Everton seal trio of late signings

first_imgEverton boss Roberto Martinez sealed a triple swoop for James McCarthy, Romelu Lukaku and Gareth Barry to bring a dramatic end to transfer deadline day at Goodison Park. Martinez responded by landing McCarthy, whom he had first brought to the Latics in a £1.2million deal from Scottish club Hamilton, with the player quickly establishing himself at the DW Stadium. Everton took Lukaku on loan from Chelsea, and tempted Barry away from Manchester City, while striker Victor Anichebe left Goodison to join West Brom. Lukaku scored 17 goals in 35 appearances on loan with West Brom last season and it appeared at one point that the 20-year-old Belgian was all set to return to The Hawthorns. But Everton pounced with a more attractive offer to the player, who had returned to Stamford Bridge in the summer but found his first-team chances similarly restricted under new boss Jose Mourinho. Meanwhile, Martinez landed an experienced midfielder in 32-year-old Barry, who like Lukaku was keen to move in order to secure more regular first-team football. The deal taking 25-year-old Anichebe to West Brom could eventually rise as high as £6million. A graduate of the club’s academy, Anichebe made 168 appearances for the Blues and scored 33 goals. The expected departure of Marouane Fellaini to Manchester United enabled Martinez to match Wigan chairman Dave Whelan’s £13million valuation of McCarthy, while Lukaku and Barry arrived on one-year loan deals. Fellaini completed his £27.5million move to Manchester United after a long period of speculation which included the Belgian driving to Everton’s training ground to hand in a deadline-day transfer request. center_img Press Associationlast_img read more

Brenner: Hill’s touches need to lessen

first_imgThere’s one bothersome statistic from Wisconsin’s sometimes-brilliant, sometimes-ghastly 38-17 victory over Akron on Saturday. It has to do with Badger tailback P.J. Hill.Obviously, it’s not his production. Hill’s just-another-day-at-the-office 210-yard, two-touchdown effort moved him into seventh all-time on the UW rushing list and pushed him over the 3,000-yard mark for his career, of which he’s only halfway through.It’s his 26 carries that bring cause for concern.Like it or not, 26 times taking the rock is far too many times for Hill to be put at risk for injury against a Zips team that simply did not belong on the field with Wisconsin.True, the Badgers needed Hill on the field longer than expected. After a perfect first quarter, UW allowed Akron back in the game with a lackluster second quarter that kept the Zips within a mere touchdown at halftime.Nobody’s blaming Wisconsin for needing Hill to work overtime, since the win is what counts most. But speaking with UW running backs coach John Settle on Tuesday, it sounds like 26 carries wasn’t a concern at all, even against an inferior opponent.“The target is about 25 to 30 carries, and he was right on,” Settle said. “Right now, depending on the flow of a game, we’ll give it to him even more.”Well, let’s say Hill averages the low end of that spectrum, at 25 carries a game. That would mean he has 300 rushes at the end of the regular season and 325 to include a bowl game.To put things in perspective, Hill’s predecessor, Brian Calhoun, had an astounding 348 carries in 2005. That was the highest total in the country, 38 more than Memphis’ DeAngelo Williams.Further, only six UW backs have produced 300-carry seasons, including Hill himself in 2006. In the past four NCAA seasons, only 15 Division I-A rushers have reached that mark.In other words, 300 carries is a ton. The fact is, in Wisconsin’s case, it’s just not necessary because unlike other schools, UW has the luxury of not one, but two extremely capable backups to spell Hill some carries.Sophomore Zach Brown, with his quick speed and quicker first step, and redshirt freshman John Clay, a budding mini-me to Hill’s Dr. Evil — that is, if Dr. Evil ever bowled over smaller defenders on the way to a bevy of 100-yard games — are the two whippersnappers who will be doing much more than just cleaning up for Hill in garbage time.These two are absolutely essential to keeping Hill healthy through the 13-game grind. Even Hill, who has always considered himself a workhorse, knows that.“It keeps me fresh. Those guys can handle the job as well as I can,” Hill said Sunday. “You’ve seen John Clay for his first time, for his first college game, he had a very good game. Him and Zach can carry the load as well as I can.”Hill then delivered a perfect response to the issue of spreading out playing time, befitting of both team goals and good personal health.“The coaches always ask me how many carries I want, but I’m going to get my carries, and I’d also like to see those guys go in there and perform as well, no matter what the situation,” Hill said.The formula should be pretty simple for Wisconsin this year, particularly against the likes of Marshall this weekend: build a good lead, establish the run with Hill, then get him out of there and let Brown and Clay finish up.If UW head coach Bret Bielema needs further proof of the importance of a lead back’s health, he could just call Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and see how the Buckeyes are dealing with the injured foot of Heisman hopeful Chris “Beanie” Wells.We’ll see just how cautious the Badgers are with Hill against the Thundering Herd Saturday. But at this point, it appears the coaches won’t be afraid to use Hill like a workhorse.“It depends on how (Brown and Clay) are doing,” UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. “If the other ones are struggling, he’d be in the 30s.”If that’s the case, then Brown and Clay had better grow up fast. Because as Hill goes, so go the Badgers.What does that say about Wisconsin’s chances at a Big Ten title this season, if Hill were to join Wells on the sideline?Aaron Brenner is a former Herald sports columnist. Contact him at [email protected]last_img read more

Mind over ERA: how the Colorado Rockies finally built a playoff contender through pitching

first_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error ANAHEIM — Jon Gray’s fists are coiled, one on top of the other, as if he’s gripping an invisible bat with everything his forearms can muster. The Colorado Rockies pitcher is trying to draw an analogy: “It’s like holding onto it like this, you know?”Gray is talking about his brain, the organ he considers most responsible for his midseason demotion to Triple-A. He could not reconcile his elite strikeout, walk and home run rates with a 5.77 earned-run average. Some of this was bad luck, but the 26-year-old compounded his problems by overthinking. Gray now realizes he had to let go. He had to get away.“Sometimes it doesn’t feel comfortable but you’ve got to take a step back,” he said. “It’s your job and everything. You want to do great, but you can’t hold onto it and try to make things happen.”When Gray returned to the majors, the Rockies won each of his next seven starts. They nearly made it eight in a row Monday, but the bullpen collapsed and the Angels came from behind to win 10-7. This wasn’t Gray’s fault, but by now he’s had plenty of practice letting things go.“I feel like it’s a difference in the mindset whenever I throw the ball, really,” he said. “It’s not really a physical change in me, or mechanical. I kicked everything I was thinking of while I was pitching to the side and tried to have fun throwing the baseball every day, and then things got better. I don’t know. I just had more fun.”Baseball can be fun for the Colorado Rockies’ pitching staff. Imagine that.A two-game split in Anaheim left Colorado tied with the Arizona Diamondbacks for first place in the National League West, a half-game behind the second wild-card berth. The Rockies’ offense has been below average by most measures, their bullpen mediocre. They have a chance to reach the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time ever on the strength of their starting rotation – something that seemed impossible when baseball arrived at Denver’s mile-high altitude.With one exception in 132 games, Bud Black has started Gray, Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, Tyler Anderson, Antonio Senzatela or Chad Bettis. Bettis is the oldest at 29, Marquez the youngest at 23. Only Marquez, acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in the Jake McGee-for-Corey Dickerson trade, is not homegrown. Each has been remarkably healthy.center_img “Last year was sort of a collection of the whole group – position players, bullpen, starting rotation,” Black said. “This year, I think the starting pitching has been probably the biggest part of our success. We’ve needed them to carry that.”What happened to the days of Andres Galarraga, Larry Walker and Todd Helton turning every game at Coors Field into a slugfest? How did the Rockies solve baseball’s biggest enigma?Start with the draft. Freeland (2014), Gray (2013) and Anderson (2011) were all first-round picks. Bettis (2010) was a second-rounder, while Senzatela signed as a 16-year-old amateur from Venezuela.Targeting pitchers early in the draft was nothing new – Colorado has used 24 of its 39 first-round picks on pitchers – but there was a reason to believe in this group from the outset.“When they changed the draft rules (in 2012), it put that club in position to get guys like Gray, Anderson, and Freeland – some of these pitchers who would normally slide down the draft because of bonus money or whatever else they could attract,” said Bill Geivett, a Rockies executive from 2000-14. “Now there’s a lot more parity in terms of what clubs like the Rockies can get in the draft. But that was always the goal, to be able to do that.”Geivett left a front-office position with the Dodgers, a franchise defined by its Hall of Fame pitchers, to join the Rockies, where fans wearing a pitcher’s jersey were almost nonexistent. He has since authored a book (“Do You Want To Work in Baseball?”) that draws on lessons learned with both franchises.Geivett said the analytical ingredients of a successful pitcher at Coors Field are typical: lots of strikeouts, few walks, a high ground-ball rate, a low fly-ball rate.“Everything that’s important in pitching is just really important there because mistakes get magnified,” he said. “That’s the only difference.”The Rockies have tried to cultivate an edge through development. From Little League, baseball players are taught that the best hitters fail 70 percent of the time. It works as a morning mirror mantra and a postgame quote – useful, except when it comes to Coors Field, where it simply is not true.There, Barry Bonds had a .468 on-base percentage. Even Wally Joyner didn’t make an out half the time. To challenge the conventional wisdom that they couldn’t win with pitching, Rockies pitchers needed to be convinced that the conventional wisdom is not true; that the best hitters might not fail 70 percent of the time. And they needed pitchers who could be convinced.“We sat with this group of young pitchers, some of whom had already emerged at the major league level, some of whom were fighting their way at Double-A, Triple-A,” General Manager Jeff Bridich said, “and said, ‘look guys, my plan right now is to go with this group. We believe in this group. We believe this group can take us where we want to go at the major league level as long as you guys continue to learn from each other, push each other, develop together, challenge each other to get better.’ ”The battlefield of the mind is a tricky place. A starting pitcher’s war is never totally won, since a new battle pops up every fifth day. Win most of the time and your team might make the playoffs, but your opponent still has an unfair advantage at altitude. This is why the Rockies’ strategy for developing pitchers places a disproportionate focus on psychology.Their new mantra?“If you pitch at Colorado, you’re going to give up hits, you’re going to give up runs, so what are you going to do about it? Altitude does matter, but your attitude matters more,” explained pitching coach Steve Foster.Freeland, 12-7 with a 2.90 earned-run average, is a classic finesse pitcher. He’s matured into a Cy Young candidate at 25 by painting the edges of the strike zone, limiting hard contact and letting his defense do most of the work.Foster believes Marquez has better pure stuff than most pitchers in the league.Gray, a classic power pitcher, is the poster boy for the Rockies’ developmental framework. His four-seam fastball can touch 99 mph on a radar gun, but it has topped out at 97 since he returned from Triple-A. Foster said the extra 2 mph are still in there. For Gray, part of letting go means not trying to strike every hitter out. He’s striking out fewer than one batter per inning since his return from Triple-A, something he’d never done as a major leaguer.At 26, Gray learned to put more stock in his attitude than his ERA.“You have to live experience,” Foster said. “You can’t buy it.”Well, maybe some teams can, but when it comes to pitchers, the Rockies can’t.For the first time ever, it’s working out OK.last_img read more