Is this man the hottest pitcher in baseball?

Is this man the hottest pitcher in baseball?

From Comcast SportsNetMINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- All King Felix needs is one.Felix Hernandez struck out five in a five-hitter and Eric Thames hit a solo homer in the eighth inning to lift the Seattle Mariners to a 1-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday night.Hernandez (13-5), who picked up his 23rd career complete game and ninth shutout, hasn't lost a decision since June 12. He is 4-0 in 1-0 games this season, becoming just the third pitcher since 1969 to be that successful in 1-0 ballgames."He's the real deal. That's why he's King Felix," Thames said. "That's why he's got the Cy Young, the perfect game, all that stuff. I'm officially a believer. I'm glad he's on my team."Franklin Gutierrez went 1 for 2 with two stolen bases in his first game since being sidelined June 28 because of a concussion.Liam Hendriks (0-7) was almost King-like, but it wasn't quite enough to get him his first career victory. He gave up three hits and struck out six in nine outstanding innings, his only blemish the homer to Thames."It was a good feeling, especially to know that it gave Felix a lead and once he has a lead, he's light's out," Thames said. "It's awesome."Joe Mauer had a single and Justin Morneau had a triple for the Twins, who have lost 14 of their last 17.Hernandez's brilliance came as no surprise. The Venezuelan has long been one of baseball's best pitchers, and he's on a roll these days even by his sterling standards as he chases a second AL Cy Young award. In his last 14 starts, he is 9-0 with a 1.40 ERA, 100 strikeouts, 17 walks and a perfect game. He's allowed one earned run or fewer a staggering 16 times in 27 starts this season."I've been consistent the last two months," Hernandez said. "I've been trying to throw strikes, been trying to get ahead of every hitter and mix all my pitches. That's the key right now, throw strikes."To watch Hendriks, a 23-year-old Aussie who hasn't picked up a win in 14 career starts and has been sent back down to Triple-A twice this season, match King Felix pitch for pitch through seven innings was something entirely unexpected. He needed just 68 pitches to get through six innings against the free-swinging Mariners before Thames got him in the eighth.Gutierrez singled in the first inning, a welcome sight for a Mariners offense that has missed his right-handed bat in the lineup and his glove in center field. But the mental part of his recovery from the concussion he suffered when he was hit on the ear by a pickoff attempt against Boston is ongoing.When Hendriks tried to pick him off two pitches later, Gutierrez gingerly scurried back to first base, protecting his head with his right hand. Later in the sixth, Hendriks buzzed him with a pitch up and in that appeared to hit Gutierrez on the hand, and the outfielder wasn't happy as he stomped off to first base."Every time he was throwing over, I was having flashbacks," Gutierrez said. "I think it's going to take time. Every time I remembered what happened. It's going to take a while to forget about that. Every time I go to first base, you're going to see me try to protect my face and whatever I can. It's going to take time."He took an extra-base hit away from Trevor Plouffe in the third, ranging to the wall in left-center and leaping to grab it as Plouffe just shook his head. Hernandez grinned as he watched his center fielder haul it in, hinting that another magical night could be in the offing.Not exactly perfect, he walked Josh Willingham in the second inning, but he was carving up the Twins and kept a no-hitter going until Mauer singled with two outs in the fourth inning. The Twins had two on in the fifth and Morneau led off the seventh with a triple before Hernandez steeled himself and got Ryan Doumit, Plouffe and Jamey Carroll to ground out and keep Minnesota scoreless."That's why he's one of the best, if not the best, in the league," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.NOTES:Ferguson Jenkins in 1974 and Bert Blyleven in 1976 are the only other pitchers since 1969 to have four wins in 1-0 ballgames in a season. ... It's the second nine-decision win streak of Hernandez's career. The only other Mariners pitcher to have two win streaks of at least nine decisions is Randy Johnson. ... Mauer passed Earl Battey for the most games caught by a Twins player, catching his 832nd on Monday night. "It's a pretty neat little deal," Mauer said. ... LHP Scott Diamond (10-5, 3.04) will start on Tuesday for the Twins against RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (4-3, 3.64). Diamond is appealing a six-game suspension handed down after he was ejected from his last start for throwing behind Texas OF Josh Hamilton. Iwakuma is 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA in his last seven starts.

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Can Redskins' Cousins continue to avoid the turnover bug?

Can Redskins' Cousins continue to avoid the turnover bug?

During the Kirk Cousins franchise tag/long-term contract debate, the question of whether or not Cousins could continue to play as well as he did in the last 10 games of 2015 was pivotal. In that stretch of games he completed 72.4 percent of his passes with an average of 8.7 yards per attempt with 23 touchdowns and three interceptions. His passer rating was 119.1.

Those who saw that run as a fluke were not inclined to want the Redskins to give Cousins a long-term deal near the top of the quarterback pay scale. Those who saw the stretch as things clicking for a quarterback in his first year as a starter were inclined to lobby the Redskins to lock him up no matter what it cost.

How realistic is it to expect Cousins to repeat that stretch over a full season? It would be difficult. His completion percentage of 72.4 would top Drew Brees’ single-season record of 71.2 percent. The passer rating of 119.1 would be the fourth best of all time, better than any season ever posted by Tom Brady, Steve Young, Breese, and others.

From the same perspective, it might be a little easier for Cousins to repeat what he did in the interception department. In the last 10 games he threw three of them in 315 pass attempts, a percentage of 1.0 percent. Eight quarterbacks have had an interception percentage of 1.0 or lower for a full season. Some of them, like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, are among the best quarterbacks ever. Others, like Damon Huard, Nick Foles and Joe Ferguson, are not.

A look at the single-season leaders list implies that some luck may be involved when it comes to interception avoidance. You see a lot of players, like Huard, Ferguson, Seneca Wallace, Brian Griese, and, yes, Robert Griffin III who have seasons ranking in the top 30 of all time and never came close to duplicating it again. Griese, for example, had 1.2 percent of his passes intercepted in 10 games in 2000. In his 10 NFL seasons before and after that he never had an interception percentage lower than 3.6; his career average was 3.5 percent. That’s about a percentage point over average.

Was Cousins just lucky towards the end of last year? Some who have looked at the latter part of his season closely think so. Matt Williamson does scouting work for ESPN and some other publications. Focusing just on the last half of the season, he said that he saw a lot of interceptions dropped.

While he only threw two interceptions during that eight-game stretch, quite a few more easily could have ended up in the other team’s hands - and probably should have. This was even truer in his uninspiring playoff game against Green Bay, the last time we saw Cousins.

I will say that I am suspicious of statements like that. How many is “quite a few”? Four? Ten? More? What is the standard for a “drop”? And all quarterbacks benefit from would-be interceptions that get dropped. How do Cousins’ dropped picks compare to those of other quarterbacks? More? Fewer? About the same?

But there it is and you can take it however you would like. The fact that he had a career 3.9 interception percentage going into that 10-game stretch lends some credence to the theory that Cousins benefitted from some good luck. But it’s also possible that he figured out how to avoid the turnover bug after 15 NFL starts prior to the game against the Bucs that got things rolling for him.

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OPEN THREAD: Las Vegas betting information shows lack of respect for Redskins

OPEN THREAD: Las Vegas betting information shows lack of respect for Redskins

Last year the Redskins won nine games and took the NFC East title. Washington brings back largely the same team for 2016, and had a quiet, relatively drama free offseason. 

But in Las Vegas, none of that matters. 

Washington opens the year at home as underdogs against the Steelers, and considering that home field is generally worth three points toward the spread, clearly the betmakers don't expect much from the 'Skins. Or the betting public doesn't, that's for sure.

MORE REDSKINS: NILES PAUL STILL AN OPTION

Pittsburgh is good, last year they went 10-6 and have two of the games best in QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown. Star running back Le'Veon Bell may miss the game, however, due to a suspension. It will be interesting to see if the line moves once Bell's situation becomes finalized.

Surprised by the overwhelming Steelers support? Should the spread look different? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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Nats' Giolito returns to minors: 'It’s back to the drawing board'

Nats' Giolito returns to minors: 'It’s back to the drawing board'

For the second time in two weeks, the Nationals have sent top prospect Lucas Giolito back down to the minors to work on some things.

The former first round pick who many consider to be the top prospect in baseball has hit a rough patch this season. His talent has been well-documented and it's obvious on the mound. But the results at the big league level have yet to follow through three MLB starts and even Giolito will admit he is not where he wants to be.

The Nationals saw Giolito labor through 3 2/3 innings against the Padres on Sunday, then sent him to Triple-A Syracuse 90 minutes after the game was over. The kid who has the stuff to strike out anybody struck out nobody in his latest MLB turn and only got one swing-and-miss in his 66 pitches.

Something is off and they are determined to figure it out.

“I was talking to [Wilson] Ramos when I took him out and he said he just couldn’t get any of his secondary pitches over, his curveball or his changeup," manager Dusty Baker said. "He was really down to one pitch. And you have to have either tremendous gas, or you have to be able to locate to the max. It’s back to the drawing board with him.”

Baker has offered detailed critiques of Giolito since he debuted on June 28. Part of him has been impressed by the 22-year-old. But as a 21-year veteran MLB manager, he's seen countless top prospects and knows Giolito has plenty of work to do to reach his potential.

Last week when the Nats chose prospect Reynaldo Lopez to face the Dodgers instead of Giolito, Baker offered a blunt assessment.

"What we want… in the progress of certain players, it doesn't coincide sometimes," he said. 

Giolito's fastball reached 95 and 96 on Sunday, but sometimes dipped to the 91-93 range. That's fine, but nowhere near the upper 90s to 100 he has thrown in the past.

But, as Baker describes, it's not so much the velocity that is hurting him. It's the inability to command his curveball and changeup. Giolito only threw four changeups on Sunday.

"I wasn't commanding my off speed pitches for strikes," Giolito said. "So when I fall behind batters instead of being able to go to changeup or curveball, I was throwing fastballs and big league hitters are able to take my offspeed pitches out of the equation if I'm not throwing it for a strike. So, they kind of jumped on that."

Giolito's offspeed repertoire has been a work in progress all season and he has had trouble walking batters as a result. On Sunday, he walked three batters and now has nine through three big league starts. In the minors this season, Giolito has walked 36 batters in 84 2/3 innings.

During spring training, his first big league camp, Giolito's curveball and changeup were sharp. But as the season has progressed, he's seen his command come and go. 

"It's frustrating because my last outing at Syracuse I was commanding offspeed pitches pretty well and I had a good outing. I didn't translate that into today, obviously. I just have to keep working and try to get better at it," he said.

Along the way Giolito has made several minor mechanical adjustments. But lately, he has been working with a noticeable one, his delivery has been compacted to eliminate a full windup. Instead, Giolito almost works out of the stretch even when runners are not on base.

"I augmented my windup so that I already have my foot planted from where I start it from instead of the movement before hand, I felt like that's been a good change for me, kind of less movement going into the windup. I feel comfortable doing that," he said.

Making changes, both big and small, is part of the learning process for Giolito as a professional pitcher. The Nationals are confident he'll soon be able to tap into his immense potential, it's just going to take some time for him to figure it out.

[RELATED: Nats option Giolito, Taylor to make room on roster]

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