This injured star is almost ready to return

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This injured star is almost ready to return

From Comcast SportsNetPITTSBURGH (AP) -- Rashard Mendenhall's surgically repaired right knee feels so good, the Steelers running back isn't even wearing so much as an ace bandage over it when he practices."I put a sleeve on for a day and didn't like it," Mendenhall said. "I feel better without anything on it."The 25-year-old hardly looked like he needed one on Wednesday. Asked by coach Mike Tomlin to knock Mendenhall around a little bit, Pittsburgh's defense obliged by getting a couple of shots in during their one padded workout of the week.How it'd feel?"It was cool," Mendenhall said. "I was all good."And -- the Steelers hope -- their running game will be too.Though it's still uncertain whether Mendenhall will be ready to play on Sunday when the Steelers (1-1) travel to Oakland (0-2), there's little doubt he's inching closer to a return barely nine months removed from surgery to repair the ACL he tore in last year's regular season finale against Cleveland."He looked fast," offensive guard Willie Colon said. "Everything I saw was a good sign."Pittsburgh could certainly use a healthy Mendenhall to help take some of the pressure off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.The Steelers rank 30th in the NFL in rushing with just 141 yards through the season's first two weeks and are averaging an anemic 2.6 yards per carry. Nearly 20 percent of their 54 running plays have gone for negative yardage, though Roethlisberger and one of the league's top receiving corps has helped Pittsburgh control the ball for more than 35 minutes a game behind some third-down heroics.Roethlisberger, however, knows his team won't continue to convert 56 percent (19 of 34) of its third downs if something doesn't start happening on the ground."We don't want to do that all year," Roethlisberger said. "I can tell you that much."Mendehall's presence means they might not have to.He narrowly missed his third straight 1,000-yard season last fall due in part to a slightly decreased workload and an awkward step against Cleveland on New Year's Day when he tried to plant while trying to cut back near the sideline only to have his knee buckle.Mendenhall didn't even travel to Denver for the playoff game, where replacement Isaac Redman rushed for a respectable 121 yards in a 29-23 overtime loss to the Broncos. Though he underwent surgery shortly after getting hurt, Mendenhall has been careful not to put a definite timetable on his rehab. Still, he's grown increasingly more active in practice over the last two weeks.Asked if he believes he can play on Sunday against the Raiders, Mendenhall shrugged his shoulders and said "possibly," while remaining vague about what exactly it will take for him to get cleared."When there's a green light," Mendenhall said, "that's what I'm preparing for."Having Mendenhall's familiar No. 34 in the backfield would certainly be a welcome sight for the Steelers. Redman has done little through two games. A quarter of his 23 carries have ended with Redman getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage. Jonathan Dwyer has been more consistent -- rushing for 71 yards on 21 carries -- but is dealing with a turf toe that relegated him to watching practice in sweats on Wednesday.New Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley promised to develop a physical presence in the running game that he used so successfully during his two-plus year tenure as coach in Kansas City. It hasn't quite happened yet and Tomlin acknowledged it's an area that needs some work."We have got a desire to have balance, to be able to attack people in ways that we desire," Tomlin said. "Over time we better be continually moving toward that. Obviously there's been somewhat of an imbalance to this point, but that's just eight quarters of football."At times, the Steelers appear to be experimenting with schemes. They pitched wide to the lumbering Redman on the second play of the game last Sunday against the New York Jets only to see him get slammed for a seven-yard loss. On third-and-9 on the same possession, they converted by sending wide receiver Antonio Brown on an end around.Mendenhall described the mixed results on the ground the result of growing pains. Pittsburgh ran the ball on 17 of their 27 first-down plays against New York in an attempt to set a tone, though center Maurkice Pouncey doesn't think predictability is a problem."Whatever coach calls we've got to go out and execute," he said. "It doesn't matter if he calls a triple reverse, we've got to go out and block it."Besides, the season is still young and Mendenhall believes the offense is still searching for its identity."I think we're still getting in the groove of things with Haley," he said. "We're still shaping it."NOTES:In addition to Dwyer, linebacker James Harrison (knee), safety Troy Polamalu (calf), right tackle Marcus Gilbert (groin), tight end Heath Miller (abdomen) and wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders (knee) and Mike Wallace (groin) did not practice ... Tackle Mike Adams (back) and linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (knee) were limited.

Papelbon's blown save snaps Nats' win streak against Royals

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Papelbon's blown save snaps Nats' win streak against Royals

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 7-6 walkoff loss to the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium: 

How it happened: The Nationals were on the brink of their fifth straight win when Jonathan Papelbon took the mound Tuesday night, but waiting for him was the middle of the Royals' order in a lineup that can grind out at-bats and make their own luck as well as any team in baseball. They got to Papelbon and they did it their way: a soft infield single to beat a shift, a stolen base by a pinch-runner and two RBI singles to finish the job. The Royals didn't need a single extrabase hit to erase a two-run deficit and steal a win from the Nationals.

Mike Moustakas tied the game with his RBI single in the bottom of the ninth and Lorenzo Cain ended it on a walkoff line drive to center field, as the Nationals fell to 18-8 on the season. Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Chris Heisey homered, Wilson Ramos returned with three hits and Tanner Roark made it 7 1/3 innings. But it wasn't enough with Papelbon's second blown save of the season.

What it means: The Nationals have to still feel great about their road trip so far despite Tuesday's loss, but the Papelbon failure in the ninth has to be concerning. It was his second blown save this season in 11 attempts. That puts him on a troubling pace.

Papelbon's drop-off: Speaking of that pace. If he blows two saves every 11 opportunities, he'll have seven by the time he gets 40 chances. For a comparison, Rafael Soriano lost his job as closer in 2014 with seven blown saves. Papelbon now sports a 4.50 ERA on the season. 

Ramos picks up where he left off: Ramos hadn't played since April 24 due to the death of his grandfather, but he had quite the return on Tuesday night. Ramos had three hits including two doubles, the first to score a run in the sixth inning. It was Ramos' sixth multi-hit game this season and his first since April 15. The Buffalo is now batting .344 through 16 games.

Rendon finally gets a homer: One of the biggest surprises this season so far for the Nationals has been the lack of power numbers for Rendon, who two years ago was one of the best players in the NL. He entered Tuesday night slugging just .290 and had yet to hit a home run in in 100 at-bats. Well, that homer finally came in the first inning off Chris Young, a solo blast to left field. It was Rendon's first home run in 191 at-bats dating back to Sept. 14 of last season. Rendon hit 21 homers in 2014 and has the potential for even more. Perhaps that swing can get him going.

Murphy goes yard: Murphy hit his third homer of the season on Tuesday, a solo shot to right field off Young to make it a 3-2 game. Murphy now has three homers in 26 games with the Nats, which puts him on a 19-homer pace over a full 162 game season. That's a notch or two ahead of the 14 homers he hit in 130 regular season games in 2015, which was a 17-homer pace over 162 games.

Harper keeps scuffling: With all the talk this week about who should star in Space Jam 2, Harper has looked in recent days like he's auditioning for a role. Maybe somewhere in the galaxy right now a Nerdluck is blasting homer after homer into the oblivion. Okay, maybe not. But the real life Harper had another rough night Tuesday with zero hits in five at-bats and three strikeouts. Harper has multiple Ks in three straight games and is now batting .256 on the year. 

Up next: The Nats and Royals close out their series in Kansas City with a 2:15 p.m. start. Stephen Strasburg (4-0, 2.25) will look to continue his excellent run to begin the season. Right-hander Kris Medlen (1-2, 4.87) will take the mound for the Royals. After Wednesday, the Nats move on to Chicago for a four-game series at Wrigley against the Cubs.

Trumbo's two home runs give Orioles the win over the Yankees

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Trumbo's two home runs give Orioles the win over the Yankees

BALTIMORE –- Mark Trumbo had a terrific first month with the Orioles. His second month began spectacularly, too. 

In April, Trumbo’s heroics were overshadowed by Manny Machado’s all around stellar play. While Trumbo was certainly in consideration for American League Player of the Month, Machado was the proper choice. 

When oddsmaker Bovada released its latest projections on AL MVP early Tuesday afternoon, Machado was the 15:4 favorite, but Trumbo was in the conversation as well with 10:1 odds. 

Trumbo’s two home runs on Tuesday night helped power the Orioles to a 4-1 win over the New York Yankees before 16,083 at Oriole Park. 

His first home run, which was his seventh this season was a long shot estimated at 414 feet, to deep left field. 

Trumbo hit a two-run homer in the fifth off Luis Severino. That gave the Orioles a 4-1 lead, and it was Trumbo’s eighth, and his second two homer game. The first came on Apr. 15 at Texas when he became the first Oriole to hit two in an inning. 

“I think it’s been a lot of fun. At-bats wise, I think I’ve done kind of what I was hoping to do. There’s still a number of things I’d like to accomplish as we go and shore up a few mechanical things, but as far as the numbers themselves go, I think it’s about all I could ask for,” Trumbo said. 

Trumbo doesn’t have to be the man in the Orioles lineup. There’s Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Manny Machado. 

“I think it is a big help. I think getting a chance to see a few similar hitters in front of me and how they are attacking those guys can be a huge advantage if I’m hitting fifth, they have to go thru Manny and Jonesey. It really is a situation where you can totally be yourself, have your at-bats, try and contribute the way you do, and you don't have to do a single ounce extra because everyone is going to do their part,” Trumbo said. 

Manager Buck Showalter has tried to convince his hitters to “pass the baton,” not to feel an extra responsibility. 

“I think all [hitters] are sometimes where they don’t feel like they’ve got the weight of the world on their shoulders. But this is not like his first time in the big leagues. He’s got a pretty good track record of what he’s doing now in April and now May,” Showalter said.

“I think he’s a guy, regardless, I could tell about halfway through the spring it was going to be a pretty good fit in a lot of areas other than what he would bring statistically. He seems to really fit in quickly and I felt that way whether he was hitting like he is or not. He’s been a real good fit for how we have to do it.”

The Orioles (15-10) scored their second run in the fourth when Jonathan Schoop doubled with two outs and scored when Severino (0-4) dropped Mark Teixeira’s relay on Ryan Flaherty’s grounder to first. 

Machado started at shortstop in place of J.J. Hardy and for the third time this season, made an ill-advised dash for third. Machado doubled to start the fifth, and ran for third when Adam Jones grounded to shortstop Didi Gregorius. Machado was easily thrown out. 

Chris Tillman didn’t have a clean inning until his last one, but allowed just one run in seven innings. 

Tillman (3-1) gave up five hits, walked four and struck out nine including his last three in the seventh. It was the second straight start in which Tillman equaled his career high in strikeouts. 

“I think it’s being able to throw my offspeed for strikes. It’s been something that I worked on a lot last year and it never really came along for me in spring training. I kind of had a good feel for it and was able to carry it over. In bullpens, I worked hard on that. It's something that [Matt Wieters] has to consistently remind me of throughout the game. In certain counts, he's calling a breaking ball where I normally wouldn't do it. He's keeping me on my toes, that’s for sure,” Tillman said. 

New York (8-16), loser of six straight, scored in the second off Tillman on a run-scoring single by Gregorius. 

Tillman is the second Orioles pitcher to work seven innings this season. Ubaldo Jimenez on Apr. 7 was the first. 

Brad Brach, who often works the seventh, pitched a scoreless eighth in Zach Britton’s temporary absence. 

Darren O’Day recorded his second save with a scoreless ninth. 

NOTES: Alex Rodriguez suffered a strained left hamstring. … CC Sabathia (1-2, 5.06) faces Tyler Wilson (1-0, 3.06) on Wednesday night.

MORE ORIOLES: WILL MACHADO MOVE TO SHORTSTOP WHILE HARDY IS OUT?

Stray cats and elephant poop: The strange stories of the NHL playoffs

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USA TODAY Sports

Stray cats and elephant poop: The strange stories of the NHL playoffs

Every year, the Stanley Cup Playoffs bring out some compelling storylines...and a few weird ones. Just like the story of the stray cat in San Jose.

Prior to Friday's game between the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators, a stray black cat jumped out onto the ice.

The cat of course became an instant celebrity, especially after San Jose won the game 5-2 and was dubbed "Joe PAW-velski" after team captain Joe Pavelski.

After receiving interest from several fans wishing to adopt the cat, the Sharks released a statement saying it would be brought to an animal shelter to ensure it did not have a microchip and was a stray and then it would be made available for adoption.

The Sharks won both of their first games at home and now the series heads to Nashville. Hoping for some luck of their own, the Predators tried to recreate the moment.

In other animal related news, the series between the Dallas Stars and the St. Louis Blues has sparked an interesting wager between two zoos.

According to Yahoo Sports' Puck Daddy blog, the losing zoo's vice president will have to travel to the winner’s zoo, wear a jersey and hat of the winning team and shovel 250 pounds of elephant poop.

I guess it's true what they say about vice presidents, they always have to shovel someone else's poop.

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