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College Notebook: Virginia Schools Linked To NDSU

At some point, the paths of former Virginia Tech quarterback Quincy Patterson and would-be Virginia cornerback Josh "Hollywood" Hayes will cross if they haven't already.

Patterson is transferring from Tech to North Dakota State in Fargo, and Hayes is transferring to UVa from North Dakota State. Patterson is joining a Football Championship Subdivision team and Hayes is joining an FBS program, but in this case, there isn't a huge difference in level of play

North Dakota State won five straight FCS national championships from 2011 through 2015 and has 16 titles spread over a variety of college football levels.

"This isn't the last experience we've had with someone leaving or coming," North Dakota State coach Matt Entz told Inforum, the newspaper that services Fargo and Moorhead, Minnesota.

Entz met with Hayes earlier this week, according to Inforum, and accepted Hayes' plans to return to his home in the Lakeland, Fla., area, where he has a daughter, according to an Entz interview with KVRR TV.

"He sees other guys in our league opting out right now and getting offers from power five ]schools]," Entz said. "I’ll tell you what, I think Josh is the best corner in the league, so you take it for what it’s worth."

On the flip side, Entz will be getting a quarterback with an FBS background in Patterson, who played in 10 games over two seasons at Virginia Tech. Patterson was rated the No. 13 dual-threat quarterback in the country when he signed with the Hokies in 2018.

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Josh Bell Isn’t Doing So Swell At The Plate For The Nats

When the Nationals traded two mid-level minor league prospects to Pittsburgh for Josh Bell over the winter, they assumed they were getting the high-upside power-hitting first baseman that they’ve been lacking for a number of years.

Instead, they’ve been stuck with one of the least productive hitters in the majors to start this season. In fact, his tailspin has risen to the point of him getting demoted from third or fourth in the lineup consistently to the No. 6 slot on Wednesday night.

How has the former top prospect gone from an MVP frontrunner to a liability at the plate in only two years, and what will it take for things to turn around for the 28-year-old slugger?

The Overarching Analytics

Two years ago, Josh Bell was among the best hitters in the National League. He hit for a career best .277 average, reached base in nearly 37 percent of his plate appearances, and recorded a whopping .569 slugging percentage with 37 home runs and 116 RBIs.

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Your Greatest Source Of History May Be On Old Devices

I think when we all started becoming aware of the internet in the late 1990s, there were three things we believed: It was a safe place to go surfing (it wasn’t), when we deleted something it was gone (it wasn't, as the internet is in pen, not pencil) and that researching stuff that happened in the past was going to be a lot easier.

Search engines, we believed, would find everything ever posted on the internet. As I used to tell my friends, the answer to all of life is on the internet. The hard part was figuring out how to phrase the question.

Two weeks ago I realized even that’s not true. I’m not talking about censorship or anything similar (although in the future, that’s probably going to be an issue too). But while writing about the anniversary of the tragedy at Virginia Tech back in 2007, I mentioned on social media that a lot of college football teams wore Virginia Tech decals on their helmets for their spring games.

To illustrate this, I posted pics from Ohio State and Penn State’s spring games, and got several comments from people saying “I never knew that.” My reaction was that there were many more who did similar things, so I went to Google to find examples.

My search to do so failed.

After trying all sorts of phrases, the only two I came up with were the two I had posted myself on social media. Those same two were also in a story Virginia Tech did concerning the April 16 anniversary, and they showed up as well. But the rest that I distinctively remembered couldn’t be found.

Some of that made sense because in the early days of the internet, there were millions of items to be indexed, but now over 20 years later, that number was probably hundreds of billions. To search that many – despite how much Wizard of Oz gibberish the Einsteins of Silicon Valley utter about algorithms and magic potions –  would probably still mean the farther you go back, the longer it’s going to take. Which means the search engines are going to return more recent data rather than let you sit there for 10 minutes waiting for results.

It then dawned on me that the next best source for such history was sitting in my own house.

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The Orioles Need Mountcastle To Get It Going

The oft-used phrase “sophomore slump” seems to apply to a lot of professional athletes these days, which makes sense: the opposition has had an entire offseason to adjust after a rookie season, so teams coming into matchups against a player who were blind before are now armed with enough info to tear apart your gameplan.

So when Ryan Mountcastle started off slow this season, I figured it was because teams were attacking him differently. He would need time to reformulate his approach to at-bats. Maybe a couple weeks.

But that hasn’t been the case so far. Mountcastle is slumping pretty hard — he’s slashing .167/.208/.264 through 20 games and has just one home run thus far. Mountcastle is about to enter May as one of the least productive hitters in baseball. Here’s Mountcastle’s Statcast profile (right) to make it clear.

What’s changed? Why is Mountcastle struggling so much this season? Let’s attack that problem from a couple different angles.

Pitchers Aren’t Attacking Mountcastle Much Differently

Mountcastle saw fastballs 52.7 percent of the time in 2020 and he mashed, hitting .356 and slugging .492 against those pitches. Mountcastle saw breaking balls 35.4 percent of the time in 2020 and still found success, hitting .327 and slugging .442.

In terms of pitches seen, Mountcastle is seeing slightly more breaking balls and slightly fewer fastballs than last season. His fastball percentage has dipped to 49.1 and his breaking ball percentage has climbed from 35.4 to 39.4.

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Could Nationals Be Saying Goodbye To Max Scherzer Soon?

In seven years with the Nationals, Max Scherzer has consistently been one of the hardest working, most dominant starting pitchers in Major League Baseball, which you'd think would ensure he'd be a Nat the rest of his career.

That's not, however, necessarily true.

Scherzer’s status as a potential trade chip has been one of the hottest topics amongst the national media recently, and it reached a climax during Saturday’s broadcast against the Mets on Fox Sports 1.

Nothing Ken Rosenthal said is incorrect. He even qualified his stance by stating that the Nationals are striving to be playoff contenders and are unlikely to fall far enough out of the picture to strongly consider trading Scherzer. Still, it’s a very possible – and reasonable – outcome at this year’s Trade Deadline.

What This Discussion is Really About

There’s been an outcry amongst the fanbase that the Nationals would never trade away one of their biggest stars if they’re trying – and have a realistic chance – to make the playoffs. That statement in itself is absolutely true, and completely in line with their past tendencies. If they’re still within five (maybe even ten) games of a playoff spot by deadline day, they won’t entertain the idea of a trade.

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Results Were Mixed, But Bats Went Cold For Nats This Week

Although it’s early in the season, the Nationals arguably needed a big week to solidify themselves as playoff contenders.

Instead, the Nats split their six games, taking two out of three from the Cardinals before losing a weekend series to the Mets.

All told, it was essentially the type of week you’d expect from the Nationals when Juan Soto isn’t in the lineup. The pitching staff held its own – which hasn’t always been the case this year – but the lineup didn’t perform as you’d prefer it to.

The only true blip on the mound was from Joe Ross Monday, although he rebounded with six strong innings on Saturday – and was the subject of my most recent article. Aside from that, the worst game in that area was a six-run performance Friday – and half of that came against the bullpen, after Erick Fedde had left the game.

Patrick Corbin tossed six shutout innings Tuesday, although his Sunday outing was less stellar. Nonetheless, the improvement is encouraging and much-needed. Max Scherzer threw a six-inning dandy of his own Wednesday, holding the Cardinals without a run and striking out nine batters.

The issue was the offense. The Nats averaged (just over) five hits per game against the Cardinals, even though they managed to win two of those games. They also went the final 37 innings of the week without hitting a home run, during which they only had four extra-base hits (all doubles). Sunday’s defeat was also the fifth time they’ve been shut out and seventh time they’ve been held to one run or fewer, both of which lead the big leagues.

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It’s Time For Nats To Take Training Wheels Off Joe Ross

Stephen Strasburg is sidelined with shoulder inflammation, Jon Lester has yet to make his debut this season, and Patrick Corbin has not pitched up to his contract so far this year.

Dave Martinez needs someone other than Max Scherzer to pitch late into games and give his team a chance to win.

So why is he so hesitant to give Joe Ross more freedom, instead of treating him like a typical No. 4 or 5 starter?

It’s a tendency Martinez has had throughout his tenure in Washington, and at times, it has been warranted. But not in the case of Ross in 2021.

Joe Ross has looked like a borderline ace starting pitcher three times this season. He should not be absolved of the 10-run outing he had against the Cardinals on Monday, but he’s held his opposition to one run and 11 hits in the other 17 innings he’s thrown. Even his walk rate – which had hovered near five per nine innings in 2019 – has been nearly trimmed in half.

So far this season, he’s pitched between 85–91 pitches three times (he went shorter in his season debut). Keeping in mind that he didn’t play last season, he averaged 86 pitches per start in 2019, never throwing 100 pitches in a game. In fact, he hasn’t reached triple digits since undergoing Tommy John surgery midseason of 2017.

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Orioles Pitching Has Thus Far Exceeded Expectations

Throughout my time as a baseball fan, which spans almost two decades, I’ve noticed that rebuilding teams usually struggle the most in the pitching department.

It’s a lot easier to develop hitters than it is to develop pitchers — hitters generally stay healthier and as hard as it is to hit a baseball, it’s a little harder to pitch effectively.

So before the season started, I expected the Baltimore Orioles to hit and score at a decent clip, but struggle in the run prevention department.

As usual, I was wrong.

Through Friday night, the Orioles are 8-11. Baltimore ranks 13th in team ERA at 4.10, which is a highly respectable number in the juiced ball era that we’re living in. That number gets better when you exclude the Orioles’ starters, as the Birds rank sixth in bullpen ERA in the major leagues.

While the offense has spent most of the season floundering — Baltimore ranks 25th in runs scored — the pitching staff has kept them in ballgames. It’s encouraging, to say the least.

I can’t shower the Orioles’ starting rotation in compliments, but they’ve generally kept their club within striking distance. Bruce Zimmermann is looking more and more like a back-end starter at the major league level, holding a 4.57 ERA through four starts. He’s allowed three or less earned runs in each of his four starts and has finished the fifth inning in three of those starts. Zimmermann’s stuff isn’t exciting, but he’s started taking advantage of his curveball more this season and he’s seeing results.

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It's A Great Plan, But Now The Real Work Starts...

Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the last three years is that a plan without execution is just a dream. Dreams are fleeting and fragile.

You have to do the hard work necessary to make it a reality.

There’s a lot of hard work on the horizon for Virginia Tech, who announced an ambitious capital campaign that includes $400 million in fundraising over an eight-year period for various investments in the athletic department. The Reach for Excellence campaign outlines significant boosts to the football staffing budget, a massive renovation to Cassell Coliseum and numerous investments into other sports.

The end goals look good. Tech is shooting for a $30 million “football enhancement fund” that will aim to make it easier for the Hokies to hire better coaches and more lower-level assistants, among other things. Virginia Tech is also planning various investments into their non-revenue sports, helping with facility upgrades and enhanced nutritional support for athletes.

Don’t forget the headliner of it all — a $50 million renovation project that will modernize and revamp Cassell Coliseum into one of the nicest and most unique venues in college athletics.

Now none of these plans are necessarily brand-new — Virginia Tech has been talking about increasing the football program’s budget for years and the Cassell renovations have been in the works for just as long. But this is the first time it’s all been laid out and shared with the fanbase in a detailed way.

That’s cause for excitement.

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Mark Byington Impresses At Roanoke Valley Sports Club

A long-awaited appearance by Mark Byington before the Roanoke Valley Sports Club lived up to all expectations at the Salem Civic Center earlier this week.

In his second season as the James Madison men's basketball coach, Byington directed the Dukes to a 13-7 finish, including an 8-2 record in the Colonial Athletic Association, after which he was named CAA coach of the year.

The original agreement was for Byington to speak to the sports club last year, but a COVID-19 breakout put that meeting on hold. In the end, it probably was better to have him speak in 2021, when he was a finalist for mid-major national coach of the year.

Byington spoke to a crowd Monday night that included two honorees designated as local "legends," Paul Bernard and Charlie Morgan. Bernard coached basketball at William Byrd High School and Charlie Morgan at Salem.

Many of Byington's former coaches and players were there, including Richard Morgan, one of the most decorated players to come through the valley. Morgan and his brother Charlie sat with the Byington family.

It was not the first time Byington had spoken to the sports club. As a young graduate assistant at UVa, he was dispatched to Salem by then-head coach Pete Gillen. When he got to the sports club, he learned that he would be sharing the podium with legendary Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer.

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Dave Fulton

Grounds

Nice to see Shawn Moore back on Grounds.
Friday, 23 April 2021 11:47
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It’s Early, But It's Feeling Like Déjà Vu All Over Again

You may have to get down on your knees and put your ear to the ground to hear it.

But it’s there. A slight, gentle tremor among Washington Nationals fans. A buzz of concern about manager Davey Martinez.

It’s not said aloud because it’s early. Plus he was the manager during the miraculous run to the World Series in 2019. To speak ill of his managing skills would be disrespectful of that.

But it’s there.

Martinez is a loveable guy that everyone would like as a friend and a neighbor. In 2018 he went 82-80, and many of us scratched our heads at times as to how a team that went 97-65 the previous year barely had a winning record with essentially the same amount of talent. The roster changed as it does every year, but you swapped Jayson Werth for Juan Soto, and the team still had Bryce Harper.

Then 2019 came and the same baffling bullpen decisions caused the team to start off 19-31 in the first 50 games. The rumbling about Davey grew louder until the team rallied around him and they somehow made the playoffs. He used starters out of the bullpen at key moments and everyone from superstars to role players came up with timely hits at the right moment. It was one of Washington Sports’ greatest moments as they brought home a World Series.

Last year was an asterisk. The team got off to a slow start, missed the playoffs, and with the COVID pandemic, how could you possibly evaluate the season fairly? If it were a round of golf, it was a mulligan. The 2021 season would be a more reasonable opportunity to tell.

After yesterday’s loss to Arizona, the team is now 5-8. The last two years the team started 19-31. For you math scholars out there, 19 out of 50 is a winning percentage of .38. Winning 5 out of 13 calculates to a winning percentage of .384615. Take that percentage, multiply it times 50 games and round it to the nearest whole number and you get….19-31.

As Yogi Berra once said, it’s looking like Déjà vu all over again.

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Doug Doughty

Doug Doughty

He's the dean of the UVA beat, and creator of College Notebook, which has entertained fans for 45 years. Meet Doug Doughty

Ricky LaBlue

Ricky LaBlue

A longtime sports fanatic, Ricky is now channeling that passion into the world of sports media. Meet Ricky LaBlue.

Stephen Newman

Stephen Newman

The only things he loves more than following Virginia Tech and Washington sports teams are dogs. Meet Stephen Newman.

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