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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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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

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