The Spokesman-Review (Spokane) : 2019-02-11

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THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW MONDAY SPORTS 3 FEBRUARY 11, 2019 SPORTS GUBRUD quarter a sprint, and EWU found itself up 14-0 after touchdowns to Jayce Gilder and Webster – the first coming at the 11:55 mark the second at 10:15. In a game that saw Gubrud and Webster hook up frequently – seven times for 176 yards, when all was said and done – the QB and his speedy receiver connected for their second touchdown in the second quarter. The second half lacked the offensive fireworks of the first half, but the Eagles won 31-26 and Gubrud completed 18 of 33 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns, while rushing six times for 88 yards. 3. UC Davis at Eastern Washington, 2016 Continued from 1 The Aggies saw Gubrud just twice, but anybody playing defense for Davis during that span would say it was two times too many. The Eagles scored 104 points in those games and Gubrud was particularly productive, completing 66 of 99 passes for 938 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. He and Kupp picked the Aggies apart in a strange game on the red turf in 2016. The score indicates a wire-to-win for the Eagles, but the game’s outcome was in doubt until the third quarter. EWU opened with a 14-0 first quarter, but Davis followed with a 23-0 second quarter to take a nine-point lead. No problem. Gubrud and the Eagles came out firing in the third, and the QB contributed five touchdowns – four passing, one running – to a 49-point second half for the home team, which won 63-30. “The touchdown run at the end to seal it,” Gubrud said. “That was a pretty cool moment in my lifetime.” 2. Eastern Washington at UC Davis, 2017 There were some nervy moments for EWU fans in 2017 when the Eagles traveled to UC Davis in early October. EWU scored first with Gubrud hitting running back Sam McPherson over the middle for a 40-yard touchdown, but the Eagles relinquished the lead early in the second quarter and trailed by as many as 11 points in the fourth. That’s when their signal-caller took control, unleashing consecutive TD passes – a 70-yarder to Nsimba Webster, a 6-yarder to Talolo LimuJones – giving EWU a three-point buffer with nine minutes to play. But the Aggies found their way back into the end zone to take a 38-34 lead with 4:45 left, putting the ball – and the game – in Gubrud’s hands. Eleven plays and one fourth-down conversion later, EWU’s offense was back into the red zone. Gubrud took a shotgun snap from the 6-yard line and sat in the pocket before coolly throwing a pass to Nic Sblendorio near the far right pylon. Eagles 41, Aggies 38. 5. Northern Colorado at Eastern Washington, 2016 If he wins WSU’s starting job, Gubrud would get one more crack at an old Big Sky rival this fall when the Cougars host the Bears on Sept. 7. He was nearly perfect in his debut against Northern Colorado – a 49-31 win for the Eagles that saw Gubrud go 33 of 39 through the air for 435 yards and five touchdowns. EWU trailed 17-14 at the break, but Gubrud’s first TD – a 29-yarder to Shaq Hill – put the Eagles back in front and opened the floodgates. Gubrud went to Hill for three more TDs and threw another to Sblendorio. 4. Eastern Washington at Northern Arizona, 2018 TYLER TJOMSLAND/ [email protected] Gage Gubrud reacts with cheering EWU fans after the Eagles team he quarterbacked upset WSU 45-42 in 2016. Gubrud’s senior season in Cheney was truncated by a toe injury, but the Eagles went 4-1 in the games he played in – the only loss coming at WSU – and none of Eastern Washington and NorthernArizona. those were more exciting than a rare nonconference matchup between Big Sky rivals Gubrud and the Eagles made the first CONTACT THE WRITER: (509) 939-5928 [email protected] MARINERS GONZAGA The Zags chewed up their four closest WCC pursuers – BYU (93-63), San Diego (8569), San Francisco (92-62) and Saint Mary’s (94-46) – the past two weeks. “To win against the next closest four so resoundingly is a great accomplishment by our guys, and I hope it doesn’t lessen just how good this league is,” coach Mark Few said. “That’s my only concern. San Francisco and Saint Mary’s were ranked higher than all of the Pac-12 teams except one (in the NET rankings).” Continued from 1 Continued from 1 playing for a bigger purpose. Now adding Killian (Tillie, sidelined by a foot injury) into it, we have more chips on our shoulder and we’re playing for each other.” decent prospect or even a compensatory draft pick. So when Cruz signed a one-year deal with the Twins, the best fits for Encarnacion were the Astros and Rays. But MLB sources said the Rays didn’t value Encarnacion as a hitter as much as Cruz and weren’t interested in a trade, even if the Mariners picked up half of the contract. Seattle shopped Encarnacion to the Astros, but they seem content with using a rotation of players, including Tyler White and Yuli Gurriel at designated hitter. Where does that leave Encarnacion and the Mariners? Well, it’s complicated. The market for him isn’t exactly booming. Most teams view him as a primary designated hitter and a sometimes first baseman. That limits him to American League teams – most of whom aren’t shopping for a designated hitter on a big contract, or really even trying to win. Perhaps if a contending team were to suffer an injury at first base or DH during spring and be in need of a right-handed bat, the demand for Encarnacion would go up. t Until then, he will be part of an odd mix of first base/DH types for the Mariners on a roster that also includes Daniel Vogelbach, Ryon Healy, Jay Bruce and Domingo Santana. “Edwin Encarnacion is proven productivity,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “He’s gonna play on a regular basis and hopefully be a staple in that lineup that we can grow around.” And the rest? “And with Vogey and Ryon Healy, both of them are still young players with a chance to grow and move forward,” Dipoto said. “It will be challenge to see how we can balance the at-bats. But there willl be a rotation that we use. As we get into the season, we’ll figure out what that is.” Lockdown defense The Zags still lead the nation in KenPom’s offensive efficiency. Their defensive efficiency has climbed to No. 20. Another example of Gonzaga’s sharp focus has been its ability to corral opposing teams’ top scorers. Saint Mary’s guard Jordan Ford entered leading the WCC in scoring. He exited with eight points on 3-of-12 shooting. Malik Fitts had 12 points, four below his average, while making 5 of 12 shots. San Francisco’s Frankie Ferrari and Charles Minlend combined for 28 points on 11of-25 shooting. BYU’s Yoeli Childs, the WCC’s top scorer at the time, made just three field goals and scored 12 points. The exception was San Diego’s Isaiah Pineiro, who put up 30 points but didn’t crack 50 percent shooting (11 of 23). “We throw a lot of different guys at different players, give them a lot of different looks,” Crandall said. “At some point, you’re going to have to face Josh, me, Jeremy (Jones). We can switch with Rui (Hachimura) and BC (Brandon Clarke), you have to face Corey (Kispert), a bigger guard, and Zach is the same way. “We know we’re going to bring it on the offensive end. We’ve had to step our defense up.” Passing lane Perkins didn’t score a point against Saint Mary’s until 9:16 remained in the second half, but was at the helm of another offensive clinic, with nine of the team’s 22 assists as the Zags hit 58.3 percent from the field. Perkins moved up to second on the school’s career assists list with 648. Matt Santangelo holds the top spot with 668. “It means a lot, it means hard work is paying off,” Perkins said. “Once I leave here I can look back and reflect on that. At the moment we’re still chasing a title. That’s the primary focus, playing for these guys and getting one in Killian’s name.” Perkins’ career hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but he’s playing his best basketball this season. He’s averaging 10.4 points and 6.8 assists. His 3.47 assist-to-turnover ratio is in the top 10 nationally. “Hey, it’s been a long, hard – actually not hard – a long journey for him, the staff and myself,” Few said. “But to see this growth, I’m so happy for him to have this success.” ASSOCIATED PRESS The Mariners hope Kyle Seager, right, and Dee Gordon have bounce-back seasons, which would likely make them more attractive to other clubs. for extended periods and registered 14 saves last season before punching a door and injuring his hand. But manager Scott Servais said the makeup of the bullpen could determine late-game usage. with a .288 on-base percentage and just 30 stolen bases, while Seager posted a career-worst .221 batting average and .273 on-base percentage. The Mariners believe that ending Gordon’s conversion to the outfield and moving him back to second base will allow him to find comfort emotionally and mentally. Seager spent the offseason working on flexibility and agility, while also addressing aspects of his strength training that were lacking. More than anything, the broken toe didn’t allow him to pull the ball as well. Seager’s $57 million owed on his contract and a “poison pill” clause that kicks in a $15 million player option if he’s traded makes him more difficult to move. Bruce, 31, is owed $28 million over the next two seasons. A hip injury limited him to 94 games for the Mets last season, when he hit .223 with a .680 OPS, 18 doubles, one triple, nine homers and 37 RBIs. In 2017, he posted an .832 OPS with 36 homers and 101 RBIs. He’s a proven power bat when healthy and could be attractive to teams in need of a lefthanded hitter at the deadline. Will there be a youth movement? So much of this offseason and the purpose of the step-back plan was about accumulating young, clubcontrolled talent that will be possibly contributing on the big-league roster midway through the 2020 season, but more likely for the 2021 season. That path of progress starts now for many of them. The Mariners invited a large portion of their upperlevel prospects to big-league spring training this season. “We will go into spring training getting a chance to look at so many young guys,” Dipoto said. “We are inviting a lot of players who have not played above the Double-A level. Largely because we want to see what they do. We want to see what the players look like.” There are a handful of players who are expected to find permanent spots on the big-league roster by the end of the season. Lefty Justus Sheffield and right-hander Eric Swanson – both acquired from the Yankees in the trade for James Paxton – are expected to make starts for Seattle during the season. They are basically sitting just outside of the projected starting rotation and an injury, a trade or poor performance could push them into it. Infielder J.P. Crawford was acquired from the Phillies to be the Mariners’ future everyday shortstop. But they don’t plan to force him into that role immediately, after he struggled with injuries and inconsistency in extended call-ups in Philly last season. Crawford is expected to start in Class AAA Tacoma, but spring training could offer a preliminary timetable to when he’s ready to take over the big-league job. What of the bullpen? Of the Mariners relievers who made more than 45 relief appearances in 2018, only right-hander Chasen Bradford remains on the roster. Seattle parted ways with five of its most-relied-upon relievers from last season – Edwin Diaz, Nick Vincent, James Pazos, Alex Colome and Juan Nicasio. That’s a total of 288 appearances, 268 innings pitched and a combined 3.29 earned-run average from that quintet. Obviously the departure of Diaz, who was sent to the Mets along with Robinson Cano, is the most noticeable absence. He set a plethora of records in his second full season as the Mariners closer, including a whopping 57 saves. But the remaining appearances and innings from the four other relievers have to be covered, along with expected increased usage from the bullpen in 2019. The Mariners have more than a dozen relievers coming to MLB spring training, and that number could grow in the next week with some late minor-league signings. Of that group, there are a handful of locks to be in the bullpen based on their contracts and roster status. “There’s no question that the bullpen is our biggest guess,” Dipoto said. “The bullpen is, right now, a work in progress. We’re gonna use this as a proving ground.” Seattle signed free-agent relievers Cory Gearrin, Hunter Strickland and Zac Rosscup to MLB deals, so they are penciled into the group. Lefty Roenis Elias is out of minor-league options and fits the role of long reliever. Right-hander Anthony Swarzak is also expected to be a part of the bullpen, but is dealing with some shoulder issues. Of the players who pitched for Seattle last season, Bradford and right-hander Shawn Armstrong, who is also out of options, are candidates to make the roster along with right-handers Matt Festa, Dan Altavilla and Rule 5 draft pick Brandon Brennan. Of the projected relievers, Strickland has the most closing experience. He served as the Giants’ closer MELSON everyone knew he could do. I am just really proud of him for doing that.” Perkins was just thrilled to see his friend. “Same guy, he is obviously my brother, big-time surprise (seeing him),” he said. “I am glad he is healthy, still playing ball and still came back to check on his boys and say what’s up. That’s my dude. “He survived all of this, he is a guy you came to college with and just to see him, same dude with a little more money in his pocket.” The one player Melson mentioned that pops out every time he watches is redshirt junior Brandon Clarke. Melson practiced against Clarke last season when Clarke was redshirting, but obviously the rest of the country hadn’t experienced him in a GU uniform until November. Melson isn’t shocked to see Clarke put up numbers, but he didn’t expect it so quickly. “Just how hard he has come out,” Melson said. “I obviously knew he was talented, but I think he is surprising everybody that hasn’t seen him play that this dude is the real deal. His motor is crazy and it is going to take him far.” As for what he misses most, Melson misses his brothers and the environment GU cultivates. “Being in this locker room for sure. Being here and walking here yesterday, the energy is always good,” he said. “Just being around a bunch of good people all day. When you go pro, everybody is doing their own thing, but in college you’re one unit, you’re brothers.” Continued from 1 still.” This team has been compared to the Final Four team of two years ago, but outside of wins and talent, there is one stark difference. “I think this team is a lot different because that Final Four team was obviously good on the offensive end, but the defense was crazy, a defensive powerhouse,” he said. “This team is an offensive powerhouse, they could put up 100 (points) any time they want to. This team definitely has a chance to win it all. They got my vote. I think they will.” The 2016-2017 team was first in defensive efficiency (according to KenPom) and 10th in points allowed at 61.5. On the offensive side, they were 16th in both efficiency and scoring. This season, they are first in scoring and offensive efficiency. Defensively they are 39th in scoring and 20th in efficiency. One of the holdovers from the Final Four team is redshirt senior Josh Perkins who just passed Blake Stepp for second in assists in program history. Melson and Perkins were both guards who were recruited in the same year. “Just doing what he is supposed to do, being a senior leader,” Melson said of Perkins. “He is being the most solid player consistently on the team … If you take him out of the equation, there really is no team right now. He is getting the job done offensively, leading the players and getting the ball to the right people. It is something How will Felix perform? After spending his entire professional career in the organization, this will be the final year that Hernandez wears a Mariners uniform. The seven-year, $175 million extension he signed before the 2013 season is now in its final year. He’ll make $27.5 million in 2019 – more than any other player on the roster. By all indications, Hernandez plans on playing after this season, which means he will become a free agent for the first time. However, his steadily declining production over the past few seasons won’t make him coveted on the open market. Hernandez slogged through his worst season in 2018, posting an 8-14 record with a 5.55 ERA. It earned him a brief demotion to the bullpen. Over the past three seasons, Hernandez has a 25-27 record with a 4.62 ERA. Hernandez was less than enthused about how he was handled by Servais and Dipoto in 2018 and has been quiet this offseason. But he vowed to come ready for spring training in 2019 – a promise he’s made in the past. “Not really had any offseason conversations (with Hernandez), which is the norm,” Dipoto said. “Felix went home and he’s preparing to be a starting pitcher for us, which is what he’ll be. I’ve mentioned it publicly, there’s really no consideration to Felix pitching in our bullpen as a regular event. … His strength has been to incorporate all of his stuff and pitch over the long innings.” Will vets bounce back? The Mariners don’t lack for players looking to rebound from forgettable performances last season. Aside from their own personal benefit, it would also be helpful for the Mariners in their step-back plan. A strong start to the 2019 season would raise the player’s value, allowing Dipoto to trade them at the deadline and pick up additional prospects. Second baseman Dee Gordon, third baseman Kyle Seager and outfielder Jay Bruce are three possible candidates. Both Gordon and Seager dealt with toe issues that hampered them at the plate in 2018. Gordon hit .268

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