From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- Bryce Harper had looked so bad all season against R.A. Dickey's dancing knuckleball that he didn't even expect to play Tuesday night.Nationals manager Davey Johnson had a different idea.Harper had his first four-hit game and pinch-hitter Tyler Moore launched a go-ahead homer off Dickey in the seventh inning to send Washington past the punchless New York Mets 5-3.After entering 0 for 10 with six strikeouts against Dickey, Harper doubled and singled twice off the All-Star pitcher. The talented rookie added an RBI single in the ninth off Josh Edgin to become the first teenager with four hits in a major league game since Andruw Jones did it for Atlanta on Sept. 22, 1996."Now he realizes he can hit a knuckleball," Johnson said.Leadoff batter Jayson Werth reached base all five times for the NL East leaders, who have won seven straight and 11 of 12 at Citi Field.Harper credited Werth's fine at-bats in front of him for helping him solve Dickey. Werth is 13 for 27 (.481) with two homers, three doubles and five walks against Dickey -- attributing his success to all the Wiffle Ball he played as a kid."Just trying to see something up or see a pitch I can square up," Harper said. "I've tried everything against that guy."Looking for a win over baseball's top team to boost his Cy Young Award resume, Dickey (18-5) mostly pitched out of trouble for seven solid innings. But he gave up a two-run shot to Moore that made it 3-2 in the seventh and was unable to tie Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez for the major league lead in wins.Gonzalez beat the Mets 5-1 in the series opener Monday.Not surprisingly, Dickey got little help from his teammates at the plate. The fading Mets, losers of five in a row and seven of eight, set a club record by failing to score more than three runs for the 12th consecutive home game. The last time they managed four runs at Citi Field was Aug. 12 in a 6-5 win over Atlanta.New York has dropped 21 of its last 25 in Queens and is 0-5 on a six-game homestand against Atlanta and Washington. The Nationals improved to 13-4 against the Mets this season.Tom Gorzelanny (4-2) worked a hitless sixth in relief of a shaky Jordan Zimmermann, who labored through 104 pitches over five innings. Christian Garcia struck out three of his four batters and Tyler Clippard allowed a solo homer to pinch-hitter Scott Hairston in the ninth before securing his 31st save in 34 attempts.Kurt Suzuki also had an RBI single in the ninth for Washington (88-54)."That's the best lineup I've faced. They're just so functional," Dickey said.After going an absurd 110 straight innings at home without scoring more than one run, the Mets finally put up a crooked number in the fifth.Ruben Tejada singled for the third time and scored easily from first when Daniel Murphy's slicing double took an odd carom off the retaining wall in medium left field. Murphy clapped his hands at second base, Dickey cheered from the dugout and then David Wright grounded an RBI single under the glove of a diving Ian Desmond at shortstop.Suddenly given a 2-1 lead, Dickey soon gave it back. Suzuki singled with one out in the seventh and Moore drove the next pitch to left for his ninth home run in 138 at-bats this season."I had a mediocre knuckleball and had to pitch with it," Dickey said. "At this point in the season, you want to give the fans something. We've got a shot at doing something, maybe."Harper shortened his big swing against Dickey, hitting the ball on the ground all four times. After fouling off a bunt attempt, the 19-year-old slugger chopped a double inside third base to set up Ryan Zimmerman's sacrifice fly in the first."I think I was fortunate to get a couple knocks tonight," Harper said. "You can't really get any advice on that guy. He's got a knuckleball. That's what he throws. You either hit it or you don't."Johnson smiled in the dugout after Harper's third hit. Before the game, he explained his decision to start the youngster."He's going to have to learn how to hit a knuckleball. It's too early to be dodging anybody," Johnson said. "Bryce has had a day off and he doesn't need one. He's stronger and younger than anybody out there. And that knuckleball might find his bat. It may take a wrong little knuckle and go right into his bat, and I know he's going to be swinging hard enough, it could cause some damage. So I'm willing to take that chance and have him in the lineup."Zimmerman became the first Nationals player with an RBI in eight consecutive games. He also singled in the eighth, extending his hitting streak to 15 games.In a tradition that began after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Mets wore caps commemorating the NYPD, FDNY and other first responders during batting practice and the national anthem.The Nationals wore their special blue game jerseys with stars and stripes, and both teams lined up along the baselines for a moment of silence before the first pitch.NOTES:Johnson plans to give LF Michael Morse (sore right hand) a couple of days off. ... LHP Sean Burnett (elbow) could be available Wednesday. ... Johnson said he met New York quarterbacks Eli Manning and Mark Sanchez at a charity function near the World Trade Center site Tuesday morning. "It's just a great cause," the manager said. "It was nice to be there." ... It was Moore's second pinch-hit home run. ... Nationals LHP John Lannan, from nearby Long Beach, will make his first start at Citi Field since April 2010 when he faces Mets rookie Matt Harvey in the series finale Wednesday night.
The skies were dry but the fields were wet and that forced the Redskins into the bubble for their second OTA practice.
Here are my observations from the session:
OLB Junior Galette took a light workload but it was surprising that he did anything at all considering that he is 10 months removed from an Achilles tendon tear. He was sprinting during stretching and he took part in some team drills. It’s early but if he is healthy in September the Redskins’ pass rush could be a force.
Not present were TE Jordan Reed, OT Trent Williams, and RB Matt Jones. Jay Gruden said that Reed and Williams are working out elsewhere and he was vague about the absence of Jones, although he said that it was not unexpected.
Also in good health was TE Niles Paul. He suffered a shoulder injury in Week 8 last year and finished the season on injured reserve. The veteran appeared to be a full go in both individual and team drills.
RB Rob Kelley looks like he lost a few pounds in an effort to become more durable and maybe a little quicker. He also is sporting a new jersey number.
P Tress Way is in midseason form. He lofted a punt that landed in one of the light fixtures some 100 feet above the floor of the practice bubble and stayed in it. The third-year player said that he couldn’t do that again if he tried 100 times.
RB Mack Brown faces some serious competition for his job but he is not going to give it up easily. He looked good on some runs off tackle, showing some good speed and quickness.
They rotated a lot of defensive linemen through during team drills. Undrafted rookie Ondre Pipkins got a lot of run at nose tackle and Anthony Lanier played quite a few snaps at end as did Ziggy Hood. Top draft pick Jonathan Allen’s reps were somewhat limited as were those of Phil Taylor. They likely plan to rotate their linemen a lot throughout OTAs, minicamp, and training camp to try to find a good combination.
QB Kirk Cousins mostly kept to shorter passes but in seven on seven drills he did launch one deep down the middle that WR Maurice Harris went up and grabbed for the nicest offensive play of the day.
Rookie TE Jeremy Sprinkle dropped a pass on a short crossing pattern. As a fifth-round pick he can afford some mistakes now but he can’t drop too many in August.
QB Nate Sudfeld was shaky in the beginning, throwing a few passes at the shoe tops of his receivers. But he did get better as the practice went on, through some nice, accurate passes while rolling out.
Gruden called for a trick play at the end of on team session. Cousins threw a quick backwards pass to WR Jamison Crowder, who was on the left. RB Chris Thompson snuck out of the backfield and he was open along the right hashmark. But Crowder’s pass was underthrown, allowing ILB Zach Brown to break it up.
Brown, Will Compton, and Mason Foster rotated in and out at inside linebacker. All possible combinations of the three were on the field at various times. It will be interesting to see how the lineup settles in when the season starts.
I think that S D.J. Swearinger is going to be annoying to players and fans from other teams. After Harris caught a pass, he was jogging down the field with the ball after the whistle blew. Swearinger came up and gave the ball a bunch to try to knock it out of his grasp. It was more playful than violent but I can see how he will get under the skin of opponents.
WR Josh Doctson appears to be healthy. He turned on the jets to catch a QB Colt McCoy pass down the right sideline. Of course, it’s May and the goal is for him to be healthy in September but it looks like it’s so far, so good.
Alex Ovechkin is undeniably the best player to ever suit up for the Washington Capitals. He is the greatest goal scorer of a generation and one of the best players of all time. And yet, he is still struggling to find playoff success.
In 12 NHL seasons, Ovechkin has led the Capitals to the postseason nine times but has never made it past the second round. As the team’s best player, he receives most of the praise for the team’s successes and most of the blame for its failures. It would be unfair to pin all of the team’s playoff struggles on the Great 8 alone, but with an all-time great player to build around, the Capitals have been a team with championship aspirations and they simply have not lived up to that. And that has some people wondering if it may be time to move on.
Ovechkin will be 32 years old before the start of the 2017-18 season and Father Time, as they say, is undefeated. With a cap hit just over $9.5 million and no real postseason success to speak of, would the Capitals possibly consider trading him?
Now let’s be clear, if Wayne Gretzky can be traded, anyone can. I am not trying to say that it can’t happen, but here are a few reasons why it won’t:
He is still a productive player
Yes, Ovechkin is on the wrong side of 30, but with 33 goals this season he still was tied for the team lead and ranked 13th overall in the NHL. T.J. Oshie also scored 33 goals for the Caps and is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The Capitals likely do not have the money to re-sign Oshie, but even if they could, ask yourself this: Who is more likely to have more offensive production next season, a 30-year-old Oshie who has reached the 30-goal mark in a contract year for the first time in his entire career and who played in 68 games in 2016-17 due to injury or Ovechkin who has never scored fewer than 32 goals and has never played fewer than 72 games in a full 82-game season? He can’t keep up that pace forever, but there’s a good chance that even if Ovechkin takes a step back in 2017-18, he still may be a better offensive player than Oshie.
His cap hit makes him hard to move
Ovechkin has the fourth-highest cap hit among active players in the NHL. Most teams do not have $9.5 million worth of empty cap space with which to plug Ovechkin into the lineup and those that do usually carry that much space for a reason, namely, they are trying to save money. I do not foresee the Arizona Coyotes suddenly getting out the checkbook to pay for Ovechkin. Sometimes teams can find a way to make an even swap for a player with a similar cap hit. Just look at last offseason when the Montreal Canadiens traded P.K. Subban ($9 million cap hit) to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber (about $7.9 million cap hit). Let’s take a look at the top ten cap hits in the NHL to see if there is a possible trade there: Patrick Kane ($10.5 million), Jonathan Toews ($10.5 million), Anze Kopitar ($10 million), Evgeni Malkin ($9.5 million), Subban, Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million), Corey Perry (about $8.6 million), Steven Stamkos ($8.5 million) and Henrik Lunuqvist ($8.5 million). Do you see any trades on that list that would make sense for both teams because I don’t. That would mean teams would have to give up a significant package to Washington and I am not so sure he would be worth that to many suitors (more on that to come). There would be no shortage of interest for Ovechkin if he was available, but getting the math to work would be incredibly difficult.
Vegas does not make as much sense as you may think
While most teams do not have the cap space to make a deal work, there is one team with plenty of cap space and they just so happen to have the same general manager, George McPhee, who drafted Ovechkin. Yes, the Vegas Golden Knights are the wild card of the offseason as they have to find a way to build an entire roster from scratch. With plenty of money to spend and plenty of familiarity with Ovechkin, some see this as a match made in Heaven. It’s not. First, if there are any people out there with the crazy notion that Washington should simply leave Ovechkin exposed at the expansion draft in the hopes that McPhee will take him off their hands, that would be the worst possible move the Caps could make. Even if you are sold on the idea that they need to move Ovechkin, there is zero compensation for losing a player in the expansion draft. You cannot give Ovechkin up for nothing. Yes, Vegas could still try to make a trade, but just what exactly could they offer? The Golden Knights have only two players currently under contract. That’s it. With all due respect, the Caps are not trading Ovechkin for Duke Reid. Based on the set up of the expansion draft, it is not likely to yield Vegas anywhere close to the kind of talent the Caps would hope to get in return for a trade. Sure, McPhee could throw a bunch of draft picks at Washington, but if the Caps hope to win now with Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby, draft picks are not going to make this team any better in the present.
You can’t get equal value in return
Ovechkin will be a 32-year-old winger with little postseason success and a cap hit of over $9.5 million. If Ovechkin hits the trade market, he will have plenty of suitors, but the Capitals cannot possibly hope to get back anything close to equal value for him. First, considering everything he has accomplished, how long he has played for Washington, the fact that he is the team captain and the face of the franchise, he means more to the Capitals than he would to any other team in the NHL. Second, any potential trade partner will not approach this from the standpoint that they are trading for a generational talent, rather they would view Ovechkin as a star winger on the back half of his career with a massive cap hit. Whatever you think Ovechkin may be worth on the trade market, the other 30 NHL teams will have a much lower value of him and there is no point in pulling the trigger on a trade this big if you do not like what you are getting in return.
He has a modified no-trade clause
Ovechkin’s cap hit, age, postseason history and trade value are not the only obstacles the Caps face would face in making a potential deal. His contract also carries a modified no-trade clause that allows him to list 10 teams in which he cannot be traded to. That further limits the team’s options. Typically in these situations, when a team intends to pursue a trade they ask for the player to give them the list before they begin talking to other teams. In this day and age, it is impossible to keep news like that quiet. Somehow, someway, someone in the media would find out that the Caps requested Ovechkin’s list of 10 teams and report that the team was shopping him. When that happens, Ovechkin’s price tag would drop significantly. At that point, general manager Brian MacLellan would essentially have to be move him to prevent the story from becoming a perpetual distraction to the team. You cannot possibly expect the Caps to have a successful season if the news comes out that the team was shopping Ovechkin. At least that’s how every other general manager would view it. Motivated sellers are good news for a potential buyer, bad news for Ovechkin’s trade value.
He means too much to the franchise
Let’s turn the clocks back to a time before Ovechkin came to Washington. In the 2003-04 season, the Capitals ranked 25th in the league in home attendance with fewer than 15,000 fans per game. That’s fewer than the Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes and even the Atlanta Thrasers who later would pack their bags and move to Winnipeg. Ovechkin completely reignited the fan base in a way no player ever has in the team’s history. Of all the Caps fans out there today, a sizable number of them do not know Capitals hockey without Ovechkin, not because of their age, but because he is what ultimately drew them in and got them interested in the sport. He is a dynamic player with a fun personality that hockey fans across the league love to see play. Consider this, only 11 teams have ever appeared in the NHL Winter Classic. The Caps have played in it twice. Even the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers, all three of which are original six NHL franchises, have only made one appearance. That does not happen without Ovechkin. Nostalgia is a dangerous thing in sports and teams cannot allow themselves to be handcuffed by it, but it would be a hard sell to trade away the face of the franchise when many Caps fans, perhaps even a majority of them, were not around for the pre-Ovechkin days.
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