Can Stoutland save Danny Watkins' career?

slideshow-021113-eagles-watkins-uspresswire.jpg

Can Stoutland save Danny Watkins' career?

Before you write off Danny Watkins, before you file him in the drawer labeled “Busts” along with Jaiquawn Jarrett and Macho Harris, Jeff Stoutland would like a word with you.

The word is Patience.

Stoutland is the Eagles' new offensive line coach and he thinks Watkins still can be a big-time player. He has read the scouting reports and watched the film and he is convinced there is a lot there. So don’t ship Danny Boy back to the firehouse just yet.

“I know what a good player looks like,” Stoutland said on Monday, “and I like what I see in Danny.”

Stoutland should know what a good player looks like. He spent the 2012 season coaching the Alabama offensive line, the line that crushed Notre Dame in the BCS title game, a line with three stud players -- center Barrett Jones, guard Chance Warmack and tackle D.J. Fluker -- that will go early in April’s draft.

Watkins was a first-round pick two years ago but now he is viewed as a colossal mistake. He lost his starting job to a guy off the street (Jake Scott) last season. He fell so far out of favor with the Eagles' coaches that he didn’t even dress for the final two games.

Most fans see Watkins as a lost cause. Stoutland sees something entirely different.

“I think Danny Watkins is a winner,” Stoutland said. “He’s athletic, he’s explosive. I see a young man with a lot of talent.”

The first question that comes to mind is, “What film was Stoutland watching?” The player he described bore no resemblance to Watkins. It was almost painful to watch Watkins on film last season; he looked lost and ineffective.

Consider this: the Eagles started five different line combinations. They lost three starters to injury: Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans. By the end of the season, they were starting a seventh-round pick (King Dunlap), a rookie (Dennis Kelly), an undrafted free agent (Dallas Reynolds) and Scott, who was out of the league when the season began. And Watkins couldn’t crack that lineup?

There is a temptation to write him off as a bad pick, an over-aged college player with a limited football background, a reach that didn’t pan out. Those things happen. You cut your losses and move on. But the Eagles are determined to salvage Watkins, and Stoutland is the man entrusted with that responsibility.

Can it work? Like so much else about the Chip Kelly regime, we’ll have to wait and see. But at least Watkins has a clean slate with this staff and, in Stoutland, he has a coach who will do everything possible to rebuild his confidence.

Kelly described Stoutland as “a creative, cutting-edge line coach with old-school toughness.” He said Stoutland’s strength is his ability to make “complex things very simple.” That is exactly what Watkins needs if he hopes to succeed.

Stoutland will simplify things for Watkins. Howard Mudd, the previous line coach, made them more complicated. Mudd’s techniques were unlike anything most of the linemen had played before. It was particularly hard for Watkins, who had played so little football. Also, Stoutland believes in stressing the positive. Mudd was more critical. Maybe a pat on the back is what Watkins needs at this point.

Greg Austin, the assistant offensive line coach, is 28, the same age as Watkins. Like Stoutland, he believes in positive reinforcement.

“We’re going to be the most positive coaches on the field,” Austin said. “Jeff said, ‘I’ll never give up on one of our guys.’ I like that approach. I’m sure it will make guys play better.

“We’re going to put Danny in situations where he can be successful. There is no reason why he can’t be. He is a big, explosive guy. We want our linemen to play fast and physical. Danny can do that.”

Watkins has the size (6-3, 310 pounds) and strength. Watching him on film, it appears his biggest problem is indecision. If the defense runs a blitz or a stunt, Watkins is often left flat-footed with his head spinning. It has happened often enough that it wrecked his confidence. Instead of being the aggressive drive blocker he was in college, Watkins became a guy who was pushed around.

If Stoutland can put Watkins in a system he understands and teach him techniques that he is comfortable with, maybe then he can rebuild his confidence and develop into the lineman the Eagles drafted him to be. There is a lot riding on this. If Stoutland can’t unlock Watkins’ potential and he spends another year in the shadows, that probably will be the end of it and he will officially be a bust.

But Stoutland doesn’t foresee that.

“I can’t wait to get my hands on Danny and start coaching him,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Phillies show fight in 7-run comeback but see 3-game winning streak snapped in loss to Brewers

usa-hector-neris-phillies-brewers.jpg
USA Today Images

Phillies show fight in 7-run comeback but see 3-game winning streak snapped in loss to Brewers

BOX SCORE

The big-picture implications of Jeremy Hellickson’s start Saturday against Milwaukee — i.e., his trade value, potential destination, etc. — were left to others to ponder.

Hellickson was more concerned about smaller matters.

Like the eight pitches he threw to Eric Thames in the third inning.

Or the three batters who followed Thames.

In Hellickson’s mind, that’s where the game was lost, as opposed to when the Brewers’ Domingo Santana lined a single to left off Hector Neris in the ninth, chasing home the tie-breaking run in a 9-8 Milwaukee victory (see Instant Replay).

Hellickson, left with a messy no-decision after the Phillies wiped out an 8-1 deficit, was more than willing to shoulder responsibility for the result.

“It just sucks, you know, scoring eight runs and you lose,” the veteran right-hander said. “Usually that falls on the starter, which it did tonight.”

Others might point to the decision by manager Pete Mackanin to bunt amid a three-run eighth inning or the sign that was missed by rookie Cameron Perkins on that play. But that was Hellickson’s story, and he was sticking to it.

In his next-to-last outing before the July 31 trade deadline, he was nicked for six runs in five innings. His ERA, 1.80 in April, is 5.81 since. He is in the last year of his contract and thus might have value as a rental to some team looking for an arm.

But again, there’s the small picture.

“That's not a start I want,” he said, “no matter what's going on.”

Lost in the debris was a 4 for 4 night by Odubel Herrera, who’s hitting .331 since June 1, not to mention three-run homers by Cesar Hernandez and Cameron Rupp, the second of which forged the 8-8 tie in the eighth.

“That was a tough one to take,” Mackanin said. “You’re down by seven runs, 8-1. I thought we had the momentum going in our favor, and we just couldn’t get it done.”

Hellickson rolled through the first two innings, and had two outs and a man on in the third when Thames came to the plate.

An eight-pitch duel following, ending with a walk.

“That was a good at-bat,” Hellickson said. “He put a couple good at-bats on me today. Especially with the humidity and (Ryan) Braun coming up, it was a good at-bat.”

Braun, a certified Phillie-killer (.379 lifetime against them, .398 in Citizens Bank Park), had lined a single through the box in the first. This time he roped a double into the right field corner to score the game’s first two runs.

Braun took third on the throw, then scored on a wild pitch with Travis Shaw at the plate. Shaw rocketed Hellickson’s 2-1 changeup to center for a double and came home when Santana singled on a first-pitch curveball.

So, 4-0.

“I think (the start) was good except for that four-batter span there in that third inning,” Hellickson said. “Can't walk Thames with two outs. … I’ve just got to find a way to get out of that inning after the second out.”

Braun, 3 for 3 in the game, also hit a two-run homer in the fifth. Herrera, who also doubled twice, answered with a solo shot in the bottom of that inning.

Milwaukee’s lead grew to 8-1 in the seventh. Braun drew a walk from reliever Adam Morgan, but Morgan later had him dead to rights on a pickoff attempt. Trouble is, first baseman Tommy Joseph overthrew second base, and leftfielder Howie Kendrick allowed the ball to get through him. Braun, as a result, came all the way around to score.

The paying customers, you may be sure, were not thrilled — even less so when Shaw followed with a homer.

The comeback followed. Four runs in the seventh, including Hernandez’s tracer into the seats in right-center. Rupp’s opposite-field shot an inning later.

Perkins singled after Rupp’s homer, the Phillies’ fourth straight hit off struggling reliever Jacob Barnes. Mackanin then asked Hernandez to sacrifice, but he popped up to Shaw, who was charging from third.

Perkins “misinterpreted” the sign, according to Mackanin, thinking the hit-and-run was on. He was, as a result, doubled off first. Inning over. Comeback, too.

“It was fun to watch,” Hellickson said of the rally. “Just got to find a way to get that third out with nobody on base.”

That’s how things looked from his vantage point, anyway. Others were, in the meantime, scanning the big picture.

Best of MLB: Cubs rally in 8th, edge Cardinals after pitchers' duel

usa-ben-zobrist-cubs.jpg
USA Today Images

Best of MLB: Cubs rally in 8th, edge Cardinals after pitchers' duel

CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant galloped home from first base on Anthony Rizzo's bloop double, capping a three-run rally in the eighth inning that sent the Chicago Cubs over the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 Saturday in the ever-tightening NL Central race.

A classic pitchers' duel between Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright kept it scoreless into the eighth. The Cubs began the day one game behind shaky Milwaukee for the division lead, with the Cardinals 3 1/2 back of the Brewers.

After Paul DeJong and Randal Grichuk hit two-out homers off Lester for a 2-0 lead, the Cubs came back.

Ben Zobrist's RBI double with two outs made it 2-1 and chased Wainwright. Bryant greeted reliever Matt Bowman (2-4) with a broken-bat single that tied it.

Brett Cecil then relieved and on a 3-2 pitch, Rizzo followed a looper toward left-center. Bryant ran hard the whole way and slid home as catcher Yadier Molina couldn't control center fielder Dexter Fowler's one-hop throw.

Lester (7-6), who had a perfect game until Wainwright singled with two outs in the sixth, struck out 10. Wade Davis walked a pair with two outs before striking out Molina for his 19th saves in 19 chances (see full recap).

Hundley's single lifts Giants past Padres in 12
SAN FRANCISCO -- Nick Hundley singled in Kelby Tomlinson with two outs in the 12th inning, lifting the San Francisco Giants to a 5-4 victory over the San Diego Padres on Saturday.

Pinch-hitter Tomlinson reached on a fielder's choice and took second on a wild pitch from Kevin Quackenbush (0-2). After Hunter Pence flied out, Hundley lined an 0-1 pitch over the head of left fielder Jose Pirela as Tomlinson rounded third and scored without a throw.

It was the Giants' second win in the last nine games against their division rivals at AT&T Park.

Eduardo Nunez had three hits and two RBIs, Hundley singled twice and San Francisco took advantage of an error by San Diego shortstop Allen Cordoba that led to three unearned runs.

Will Myers hit his second homer in two days as part of San Diego's four-run fourth but the Padres wasted multiple opportunities and lost for the fourth time in six games (see full recap).

Rangers turn 3 Rays miscues into win
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Texas turned three Tampa Bay miscues into a three-run sixth inning and the Rangers beat the Rays 4-3 on Saturday night.

The Rangers took a 4-3 lead during the decisive sixth when two runs scored after center fielder Mallex Smith misplayed Adrian Beltre's two-out deep fly ball, and Beltre scored on two wild pitches by Chris Archer with Mike Napoli at the plate.

Elvis Andrus, who entered the series hitless in 16 at-bats, homered in his second consecutive three-hit game for the Rangers, who have won two straight following a five-game skid.

Andrew Cashner (5-8) gave up three runs and four hits over six innings. Alex Claudio, the third Rangers reliever, got four outs for his fourth save.

Claudio went two scoreless innings in Texas' 4-3, 10-inning win over the Rays Friday night to get his second win.

Archer (7-6) allowed four runs, four hits and struck out 11 to set a team record with his 24th career game with double-digit strikeouts. game. David Price had 23 double-digit strikeout games with the Rays (see full recap).

Lindor's home run in 10th inning lifts Indians past Toronto
CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the 10th inning and the Cleveland Indians defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 2-1 on Saturday night.

Lindor hit a 2-2 pitch from Danny Barnes (2-3) to right field for his 15th homer of the season just as a hard rain began to fall. Lindor dashed around the bases and was mobbed his teammates at home plate and was doused by several coolers of water.

The Progressive Field grounds crew put the tarp on the field while Cleveland's players were still celebrating the victory.

Bryan Shaw (3-4) retired Kevin Pillar on a groundout with two on to end the 10th.

Danny Salazar came off the disabled list and held Toronto to one hit in seven innings. Cleveland led 1-0, but Justin Smoak homered on Andrew Miller's first pitch in the eighth (see full recap).