NORTH PORT, Fla. — Felix Hernandez turned around with surprise as he sensed media waiting to engage him. “You want to talk to me?” the new Atlanta Braves pitcher asked. Yes. Former Cy Young winners have a way of drawing interest. Hernandez’s presence is one of the early sub plots for the defending National League East Division champions. Free-agent acquisition Cole Hamels, pegged No. 4 in the team’s rotation, may miss three weeks of camp with shoulder soreness. There already had been an expected duel for the No. 5 spot between Hernandez, Sean Newcomb, Kyle Wright and recently signed Josh Tomlin. The Braves worked out their pitchers and catchers for the first time Thursday. Position players aren’t required to attend until next week. The No. 4 and 5 starter spots are important because the Braves hit the ground running with their schedule. They open at Arizona on March 26, which will start a stretch where they have just one day off in their first 25 games. “I’m not concerned,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’re farther along than a year ago when we had injuries to our starting pitching. We have 160 more innings of experience so we’re better served to fill those roles than last year.” A smiling Hernandez said he’s healthy and dropped a few pounds from his 225-pound frame. “I feel really good, no complaints. Now I have to go out and do my thing,” he said. From 2009-15, Hernandez was one of the best pitchers in baseball for the Seattle Mariners. He won 104 games in those years, always threw more than 200 innings and ranked in top 10 for Cy Young Award voting seven times. In 2010, Hernandez earned his Cy Young after he pitched almost 250 innings while having an earned-run average of 2.27. He walked 70 and struck out 232. Braves ace Mike Soroka said, “It’s going to be cool to watch him. You see what he did every year. He pitched 240 innings. He has a chance to be in the Hall of Fame. And he still wants to be out there.” However, the last two years have been rough for “The King.” After an 8-14 season in 2018 with a 5.55 ERA in 155 2/3 innings, Hernandez went 1-8 with a 6.40 ERA last season. His 15-year relationship with the Mariners ended. Fernandez said a muscle strain on his right side caused more problems than his shoulder. “I was not healthy,” he said. “Let’s forget about it, it’s in the past. New organization, new team.” A one-hour talk with Braves general manager Alex Anthopolous motivated Fernandez to sign. “He told me the truth and straight to my face, what’s going on,” Fernandez said. “He told me about veterans like (Anibal) Sanchez and (Anthony) Swarzak. He said, ‘You’ve got a chance to be in the playoffs, make the World Series. It’s a great group of guys with a great reputation.” Fernandez never has pitched in the postseason. “That’s the plus,” he said. “For me, it’s about making the playoffs. These guys, they’re really good. “It’s tough for Hamels. But I just have to go out and do my thing.” Hamels recently informed the Braves’ medical staff of the shoulder discomfort he felt after completing weighted-ball drills. The 36-year-old is currently in Dallas undergoing treatment with noted surgeon Keith Meister. Newcomb said he’s been preparing to be a starter all offseason. After making 30 starts in 2018 and going 12-9 with a 3.90 ERA, the former first-round pick pitched just 68 1/3 innings last year after struggling with his control. Wright made four starts last season and went 0-3 with an 8.69 ERA. Tomlin, 35, signed a minor-league deal on Wednesday. Last season in 51 appearances and one start, Tomlin had a 3.74 ERA. He opted to re-sign with Atlanta after not receiving the guaranteed deal a couple of other teams were pondering offering as recently as Tuesday. Tomlin will once again attempt to present the Braves a long-relief option if he’s not a starter. NOTES: New Braves C Travis d’Arnaud said he has a lot of learning to do after signing a two-year, $16 million deal with the team in the offseason. “I’ve seen the video so I’ve seen the potential,” d’Arnaud said. “It’s more about communication and finding out their thinking on the mound, how they execute their pitches and use other pitches to get outs. D’Arnaud is coming off a 16-homer, 67 RBI season for the Tampa Bay Rays. He hit .263. ... Position players don’t need to be in North Port until Tuesday but OF Ronald Acuña Jr. not only arrived early but told a translator he wants to have the first 50-50 season in Major League history. “I don’t want to stay complacent,” Acuña said.
Though position players are not due to report until Monday, Ronald Acuña Jr., left, and Ozzie Albies were among the early arrivals to the Braves’ new spring training facility in North Port.
Sydni Hazelwood made a strong statement to kick off her senior season on the pitch by scoring five goals in Pepperell’s 8-6 win over Temple on Wednesday.
The Lady Dragons took the road win with the help of several players, as Ansley Davenport, Megan Henderson and Marleni Perez scored a goal each, and Trista Ely had seven saves.
Pepperell (1-0) was up 4-1 at the half and had a 7-3 lead with 23 minutes left before a comeback attempt by the host Lady Tigers.
Madeline Silver, Lily Corey and Shelby Madden had solid defensive contributions for the Lady Dragons, with Silver finishing with seven clears and three tackles, while Corey had nine clears, and Madden had eight and three tackles
Pepperell will be back in action Tuesday hosting Model.
In other action:
Rockmart sweeps Coosa
There was a window Wednesday to get in some early-season tennis and Rockmart and Coosa took advantage of it as the host Jackets and Lady Jackets defeated their opponents.
Rockmart’s boys won 4-1 over the Eagles, and the Rockmart girls shut out the Lady Eagles 5-0.
In the boys’ matches, Rockmart’s Dillan Mahan and Gavin Tan each won their singles matches, with Mahan pulling out a 6-4, 7-5 win and Tan winning 6-0, 6-0.
The Jackets’ doubles team of Kaleb Shelton and Johnathan Crowe won 6-0, 6-1, and Tyler Paschal and Nathan Barrett won 6-0, 6-0.
In the girls’ matches, Maryann Earwood won her singles match 6-1, 6-1, while Eisley Pope and Amber Massey each won their match 6-0, 6-1.
MaddieAnn Harp and Megan Clanton won their doubles match 6-2, 6-2, and Hailey Fairel and Maddie Owens won their doubles match 6-0, 6-1,
Rockmart will host North Paulding Thursday while Coosa travels to Gordon Central.
The Armuchee baseball team made a huge last-inning comeback to win its season opener Tuesday, 7-6, over Mt. Bethel at Lakepoint Sports Complex.
Mt. Bethel opened the game with a five-run first inning and led 6-0 going into the bottom of the seventh when Armuchee put together a seven-run rally to walk it off.
Freshman pitcher Jack Rogers threw four innings and struck out seven for the Indians while allowing no runs. Cameron Sharp then came on in the sixth and struck out three over the final two innings.
Gauge Burkett was Armuchee’s leading hitter with two hits and two RBIs.
Armuchee lost to Hiram on Wednesday, 8-6, after a late rally came up short. That game was also played at Lakepoint.
The Indians (1-1) will have a chance to get some revenge Saturday when they travel to Hiram.
CHICAGO — The NBA is headquartered in New York. Anthony Davis, one of the game’s biggest names, plays in Los Angeles.
Both, unquestionably, are world-class cities.
But in Davis’ eyes, they both pale to his hometown. And this weekend, the Chicago native believes the eyes of the basketball world are where they belong — on his city.
“Chicago basketball,” the Lakers’ forward said. “There is nothing like Chicago basketball.”
Chicago is called the Second City, though no one from Chicago believes that the city is second to any other city on the planet — particularly those who represent the city in the NBA. L.A. has the glitz and glamour of the Lakers and now the Clippers, New York has the tradition of Madison Square Garden and possibly the best-known outdoor court in the world at Rucker Park, but Chicago guys scoff at the notion that the game means more anyplace else.
That’s why hosting All-Star weekend, with the events beginning in earnest Friday, is a badge of honor for Chicago. It’s been more than 20 years since Michael Jordan and the Bulls finished their run of six titles in eight years, nearly a decade since native son Derrick Rose gave the city its last NBA MVP and five years since the city celebrated winning an NBA playoff series. Though the Bulls are not good these days, anywhere one looks in the city Bulls red-and-black gear is still being worn proudly by a steeled fan base.
“Chicago is the Mecca of the game,” Davis said.
It’s silly to argue that with anyone from Chicago, since the agreement is basically unanimous. It’s the city that gave the NBA players like Dwyane Wade and Isiah Thomas, George Mikan and Maurice Cheeks, Mark Aguirre and Tim Hardaway. It boasts Cazzie Russell and Terry Cummings, Eddie Johnson and Dan Issel, Juwan Howard and Jeff Hornacek.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was born in Chicago. So was Doc Rivers, now the Clippers coach and a one-time NBA All-Star — back in 1988, the last time the league’s showcase weekend was in the Windy City.
“As far as I’m concerned, Chicago IS basketball,” Rivers said.
Rivers has a story that he thinks sums up the city’s love affair — and its affinity — for basketball. He recalls March 4, 1978, the day that the Chicago Daily News published for the final time in its 102-year history.
Much of the paper that day was devoted to its own history, which included 15 Pulitzer Prizes. Also covered in that final paper: high school basketball from the night before.
“Basketball, even high school basketball, is important in Chicago,” Rivers said. “They were covering it on the last day of their paper. That’s how important it was. It’s very important to the city. And I was lucky enough to be part of that.”
There will be plenty of Chicago flavor at this All-Star: Davis is in Sunday’s game, Patrick Beverley of the Clippers is in Saturday’s skills competition, and Miami’s Kendrick Nunn is in Friday’s Rising Stars game. Much of the entertainment the NBA is showcasing over the course of the weekend is also from Chicago: Jennifer Hudson was booked this week to perform a pre-All-Star game tribute to Kobe Bryant and the other victims of the helicopter crash that took the former NBA players life; Chance the Rapper and Common will play big roles throughout the weekend as well; Queen Latifah is performing during All-Star Saturday.
Also Saturday, President Barack Obama — another proud Chicagoan, and like Rivers an unabashed White Sox fan in a baseball-loving city where Cubs allegiance runs deep — will be hosting a roundtable discussion with several NBA players.
It is a celebration, tempered somewhat by the ongoing mourning of Bryant — in Chicago’s Midway Airport, someone taped a Bryant poster up near one of the gates in a busy terminal. No one seemed to know who put it there, and no one at the airport plans on taking it down, either. And this weekend also comes as the city continues to deal with a massive problem of gun violence, though the murder rate has dropped in each of the past three years.
“An All-Star in our city, it means a lot,” Nunn said. “It brings something positive to the city, and it needs it. The violence is definitely down, but anything something this good comes to Chicago it means a lot to the city. And it means a lot to me to have the chance to go back and be part of it all.”
Rivers said he thinks a quote from former Bulls coach Phil Jackson — “It’s a city with broad shoulders” — is one of the most appropriate ways to describe Chicago.
“The thing about Chicago, it’s a loyal sports town,” Rivers said. “The teams have been up and down, more down, but they don’t go away. When you play the Bulls on the road, it’s packed with Chicago fans. ... It’s a city that has grown up through sports.”
When the dust cleared after the opening day of the Georgia High School Association Traditional Wrestling State Championships, several area wrestlers were still on their way to being crowned state champions.
With the Round of 16 and quarterfinals out of the way, wrestlers will now compete in the semifinals, which get underway Friday at 2 p.m. at the Macon Centreplex.
Chattooga had nine wrestlers break through to the Class AA semifinals with Griffin Jarrett (113) Wes Conley (120), Jason Malone (138), Mason Sterner (145), Rowan Burdick (152), Jakoby Cottrell (170), Ty Veatch (195), Alex Mears (220) and Luis Medina (285) all advancing through the opening day of action.
For Floyd County teams, Armuchee’s Cameron Espy (126) defeated Jesse White of Jeff Davis by fall and will face Kevin Martin of Fitzgerald in the semis, while Model’s Joe Wallace (152) topped Union County’s Guild Brady in a 10-4 decision. Wallace will now go up against Cory Young of Lamar County.
For Pepperell, Drake Miller (170) earned his way to the semis by defeating Chandler Diles of Harlem by fall after a first-round bye, and he will now go up against Marty Bailey of Elbert County.
Rockmart had two wrestlers make it through the semis with Izaeah Beavers winning at 113 and Peyton Morris winning at 120.
In Class A, Darlington’s Luke McDurmon and Alan Cordero followed up first-place wins at last week’s sectionals with wins in Thursday’s quarterfinals after receiving byes through the Round of 16.
For Trion, Lincoln Maddux (152), Brantley Willbanks (195) and Clay Baker (285) all moved on to the semifinals after receiving byes through the opening round.
In Class 5A, Rome’s lone wrestler at the competition Bryant Wilkinson won two matches on the day and will go up against Loganville’s Brian Stratford in the 195-pound semifinals.
In the girls’ competition, the area was represented by Model’s Ryli Howe, and Pepperell’s Allyson Daddario and Madison Baxter.
The Pepperell wrestlers still have a shot at third place in their weight classes. Baxter (225) won in the Round of 16 before falling in the quarterfinals and will compete in the second round of wrestlebacks today. Daddario fell in the first round, but will also compete today in the 172-pound weight class.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Survival is the most important skill in the Daytona 500.
NASCAR’s season opener is a three-hour, white-knuckle thrill ride in cramped quarters at 200 mph that’s as much about finding holes and help than having speed and handling.
The fastest car rarely wins and has as good a shot at ending up in the junkyard as victory lane.
It’s why little-known Michael McDowell has nearly as many top-10 finishes at Daytona International Speedway as stars Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson since the famed track was repaved in 2010.
McDowell is far from the only fluke. A look into recent top-10s at Daytona highlights the unpredictable nature of superspeedway racing and gives hope to every driver in the 40-car field.
“To finish first, you must finish, right?” veteran driver Clint Bowyer said. “You’ve got to get there. Literally the hardest thing to do is get to the end of that race with all four of your fenders on.”
Thirty years after Derrike Cope notched arguably the most improbable win in Daytona 500 history, the track has reached new heights — more of a “who’s that” scenario than a who’s who of auto racing running up front at the end.
“Think about the way it was when I first started, what you had to overcome handling, slipping and sliding around and a gutsy move,” said the 40-year-old Bowyer, who is 0 for 14 in “The Great American Race” and winless in 28 Cup Series starts at Daytona.
“Now it’s survival. You’ve got to survive,” he said. “You’ve got to figure out how to find that hole that’s a safe hole that you can survive and make it to the end.”
McDowell, Chris Buescher, Matt DiBenedetto, AJ Allmendinger, Ty Dillon and Erik Jones are among those with more top-10s at Daytona than Kyle Larson, who is considered one of NASCAR’s most complete and capable drivers.
Austin Dillon, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman have combined for more top-10s at the famed track than Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski.
Odd, right? Some of the races look downright off, even for Daytona.
Ryan Preece and Ross Chastain slipped into the top 10 in last year’s 500 following two late crashes that knocked out nearly half the field.
Austin Dillon notched his second career Cup Series victory in the 2018 opener thanks partly to a 12-car pileup in overtime. Dillon led just one lap, the last one.
The July race at Daytona has been even more chaotic.
Rookie Justin Haley won last year’s rain-shortened debacle that also included Corey LaJoie, DiBenedetto and Matt Tifft in the top 10. It was the second straight year the winner only led the final lap.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., McDowell, David Ragan, Brendan Gaughan and Buescher found themselves up front at the end in 2017.
“Mainly it’s all about making good decisions on the racetrack and being a smart guy on the track people want to work with,” DiBenedetto said. “It’s really doing all the things in your control to the best of your ability and then, on top of that, hoping all the things out of your control work your way because you’ve got to have some luck.”
The 2010 repave changed everything at Daytona.
The worn-out, slippery and bumpy racing surface, which prompted tire changes at nearly every pit stop, was gone. Instead, new asphalt around the 2½-mile, high-banked track created the tightest pack racing ever seen at Daytona. Tandem racing became the trend in 2011, when Trevor Bayne’s second career Cup start ended with a trip to victory lane.
Several rules changes loosened up the tag-team racing, but two cars locking bumpers and pushing and bumping remains the fastest way around the track. And teamwork has become paramount, something that gets talked about before, during and after the races.
“It’s wild,” Buescher said. “There are a lot of things that are in your control. There’s a lot of skill-set to it and a lot of good decisions need to be made. But there is a luck factor as well.”
Hamlin has been one of the most fortunate in recent years. The defending race winner is one of three drivers — along with McDowell and Joey Logano — to notch consecutive top-10 finishes in the Daytona 500. Hamlin has finished in the 500’s top 10 five times in the last six years.
“I talk about trying to be in the right position. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to get wrecked on the first lap,” Hamlin said. “I think the law of averages would tell you I’m due to get crashed out about the next six or seven Daytona 500s because the last six or eight I haven’t.
“I’ve been a factor to be at the end. You just never know. I’ll continue to try to do the same thing. Who knows what will happen?”
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