The minors are long behind him, and so is the silence at the end of some starts in Japan. The San Francisco sunsets have held some of his most shining moments, with fans chanting ``Vogey! Vogey!'' louder than they ever had in his Game 6 victory in the NL championship series against St. Louis starting in the California twilight.

``He pitches with conviction,'' reliever Jeremy Affeldt said.

Vogelsong earned All-Star honors last season and was the NL ERA leader as late as Aug. 12 at 2.27 this year. His last 10 regular-season starts lifted that figure to 3.37, but just like Vogelsong had so many times before, he rallied.

Vogelsong became the first Giants starter to complete at least six innings this postseason when he allowed four hits over seven innings in a 7-1 victory in Game 2 of the NL championship series against St. Louis. Then he struck out a career-best nine on his biggest stage yet, allowing only four hits and one run in San Francisco's 6-1 win in Game 6.

``He's throwing the ball as well as anybody on the staff,'' said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who had no problem putting Vogelsong in line for a Game 7 start.

With San Francisco winning 8-3 and 2-0 in the first two games, Vogelsong has a chance to help end the series far sooner.

He earned himself a shot to be the latest Giants pitcher to shut down Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, slugger Prince Fielder and the hard-hitting Tigers.

``It's great to be here with everything I've been through, but I've got to pitch my next game,'' Vogelsong said. ``The two starts before really mean nothing right now. It's about pitching the game on Saturday.''

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Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

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Nationals extend protective foul ball netting

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Nationals extend protective foul ball netting

The Washington Nationals will become the latest MLB team to extend their protective netting down the first and third base lines, team owner Mark Lerner announced on Thursday. A new netting will be installed at Nationals Park during the MLB All-Star break. 

The new netting will extend from the end of the dugout, where they currently end, and go to the left and right field corners. It will be designed with certain sections that can be raised to allow for fan interaction before the games. 

In his announcement, Lerner stated "I could not help but become emotional last month watching the Astros-Cubs game when a four-year-old little girl was hit by a line drive. I can’t imagine what her parents must have felt in that moment. And to see the raw emotion and concern from Albert Almora Jr. was heartbreaking. Further extending the netting at Nationals Park will provide additional protection for our fans."

This announcement comes fresh off the heels of a national conversation about the importance of netting in ballparks and more that needs to be done to protect the fans. As Lerner referenced, a young fan was hit by a foul ball during an Astros-Cubs matchup in May. The girl was rushed to the hospital and left those in attendance paralyzed in shock, especially Cub Albert Almora Jr. 

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said he did not expect the league to step in this season for a league-wide change. However, he did mention that it would continue to be discussed and stressed the importance of fan safety. 

As a result, some teams are taking matters into their own hands. The Chicago White Sox became the first team to announce an extension of their current protective netting to the foul poles. 

Preceding the White Sox announcement, both Chicago and the Nationals experienced a traumatic foul ball situation. Chicago's Eloy Jimenez ripped a foul ball down the line and hit an unsuspecting fan.  

The first game with the new netting with be on Monday, July 22 against the Colorado Rockies. 

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Looking back at the Capitals’ 2016 NHL Draft: How much does a successful draft depend on the first round?

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Looking back at the Capitals’ 2016 NHL Draft: How much does a successful draft depend on the first round?

The NHL Draft takes place on June 21 and 22. The Capitals hold the 25th overall pick and will be looking for future stars among all the hopeful prospects.

But just how successful has Washington been in finding those stars? How much value have the Caps found through the draft?

NBC Sports Washington will be looking at how Washington has drafted over the last 10 years. Today’s draft: 2016

26th overall pick (first round): Traded

The St. Louis Blues elected to trade up in the draft sending Washington a first and giving back their third-round pick which the Blues acquired as part of the package for T.J. Oshie. St. Louis used the pick for forward Tage Thompson who ended up playing 41 games for the Blues in the 2017-18 season. St. Louis ultimately traded him away to the Buffalo Sabres as part of the package that got them the now Conn Smythe-winning Ryan O’Reilly.

28th overall pick (first round): Lucas Johansen D

This Caps moved only two spots back in the trade with St. Louis and selected Johansen, a talented but undersized defenseman. Johansen has spent the last two seasons in Hershey. He has added some size, but that no longer is the biggest concern with his play. Despite being a talented puck-mover, Johansen seems uncomfortable with the puck on his stick, almost jumpy. Getting a quick first pass off is an important skill to start breakouts, but it does not appear like he makes quick, smart decisions up the ice, he is just trying to get the puck off his stick quickly whenever it gets close which leads to some bad decisions. Some of this could be due to the upper-body injury that forced him to miss significant time this past season. Either way, he desperately needs to learn to be more comfortable with the puck.

If you take away the puck-moving skills, then you just have an undersized defenseman. He needs to get the puck skills back if he hopes to make it to the NHL.

57th overall pick (second round): Traded

Washington traded this pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in February 2016 as part of the package to get Brooks Laich’s contract off the books. The Leafs used the pick on forward Carl Grundstrom who Toronto sent to the Los Angeles Kings as part of the package to land defenseman Jake Muzzin.

Grundstrom ended up playing in 15 games with the Kings with five goals and an assist so he is definitely a player to watch heading into next season.

87th overall pick (third round): Garret Pilon F

This was the pick attached to the first-round pick St. Louis swapped with the Caps to move up. Washington used it to select Pilon, son of former NHLer Rich Pilon.

Pilon had a strong WHL career with Kamloops and Everett and was impressive in his first season in Hershey with 10 goals and 23 assists in 71 games. He has potential as a third-line NHLer, maybe second line but that would be a real reach. He has a great hockey IQ. You can see the plays he is trying to make on the ice, he just can’t always finish the job whether it is getting a cross-ice pass over to an open teammate after drawing the defense to himself or getting enough power behind a shot from a high-danger area. Another year in the AHL to hone his skills and he should have a real shot of making the jump to the NHL.

117th overall pick (fourth round): Damien Riat F

Riat has yet to make the jump from Europe to North America, but Swiss Hockey News reports that he will participate in development camp and training camp for the Caps this year.

145th overall pick (fifth round): Beck Malenstyn F

When the Caps packaged Laich with Connor Carrick and a second-round pick, they did not just receive cap relief. They also got Daniel Winnik and a fifth-round pick. Washington turned that pick into Malenstyn.

Malenstyn has a solid mix of skill and physical play that led Hershey Bears head coach Spencer Carbery to declare, “he’s our Tom Wilson.”

Now let’s temper expectations here. While Malenstyn may play a similar role for the Bears as Wilson does for the Caps, do not take that to mean Malenstyn is a top-six NHL forward. He’s not. He scored seven goals and nine assists in his first professional season, but the way he was able to have an impact on the ice is certainly impressive. There is some potential here for him to be an NHL fourth-liner.

147th overall pick (fifth round): Axel Jonsson-Fjallby F

Jonsson-Fjallby has NHL speed and is a similar type of player as Carl Hagelin. He is not going to light up the scoresheet, but his speed always makes him a threat and he can be a strong, bottom-six player and penalty killer at the NHL level.

I thought there was a legitimate chance he could compete for the Caps this year if Hagelin left. Hagelin, however, is back for another four years. That’s not to say it is time to move on from him, just that there was room for Jonsson-Fjallby to be a Hagelin replacement and now he can go back to Hershey and work on his game and adjusting to the North American style of play. That’s good news for Washington since Jonsson-Fjallby chose to go back to Sweden early last season and has only 16 games of North American experience.

177th overall pick (sixth round): Chase Priskie D

Priskie just wrapped up a fantastic college career at Quinnipiac where he won a national title, was a top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and scored 17 goals and 22 assists in his senior season…as a defenseman.

Unfortunately for Washington, since Priskie just wrapped up his fourth season in college he is eligible to become a free agent in August if he does not sign with the Caps before then. Priskie informed management in April that he would not sign with the team and that he intended to become a free agent. Priskie is a right-shot, puck-moving, offensive defenseman who would be a high-end third pair defenseman, but could also develop into a second-pair guy. His decision not to sign with Washington is a definite blow to the Caps and the pipeline.

207th overall pick (seventh round): Dmitriy Zaitsev D

After two seasons in the WHL, the Capitals chose not to sign Zaitsev to an entry-level contract prior to the 2018-19 season thus forfeiting his rights. He elected to return to his native Russia and split time over the season in the KHL, MHL, and VHL.

Takeaways

First the good news. The Caps found a lot of value in this draft. Past the second or third round, you are basically drafting lottery tickets and hoping your number gets called. I am not quite sure what to make of Riat, but besides him, Pilon, Jonsson-Fjallby, and Priskie all have NHL potential. Malenstyn could as well but may be a reach. Sure, these would all be depth guys, but that’s a lot of NHL potential in one draft.

Now on to the bad news. First, the defenseman with the highest upside is probably not their first-round pick, but Priskie and the Caps know they are going to lose him as a free agent. That is his right as written into the CBA so you cannot fault him for taking advantage. Having said that, it really stinks for the Caps who snagged him in the sixth round of the draft just to see him walk after showing off his potential.

Second, the Caps may have found a lot of potential NHLers in this draft, but if they miss on Johansen, was this draft a bust for them? That is not to say Johansen is a bust or that he will never live up to expectations as a top-four defenseman. But if he does not learn to be more comfortable with the puck and learn the difference between quick thinking and panicked reaction, he is not going to make it to the NHL. At this point, it looks like he will need another year in Hershey and if he does not improve, then it is time to wonder whether he has a future at all.

How do you evaluate this draft if you find value in the later rounds—which is extremely hard to do—and miss on your first-round pick? It’s a tough question to answer.

 

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