Zac Rinaldo Got Thrown Out For This

Zac Rinaldo Got Thrown Out For This

Not the most memorable Saturday in Philly sports history, but not the end of the world, either. The Flyers lost a meaningless playoff preamble in Pittsburgh, the Phils offense stayed in the locker room a second straight day, and the Sixers… I didn't watch, but it appears as if they lost again too. Actually, I only saw the Flyers game in its entirety. The Phillies we caught over the radio with Franzke & LA with a backyard fire. So, I don't have a lot to say about either the Phils or the Sixers today. 
Here's a bit on the Flyers' finale, but admittedly not much. It had the action of a preseason game, and not much more meaning. The most interesting moment may have come in the first period, when Zac Rinaldo was given the gate for a check that toed the line between legality and a 2-minute minor. The Flyers had to withstand a 5-minute major and lost a forward who was scheduled for a heavier complement of ice time than usual. 
Watch below, see if you think it's worth a full misconduct—or if the refs were just trying to eliminate all possible threats to their peacekeeping mission. 

OK, so Rinaldo ran Zbynek Michalek there. But Michalek knew full well he wasn't alone going into the end boards, and he did nothing to protect himself or get out of the danger zone quickly. If anything, he turned into the boards. And, as the announcers pointed out, Rinaldo did pull up a bit, rather than barreling full-speed into him. He stopped striding and glided into the hit. No elbows, no sticks up, no head shots. Michalek didn't miss a single shift, and Rinaldo's day was over. 
Later, Jody Shelley would be given a phantom 10-minute misconduct, effectively ending his day as well. 
Both were plainly overreactions by the refs. But they'd pretty clearly been instructed not to let this game get out of hand, and hopefully to keep any potential injuries to a minimum. Their manner of doing so was to just take two of the most likely catalysts out of the equation. 
GAME NOTESThe Flyers made the decision to rest Claude Giroux, who may have a cold according to Lisa Hilary, and certainly didn't have much to play for with the standings locked. Danny Briere is still out indefinitely after taking a hit from Joe Vitale—something the coaches may have wanted to eliminate from Giroux's possible plight. Nick Grossmann seems to be progressing, but again, why rush him with rest days and only practice for a few days before the playoffs begin. 
Ilya Bryzgalov will be one of the biggest keys to the series ahead. Given that he's sporting a chip fracture, there was no need to play him either. After Bryz's March, which saw him named the Star of the Month, there is no confidence left to build. It could be argued he could benefit from some game action and sharpness after missing a few games, but it was tough to peg what kind of game this would be, and even Pittsburgh pulled MAF midway through it. 
The rough stuff came early, but didn't last, in part due to the very purposeful overstepping of bounds by the referees. For some reason, it was Harry Z who answered the call to throw down with Vitale, and uh… it didn't go well. 

Ragdoll'd… 
Not exactly sure what Harry was going for with that leg kick/canopener thing he was doing. Was it involuntary due to getting hit in the head? Some kind of matrix-like attempt at gaining leverage?
It looked like Jody Shelley and Steve MacIntyre were gonna go, but this fight pre-empted it. MacIntyre was called up for just such an occasion as Shelley trying to exact revenge from Vitale for his hits on Briere and Nick Grossmann. 
Oh well. 
Brayden Schenn and Jaromir Jagr scored for the Flyers, who lost 4-2. Crosby and Malkin each scored in a decisive second period. 
BRIGHT SIDESchenn played a helluva game, continuing his emergence as a top-flight NHL threat. This kid could be a major difference maker in the postseason. With Giroux out, Schenn really stepped up, with playmaking, offensive opportunities, and some nice hits. 
After Rinaldo got the gate, the Flyers killed off 5 minutes of Penguins power play time, and this was before the Pens began resting their stars. 
Just gotta laugh at this one sequence in the second period, when the game really started to slip into meaninglessness. Jagr was called for hooking after Kris Letang clamped his arm down on Jagr's stick, then dragged himself to the ice as Jags waved his free arm to signal that Letang was holding his stick. A little move we're gonna dub The Penguin Wing. Two minutes in the box for Mr. Jagr, and Crosby scores on the ensuing power play. It's laughable in game 82. We're breaking shit if it happens in the playoffs. 
Would it have been great if the Flyers had topped the Penguins? Absolutely. We'd be talking about how they set the tone for the playoff series, how Pittsburgh owned no home-ice advantage, and even a team without Danny, Claude, Nick, and Ilya was enough to win. 
Not surprisingly, it wasn't. Fortunately, after the first 20 or 30 minutes of the game, it felt nothing like meaningful hockey, so we're not worried about its outcome. 

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Bryce Harper (knee) sits for Nats

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Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Bryce Harper (knee) sits for Nats

Bryce Harper is out of the Nationals' lineup Tuesday night after being hit in the knee by a Jeremy Hellickson pitch on Memorial Day.

Big break for the Phils considering Harper has hit .346 against them with three doubles, 11 home runs, 23 RBIs and 21 walks in his last 104 plate appearances against them.

It's an equally big break for Aaron Nola, against whom Harper is 6 for 10 with two homers (see game notes).

For the Phillies, Ryan Howard gets the start at first base against another right-hander, Washington's Joe Ross. Phillies fans are clamoring for more playing time for Tommy Joseph, but starting Howard against Ross does make some sense given how much better lefties have been against him (.295 BA) than righties (.209). Ross throws a ton of sinkers and sliders which make it tough on same-handed hitters.

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Cameron Rupp, C
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Tyler Goeddel, LF
7. David Lough, RF
8. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
9. Aaron Nola, P

And for the Nationals:

1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Jayson Werth, RF
3. Daniel Murphy, 2B
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
5. Clint Robinson, LF
6. Anthony Rendon, 3B
7. Wilson Ramos, C
8. Danny Espinosa, SS
9. Joe Ross, P

The Ryan Howard saga is hard to watch

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The Ryan Howard saga is hard to watch

It's difficult to feel sorry for a professional athlete who will have earned nearly $200 million in salary before his playing career ends at 37 years old. It's hard, but Ryan Howard is doing an outstanding job of making me feel bad anyway.

The statistics speak for themselves. As the calendar rolls over to June, Howard is batting .157 with more than twice as many strikeouts (52) as base hits (22). Debate rages as to whether the Phillies should hang on to the three-time All-Star for locker-room morale -- perhaps also in the desperate hopes they can still trade him -- or if they should just put The Big Piece out of his misery with an outright release.

There's no satisfying answer here. All I can say is I wish for it to be over.

Howard's decline has been one of the saddest to watch in recent Philly sports memory. From 2005 through 2011, he was the heart of the Phillies' order, belting 284 home runs and driving in 859 runs in six-and-a-half seasons, during the most successful run in franchise history. In 2016, Howard's bat can barely catch up to the ball, let alone knock it out of the infield.

Largely through no fault of his own. Howard has never been the same since rupturing his Achilles on the final at bat of the 2011 season. Sure, there were signs he was slowing down or that the rest of the league was catching up to him even then, averaging 32 homers between the '10-'11 seasons compared to 49.5 over '06-'09 -- but he was still hitting the ball at that point.

Since the injury, Howard's power hasn't necessarily dipped dramatically. It's his ability to hit the ball, period. From '04 to '11, he was a .275 hitter. After the injury, he's batting .226. This season has been especially trying, with the month of May bordering on the historic.

Of course, it's not news Howard's career was derailed by injuries. It's no secret he's been particularly awful this season. It's just harder than ever to watch.

Just how ineffective has Howard been in 2016? In retrospect, maybe the numbers don't quite do the struggle justice. Obviously, he isn't hitting, and he's striking out as frequently as ever. What's new this year is the percentage of fly balls that don't even make it out of the infield -- 12 percent, which is twice as high as any season in 13 Major League seasons.

What does it mean exactly? Howard's swing is so jacked right now that even when he does make contact, even when he doesn't hit a ball into the defensive shift, one in 10 times is essentially a harmless pop-up.

To his credit, Howard also has eight home runs this season, some of which have been big at bats or game-winners. He's also been hailed as a positive influence and leader in the clubhouse, an example this young group of Phillies can certainly benefit from.

Nor do I believe Howard really needs anybody to feel bad for him. He's worked hard and accomplished more than most ever will at his profession, and as a result is able to provide for his family and generations beyond. He's built a great legacy both on the baseball diamond, but one that no doubt extends beyond athletic prowess.

Yet none of that changes the fact that Howard's play has deteriorated to the point where he's become a black hole in the Phillies' lineup. It pains me to say that, to use this platform to write it -- just not as much as it pains me to watch it happening.

I'd love nothing more than for Howard to go on a tear and end his final season with the Phillies with head held high. It's the ending a legend like him deserves. Or better yet, improve his production to a level where a contender in the American League would sign Howard and give him one last crack at postseason baseball.

But short of that, I'd love nothing more for it to all be over, to not have to watch one of the great Phillies sluggers flail away every other or third day, or less as it soon may come to. It's not a matter of debate as to when or how that should happen. The sooner, the better.

10 observations from Tuesday's Eagles OTAs

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10 observations from Tuesday's Eagles OTAs

The Eagles wrapped up their Tuesday practice just before 12:30 p.m. under a hot summer-like sun.

Tuesday was the first day of four in the team’s final week of OTAs, which are voluntary. The mandatory minicamp starts next Tuesday and runs through next Thursday.

That’s when we might see Fletcher Cox and Darren Sproles, both of whom have been staying away from the team during the voluntary period. And that’s where we’ll start with today’s 10 observations:

1. With Cox still out, Mike Martin was again working with the first team at defensive tackle next to Bennie Logan, as he was last week. Two weeks ago, Taylor Hart was next to Logan at tackle. Martin was a depth piece in Tennessee and that’s how he’ll fit with the Eagles once Cox comes back.

Martin was also involved in the first little scuffle we’ve seen during these spring practices. Nothing too exciting … just a little shoving with left guard Allen Barbre.

2. Sproles is still out, but Ryan Mathews returned. Mathews missed the last practice opened to the media with an illness but participated Tuesday. The interesting thing was that Mathews didn’t get all the first-team reps. In fact, Kenjon Barner actually opened the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 portions of practice with the first team.

It’s early, but Barner has looked pretty good this spring. It’ll be interesting to see if he fits with the team. He’s ahead of rookie Wendell Smallwood now, but would the team really elect to keep him over a fifth-round pick? Or will the team be OK keeping four running backs again?

Another note: Rueben Randle (gallbladder surgery) is still out.

3. We saw a little trickery from Doug Pederson’s offense on Tuesday against no defense. First, Chase Daniel threw a lateral screen to Josh Huff, who threw down the right to Smallwood. Then, Carson Wentz threw a lateral pass to Nelson Agholor and then Wentz ran a route down the left sideline, but Agholor overthrew him.

Maybe the trick plays are just way to keep practice lighter, but it might also mean the offense is moving along nicely and installing more and more of the playbook. It’s a good sign.

4. Wentz was up and down on Tuesday, but his best completion came on a deep pass down the right sideline to wideout Xavier Rush (who is a candidate for best name on the team). Rush wrestled the ball away from corner C.J. Smith, who should know Wentz pretty well. The two played together at North Dakota State.

Meanwhile, Sam Bradford had a shaky day, throwing several balls that could have been picked off.

5. Again, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks — the two Jim Schwartz guys in the secondary — were working with the first team. On Tuesday, Eric Rowe was the extra corner on the field in the nickel. When Rowe came in, Brooks shifted into the slot. It still looks like Nolan Carroll isn’t yet allowed to practice during team portions.

On the first play of 11 on 11s, Brooks broke up a pass from Bradford that was then picked off by Rodney McLeod and taken the other way. Not a good throw from Bradford, but Brooks was aggressive and jumped it.

6. Down by the goal line during the team period, Malcolm Jenkins made a nice play to get in front of a pass, but couldn’t pick it off. He’s in midseason form. Jenkins had a great year in 2015, but really struggled to intercept balls that he had in his hands.

7. Jordan Hicks didn’t participate in 7 on 7s or 11 on 11s Tuesday. Two weeks ago, he sat out with tightness in his legs, but returned last week. On Tuesday, with Hicks watching, Najee Goode filled in at first-team MIKE, flanked by Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks.

8. Chase Daniel overthrew two balls badly within a few plays during the 11-on-11 drills, but then capped off a drive by dropping a ball into the hands of wideout Paul Turner in the back of the end zone. Decent day for Daniel.

9. The Eagles ran some scout team looks for the first time (that we’ve seen) on Tuesday. Daniel ran the scout team, which makes sense. Normally, it would be the third-string quarterback, but Wentz probably has plenty on his plate. Not sure whom the offense was mimicking, but the two pinnies were Nos. 88 and 82. Perhaps the Cowboys?

10. At one point on Tuesday, the offense started to use a tempo offense, giving everyone in attendance flashbacks to Chip. Well, not exactly. The up-tempo didn’t last long and it did produce the ugliest Wentz pass since he’s been with the team.

We are seeing plenty of interesting looks from the Eagles. At times they’ve been using formations with three tight ends. And they even showed some designed quarterback runs on Tuesday. The progression and complexity of this offense is starting to be revealed by these practices, and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Stupid Observation of the Day: Punter Donnie Jones has begun to wear a pretty sweet white and blue bucket hat at practice when he’s not wearing his helmet. Only a punter could get away with this. Here, you can see him in the background from last week.