For Their Own Safety: Eagles Add O.J. Atogwe

For Their Own Safety: Eagles Add O.J. Atogwe

The Eagles surprised and even disappointed a few people when they did not address the safety position in the draft back in April, and after some flirtation with free agent Yeremiah Bell last month, he ultimately wound up signing with the Jets. It appeared the Birds were prepared to roll with what they had back there, but that changed on Tuesday.

24 hours after reports emerged from some unlikely sources, the team finalized a one-year deal with veteran safety O.J. Atogwe, who is expected to compete for a back-up job -- some might say more.

The Rams released Atogwe following the 2010 season, just one year after agreeing to a long-term contract, to avoid paying him an $8 million roster bonus. Atogwe, who turns 31 this week, spent the first six seasons of his NFL career in St. Louis before signing another five-year deal with the Redskins last March. They in turn dumped him as free agency was getting underway this year.

A third-round pick in '05, Atogwe has had trouble staying healthy, which has played a role in derailing his career. A major shoulder injury knocked him out of the Rams' final four games in '09, which in part led to the front office's unwillingness to work out a true long-term deal. Last season, various lower body injuries cost him three more games, and he was relegated to backup down the stretch.

Atogwe is highly regarded for his football IQ, and while he's slipped out of his prime, he can still contribute when healthy. He was thought to be a possible free agent target of the Eagles in years past, so it's funny he ends up here now to far less fanfare.

How He Fits

There's been a lot of talk already about how this addition impacts the guys here now -- Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, and Jaiquawn Jarrett. Let's jump right into it.

First, the starters. Keep in mind, we're not ruling anything out, but we don't anticipate Atogwe to battling with either of the starters for their jobs this summer. Fully healthy and ready to go for camp, Allen's position appears to be locked down for sure. He played well in several games last season, especially as the year went on, and he has the highest ceiling of any of the guys on the roster.

Coleman's spot, on the other hand, seems a bit more fluid. As long as he eliminates some of the mental mistakes, he can overcome his limited ability and be a productive player for the Eagles -- though that is a big if. Still, Coleman has the upperhand over Atogwe, simply by virtue of being the younger player with more upside. At this point, it's his job to lose.

Plus, coaches might be hesitant to trust Atogwe with a full-time role given how injuries have slowed him down, and are likely to be a factor again. At this point in his career, he may be best suited for situational packages, but is likely first in line if either Allen or Coleman go down.

The Jaiquawn Jarrett Situation

Jarrett seems to be the player with the most to lose, to the point where many folks are questioning if he will even have a roster spot at the end of training camp. There is always a chance JJ could be released, but he would have to be a flop of epic proportions to receive the boot after one year. He's a second-round pick, so this would be much worse than Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.

Besides the Atogwe signing, the basis for that line of thinking seems to be built on two points: the fact that Jarrett couldn't get on the field during his rookie season, and the lack of hype coming out of off-season programs. Given that the club normally carries four safeties, and the fourth is usually a special teams contributor like Colt Anderson, there may not be room for Jarrett unless he proves his value.

I think the Eagles realize what a serious disadvantage Jarrett was at from the moment he joined the team. We tend to think of physical safeties like Brian Dawkins who run to the ball and wreak havoc with their bodies, but the position is cerebral as well. In the absence of last offseason, which was eliminated by the lockout, a rookie like Jarrett would understandably have a hard time getting up to speed on the mental aspects of the game.

With the benefit of a full offseason, he should improve. Unfortunately, we didn't hear much about Jarrett in the Spring, and the suggestion is that means he is not getting better, not fast enough anyway. The addition of Atogwe would seem to confirm that.

However, adding a veteran safety always seemed like the smart play. If Jarrett was so bad last season, and it was primarily an issue of preparation, why would anybody expect him to have a firm grasp on the nuances of the position less than a year later? And considering the collective inexperience of the group as a whole -- five seasons between the three of them -- adding a smart veteran such as Atogwe to the mix only serves to help.

I'm the wait-and-see type with young players, sometimes to my own detriment, but this kid hasn't even had a chance. Maybe Jarrett's job is on the line here, but I'm not ready to believe the Eagles would cut the cord so fast, not given the circumstances. They made the investment, they can find a roster spot, and if they believe he could play at all, it seems like they have to give him an opportunity to gain experience under optimal conditions.

Best of MLB: Mets win in 10th on Yoenis Cespedes' walk-off HR

Best of MLB: Mets win in 10th on Yoenis Cespedes' walk-off HR

NEW YORK -- Yoenis Cespedes homered with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the New York Mets a 2-1 victory over the Miami Marlins in the first game of a pivotal series between National League playoff contenders Monday night.

Jose Reyes dashed home to score the tying run in the eighth on a dangerous collision at the plate, and the Mets pulled even with Miami for second place in the NL East. With its seventh victory in nine games, New York remained 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the league's second wild card.

It was an exhilarating win for the Mets, who appeared to be at a major disadvantage on the mound in the opener of a four-game set. New York was shut out for six innings by Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, but Mets starter Rafael Montero also put up zeros in his first major league start since April 2015 (see full recap).

Martinez's 13 K's, throwing error give Cards win
MILWAUKEE -- Stephen Piscotty scored on a throwing error in the ninth inning after Carlos Martinez struck out a career-high 13, leading the St. Louis Cardinals over the Milwaukee Brewers 6-5 on Monday night.

With two on and nobody out in the ninth, Yadier Molina dropped down a bunt. Reliever Tyler Thornburg (5-5) threw to third base for a force out, but Jonathan Villar's throw to first was wild, allowing Piscotty to score.

After Martinez held Milwaukee to one run over six innings, the Brewers scored four runs in the seventh to take a 5-3 lead. St. Louis tied it in the eighth on a two-run homer by Randal Grichuk off Corey Knebel.

Seung Hwan Oh pitched a perfect ninth for his 14th save. Miguel Socolovich (1-0) pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings to pick up his first win.

Jedd Gyorko and Kolten Wong each hit solo home runs for the Cardinals (see full recap).

Royals keep rolling, take down Yankees
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Dillon Gee kept the Royals' momentum going with six sharp innings, Alcides Escobar hit a three-run homer and Kansas City beat the New York Yankees 8-5 on Monday night to open their three-game set.

Gee (6-7) allowed only four hits and a run in the latest impressive start by the Royals' staff, helping the reigning World Series champions win for the 18th time in 22 games.

Lorenzo Cain, Kendrys Morales and Alex Gordon drove in runs off Michael Pineda (6-11) during a five-hit salvo in the first inning. Pineda then retired 15 straight before getting into a two-on, no-outs jam in the seventh that led to Escobar's homer off reliever Blake Parker.

Starlin Castro drove in two runs for the Yankees, the second in a four-run eighth inning that forced Kansas City manager Ned Yost to summon fill-in closer Kelvin Herrera (see full recap).

Jake Thompson tweaks delivery, offers ray of light on a dark night for Phillies

Jake Thompson tweaks delivery, offers ray of light on a dark night for Phillies

BOX SCORE

On the surface, this was not a very positive night at the ballpark for the Phillies. They had just four hits and lost, 4-0, to the Washington Nationals in front of the smallest crowd of the season – 16,056, announced – at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay).
 
But lest we forget, this is a rebuilding season and in a rebuilding season the final score isn’t always paramount. So on an otherwise dark Monday night there was a ray of light for the Phillies.
 
Jake Thompson had the kind of start those who traded for him a year ago and those who watched him pitch this season in Triple A said he was capable of having.
 
“It was great to see,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “That’s just what he needed. He needed a real positive outing. I think this will do wonders for him down the road.”
 
Thompson held the NL East-leading Nationals to two runs over seven innings, his longest of five outings in the majors.
 
“He looked like the pitcher that was advertised,” Mackanin said.
 
Thompson’s first four outings in the majors were poor. He was tagged for 22 hits and 21 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He walked 13 and struck out 13. Those results were starkly different than his last 11 starts in Triple A. He went 8-0 in those 11 starts and recorded a 1.21 ERA while allowing just 10 earned runs in 74 1/3 innings. He gave up just 52 hits and 18 walks over that span while striking out 42.
 
After watching Thompson for four starts, pitching coach Bob McClure decided to suggest some delivery changes to the 22-year-old right-hander.
 
Players are often receptive to making adjustments when they are struggling. Thompson incorporated the changes McClure suggested and found success Monday night.
 
“We just tried to simplify his delivery so he could make better quality pitches,” McClure said.
 
In his old delivery, Thompson started off facing home plate. He pulled his arms over his head, turned and lifted his front leg before delivering the ball. McClure eliminated many of the moving parts. No more lifting the arms above the head. No more body turn. Thompson started his delivery with his body already turned, like a modified stretch. He simply lifted his leg, let his body go down the slope and fired. The new delivery slowed everything down for him. He looked poised, especially after the first couple of innings, and started attacking hitters with first-pitch strikes like a confident pitcher does.
 
Considering he only worked on the new delivery in two short bullpen sessions Saturday and Sunday in New York, Thompson was a pretty quick study.
 
“It was huge,” he said of the new delivery. “Just on the physical side of things, I’m in a better position to make pitches. I took away some moving parts to make it easier on myself.”
 
Thompson allowed seven hits, walked one and struck out three. All three strikeouts came in his final inning of work. He struck out leadoff man Trea Turner with two men on base with a slider to end the inning.
 
That’s another adjustment McClure made. He had Thompson stop throwing his curveball and focus on his fastball, slider, cutter and changeup.
 
Both of the runs that Thompson allowed came in the first inning on a solo homer by Jayson Werth and an RBI single by Anthony Rendon. After that, Thompson recorded six straight shutout innings. His teammates didn’t support him offensively. Washington right-hander Tanner Roark pitched seven shutout innings. He is 3-0 and has allowed just two runs in 28 innings in four starts against the Phils this season.
 
Thompson needed a start like this for a couple of reasons. First, if he had been pounded again, Phillies officials might have had to consider taking him out of the rotation just so his confidence didn’t get ruined.
 
And second, with Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin out with injuries, the team needed to know something was going right for one of the young pitchers being groomed for the future. Vince Velasquez, another young arm, had three poor outings before pitching well in New York on Sunday.
 
“This will help his confidence a lot,” McClure said.
 
McClure then offered a little glimpse into Thompson’s competitive character.
 
“He seemed pissed that he wasn't pitching well,” McClure said. “But he wasn't deflated. We felt like we should keep starting him because he didn't seem beaten. He seems like a tough kid mentally. We felt like once he started making better quality pitches, he'd get better results.”
 
It happened Monday, a ray of light on an otherwise dark night.

Instant Replay: Nationals 4, Phillies 0

Instant Replay: Nationals 4, Phillies 0

BOX SCORE

The Phillies were beaten, 4-0, by the Washington Nationals on Monday night, but wins and losses don’t matter as much as development in a rebuilding season, so there was a bright spot: Rookie right-hander Jake Thompson finally broke through with a good start in holding the Nats to two runs over seven innings.
 
The Phillies’ offense was not good. It produced just four hits on the night.
 
Washington got all the offense it needed when Jayson Werth, the second batter of the game, homered off Thompson in the first inning.

The Nats lead the NL East at 76-55. The Phils are 60-71.
 
The crowd of 16,056 was the smallest of the season at Citizens Bank Park.
 
Starting pitching report
Thompson had struggled in four starts — 9.78 ERA — since arriving from Triple A and there were questions whether he’d even make this start. But he put together a nice outing. After giving up two runs in the first inning, he pitched six straight scoreless innings, finishing his outing with three strikeouts, the last of which came on his 111th pitch when he froze Trea Turner with a breaking ball with two men on base. Thompson allowed seven hits — four in the first three innings — and walked one.
 
Washington right-hander Tanner Roark pitched seven shutout innings to improve to 14-7. He held the Phils to four hits and a walk and struck out five.

Roark is 3-0 with a 0.64 ERA (two earned runs in 28 innings) in four starts against the Phillies this season. The Nats are 15-4 in his last 19 starts.

Bullpen report
Frank Herrmann gave up two runs in the ninth.
 
At the plate
Odubel Herrera had two of the Phillies’ four hits.
 
Werth’s homer in the top of the first was his 19th. Anthony Rendon drove in a run with a two-out single in that inning. Clint Robinson and Turner had RBI singles in the ninth to push the Nats’ lead to 4-0.
 
ICYMI
Herrera is staying in center field for the remainder of the season, Pete Mackanin said (see story).
 
Up next
The series continues on Tuesday night. Jerad Eickhoff (9-12, 3.87) pitches against Washington right-hander Max Scherzer (14-7, 2.92).