Houston bans Detroit Free Press reporter Anthony Fenech after dispute with Astros pitcher Justin Verlander

HOUSTON (AP) — Amid criticism from Major League Baseball, the Houston Astros on Thursday defended the team’s decision to deny a newspaper reporter access to the clubhouse until after ace pitcher Justin Verlander finished his postgame session with the media.
MLB said Wednesday night’s incident violated its media guidelines and the Detroit Free Press said barring its reporter, Anthony Fenech, was “intolerable.”
Verlander, who played for Detroit for 13 seasons, had just pitched a two-hitter in a 2-1 loss to the Tigers. The Astros opened their clubhouse at 9:35 p.m. As the rest of the media was allowed to enter, Fenech, who has a credential issued by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, was stopped by three Astros security officials.
Fenech contacted MLB vice president of communications Mike Teevan and was allowed in at 9:41 p.m., after Verlander had concluded his media session. Fenech approached Verlander, who said: “I’m not answering your questions.”
Verlander addressed the situation on Twitter on Thursday, accusing Fenech of unspecified “unethical behavior in the past.” The Astros said Fenech was “delayed temporarily.”
“This course of action was taken after taking into consideration the past history between Fenech and one of our players, Justin Verlander, Verlander’s legitimate concerns about past interactions with Fenech, and the best interests of the other media members working the game,” Astros vice president of communications Gene Dias said. “Fenech was allowed access to the clubhouse shortly after other media members and had the opportunity to approach Verlander or any player he needed. We believe that our course of action in this isolated case was appropriate.”
Asked for comment on Dias’ explanation, the Free Press cited a statement from executive editor Peter Bhatia:
“Blocking a working reporter from doing his job is unprofessional, disappointing and intolerable,” Bhatia said. “We will be protesting to MLB and the Astros.”
MLB’s Teevan said “the reporter should have been allowed to enter the clubhouse postgame at the same time as the other members of the media.
“We have communicated this to the Astros,” he said.
BBWAA President Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic said the organization was “alarmed” by the incident.

Detroit Lions lean heavily on Matthew Stafford with no real quarterback backup plan

By LARRY LAGE
AP Sports Writer
DETROIT — The Detroit Lions have leaned heavily on Matthew Stafford since selecting him No. 1 overall in the 2009 NFL draft.
Stafford has started since he was a rookie, and after injuries stunted his first two seasons, the strong-armed quarterback has started every game for eight straight years.
Detroit desperately needs that streak to extend through Matt Patricia’s second year. Otherwise, it’s difficult to envision how the Lions could possibly bounce back from a 10-loss season in Patricia’s debut season as a head coach.
The Lions signed Tom Savage to be Stafford’s backup after he started seven games for Houston last season. Savage, though, has been in concussion protocol during the preseason. Detroit’s other options are Josh Johnson, a three-game starter for Washington last season, and David Fales, who has never started an NFL game.
Perhaps wisely, the Lions didn’t expose Stafford to injury during the first two preseason games and held him out of practices in the hopes of keeping him healthy all year. Stafford insisted that sitting out of practices and preseason games had nothing to do with the back injury that bothered him last season.
“Oh no, I feel good,” he said.

NEW-LOOK OFFENSE
Patricia inherited offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who worked for fired coach Jim Caldwell, and chose to let his contract expire following last season. He hired former Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to bring his balanced approach to Detroit, where Stafford has been a part of pass-happy schemes for much of his career. Second-year running back Kerryon Johnson and veteran C.J. Anderson, coming off a solid postseason run with the Los Angeles Rams, will have a chance to take advantage of Bevell’s play-calling tendencies that have favored the running game.

BLUE WALL
The Lions addressed their biggest need in the offseason, signing former New England standout defensive end Trey Flowers to a five-year deal worth up to $90 million. They bolstered their front even more in late July, adding defensive tackle Mike Daniels after Green Bay released him in a salary-cap move. That duo, along with DTs Damon “Snack” Harrison and A’Shawn Robinson and end Romeo Okwara, will likely be able to slow down running games, forcing teams to pass.

THROUGH THE AIR
Stafford should have some favorable matchups when he drops back to pass. Kenny Golladay seems to be a rising star. Veteran Marvin Jones is intent on returning to form after an injury-shortened season. Newly acquired Danny Amendola provides a slot receiver the team lacked when Golden Tate was traded to Philadelphia during last season. The Lions also turned their weakness at tight end into a strength by signing veteran Jesse James and drafting T.J. Hockenson with the No. 8 overall pick.
“I’ve seen a big upgrade in that room,” Bevell said.

PATRICIA’S PLAN
The Lions experienced a rough transition last year under the hard-driving Patricia following four seasons with mild-mannered Caldwell. In Year 2, the coach and the players seem to be more comfortable with each other.
“Everyone kind of understood what was expected,” Patricia said. “And what we were going to try to do and how we were going to try to do things, which was obviously very different last year compared to what was done previously.”

Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia instructs players during a joint training camp practice with the Houston Texans in Houston on Aug. 15. Patricia is starting his second season as Lions’ coach. (AP photo)

SLAY SAYS
Darius Slay seems to be motivated to earn a new contract, showing up for training camp after missing a mandatory minicamp in the hopes of getting a new deal. The one-time All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowl cornerback is in the third year of his $50 million, four-year deal. Slay predicted he’s going to dominate this season, seeking to be compensated as one of the game’s best players at his position.
“I play for the name on the back of my jersey and this organization and my teammates,” he said. “Nothing is going to stop me from what I’m going to do on the field.”

Astros’ Gerrit Cole mows down Tigers with 12 strikeouts in seven innings in Houston’s 6-3 win

By JORDAN GODWIN
Associated Press
HOUSTON — A day after failing to back a gem by ace Justin Verlander, Alex Bregman and the Houston Astros were determined to convert on another from Gerrit Cole.
Cole struck out 12 over seven scoreless innings, Bregman homered and the Astros beat the Detroit Tigers 6-3 Thursday night. After the Tigers stunned Houston in a 2-1 win Wednesday despite Verlander’s complete-game two-hitter, the Astros gave Cole more than enough run support.
Michael Brantley extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a fourth-inning double, and Bregman followed with a lined shot to the first row of the left field Crawford Boxes for his 31st homer.
“He set the tone,” Bregman said of Cole. “He came out dominant and was striking a lot of guys out so we knew we had to get him some runs.”
Cole (15-5) pitched two-hit ball and allowed one walk over 94 pitches. He’s 11-0 with a 1.84 ERA in his past 15 starts and has 238 strikeouts this season, one shy of teammate and league leader Verlander.
Brantley finished with three hits, including a two-run single in the seventh. He leads the majors with a .338 batting average.
Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann (1-9) allowed three hits and two runs while striking out four in five innings.
Houston went up 3-0 in the sixth on Yordan Alvarez’s RBI-double. Yuli Gurriel also added an RBI single in the seventh to put the Astros up 6-0.
In the ninth, John Hicks hit a two-run homer — much less dramatic than his go-ahead solo shot off Verlander the night before — and Niko Goodrum added a solo homer off reliever Joe Biagini.
Representing the tying run, Dawel Lugo’s deep shot to right field was caught by Josh Reddick at the wall for the final out. Roberto Osuna earned his 30th save of the season.

Detroit Tigers reliever Gregory Soto delivers against the Astros in the sixth inning Thursday in Houston. (AP photo)

New college football coaching coordinators to have large impact on their teams

By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP College Football Writer
As major college football programs grow in size and complexity, the most important job a head coach has is hiring talented assistants and staff members.
Coordinators are especially pivotal because they often operate with near autonomy — especially when their expertise differs with that of the head coach. A good coordinator hire can change the trajectory of a program.
A few head coaches are banking on that this season. These new coordinators could have a major impact on not just their teams, but the entire college football season.

KENDAL BRILES
offensive coordinator
Florida State
Coach Willie Taggart drew some scrutiny for hiring Briles, who worked for his father, Art, at Baylor as that school went through a bruising scandal tied to sexual assault accusations. There is no questioning the move based on previous on-field results. At Baylor, FAU and Houston, Kendal Briles’ offenses have put up big numbers. He will have to work around a deficient offensive line, but if the offense clicks then Taggart’s second year in Tallahassee should be much better than his first.

DAN ENOS
offensive coordinator/ quarterbacks coach, Miami
New coach Manny Diaz calls luring Enos from Alabama the most important transfer he landed this offseason. Few teams have been so shackled by poor quarterback play the past couple seasons. If Enos can turn either N’Kosi Perry, Tate Martell or Jarren Williams into an above-average QB, the Hurricanes’ first year under former defensive coordinator Diaz could be a memorable one.

JOSH GATTIS
offensive coordinator
Michigan
Gattis is perhaps the most intriguing new offensive coordinator in the country as Jim Harbaugh seems to be ceding control in favor of a more modern approach. It’s not as if the Wolverines weren’t running spread elements and run-pass options last season with quarterback Shea Patterson. But bringing in Gattis suggests a more immersive approach. Considering all the attention and scrutiny Harbaugh gets, however this goes will either be viewed as a wild success or a spectacular failure even if the reality is somewhere in between.

ALEX GRINCH
defensive coordinator
Oklahoma
Grinch quickly built a reputation for putting together competitive defenses without a bunch of blue-chippers at Washington State, then spent last year at Ohio State. He bounced to Oklahoma this offseason as Lincoln Riley tries to find a solution to the Sooners’ lingering defensive issues. The core problem in Norman seems to be talent acquisition and development, which takes time to fix. Oklahoma hopes Grinch can clean up the missed tackles and assignments and get the Sooners’ defense to respectable in 2019.

GRAHAM HARRELL
offensive coordinator/
quarterbacks coach
Southern California
Harrell was Plan B for USC coach Clay Helton when Kliff Kingsbury bailed on the Trojans OC job to become an NFL head coach. Harrell gets to plug former five-star recruit in JT Daniels into his version of the Air Raid. How well that works out could very well determine if Helton keeps his job. No pressure, Graham.

GREG MATTISON
and JEFF HAFLEY
co-defensive coordinators
Ohio State
New Buckeyes coach Ryan Day swiped Mattison from Michigan. One of the most respected defensive coaches in the country, the 69-year-old Mattison now joins forces with the 40-year-old Hafley to remake a defense that was maybe the worst in school history last year. Scheme tweaks include the use of a promising defensive back Shaun Wade in a safety/linebacker hybrid role.

Worker accused of defrauding

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) — A former Catholic Diocese of Kalamazoo employee has been indicted on a federal wire fraud charge after allegedly defrauding immigrants she was supposed to be assisting.
Federal prosecutors contend that Monica Karina Mazei engaged in a scheme between 2015 and this year while assigned to help people apply for visas, work permits, permanent resident status and citizenship.
Prosecutors say she requested blank checks or money orders from her clients, wrote “U.S. Department of Homeland Security” in the payee line of the documents that she used as receipts, then wrote her own name on the checks and cashed them.
The diocese said in a statement Thursday that the employee was fired when officials learned of the potential fraud earlier this year.
Mazei did not return a call left on her phone.

Man charged in death of Detroit girl attacked by 3 dogs while on her bike

DETROIT (AP)— A man was charged Thursday in the death of a 9-year-old Detroit girl, who was mauled by three dogs despite rescue efforts by neighbors, her father and emergency workers.
Pierre Cleveland, 33, was charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and having a dangerous animal causing death, Wayne County prosecutors said. Cleveland owned the pit bulls or pit bull mixes that got free from his yard and attacked Emma Hernandez as she rode a bike Monday in her neighborhood on the city’s southwest side.
A judge entered a not-guilty plea on Cleveland’s behalf and set bond at $2 million. The judge also set a probable cause hearing for Aug. 30 and a preliminary exam on Sept. 6.
Defense attorney Emmett Greenwood said Cleveland tried to get the dogs off Emma, and that he has no criminal history. Cleveland is a machinist who lost three fingers in a recent workplace accident, Greenwood said.
“My client and (his) family wanted to convey they are praying for the precious child,” Greenwood told The Associated Press after the hearing. One of the dogs was shot by a bystander while a medical crew tried to save the girl in an alley. The other dogs were captured. Neighbors threw bricks at the dogs to try to stop the attack, police said.
Emma died at a hospital.
Her father, Armando Hernandez, said this week that the dogs lived at a house behind his, and that he and the owner had argued recently about them. The dogs weren’t properly restrained and the fence was too flimsy, Hernandez said.
Prosecutors allege Cleveland left the dogs loose and went to a nearby store. Investigators say the fence was damaged and unsecured, and a side door on a garage was open, leading to the alley.
Cleveland knew the dogs were aggressive. One of the dogs involved in the attack recently killed puppies in Cleveland’s home, a prosecutor said.
“It is high time that the city of Detroit shines a light on the owners of these dangerous animals that sometimes roam and wreak serious havoc — none worse than what happened here,” Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement.
Animal control officers received a complaint in March 2018 about two of the dogs involved in Monday’s attack, according to several media reports. Officers responded to a call about the dogs not being behind the fence but nobody answered the door.
The dogs are expected to be euthanized, though it’s unclear when. The Associated Press left a message with Detroit Animal Care & Control.
The death follows the December 2015 fatal mauling by four pit bulls of Xavier Strickland, a 4-year-old Detroit boy who was attacked with his mother. Police had to shoot them to free the boy’s body.
The dogs’ owner, Geneke Lyons , was convicted several months later of involuntary manslaughter. Lyons wasn’t home at the time of the attack, but prosecutors said he should be held responsible because the dogs weren’t under control. A judge earlier dismissed a second-degree murder charge. Numerous pit bull attacks have made headlines in Michigan and elsewhere. A 2014 American Veterinary Medical Association report says pit bulls are not disproportionately dangerous in comparison to other breeds, and that the owner’s behavior should be taken into account.

Michigan priest accused of binding teen

ALLEGAN (AP) — A priest wrapped a teen boy in plastic and tape and left him in a janitor’s room for more than an hour at a Michigan church, prosecutors alleged Thursday as they filed a charge of false imprisonment.
The alleged incident occurred in 2013. But the attorney general’s office, citing records from the Kalamazoo Diocese, said the Rev. Brian Stanley “had been engaging in this type of conduct with the binding materials for decades.”
Stanley, 57, was in custody and not immediately available for comment. He appeared via video feed for a hearing in Allegan and was formally charged with unlawful imprisonment.
He was being held on $5,000 bond and ordered to have no contact with minors as a condition of his bond.
The attorney general’s office said the incident occurred at St. Margaret Church in Otsego where Stanley had been asked by the boy’s family to counsel him.
Investigators said the teen was wrapped in plastic and his mouth and eyes were covered with tape.

Republicans file 2nd suit challenging formation of redistricting panel

LANSING (AP) — The Michigan Republican Party sued Thursday to block the formation of a commission to draw congressional and legislative lines in 2021, saying the voter-approved change is unconstitutional because there will be no reliable way to verify the panel’s political makeup.
The federal lawsuit, the second filed by Republicans in less than a month, seeks an injunction against Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, whose office is implementing the law.
Others joining the newest challenge include GOP chairwoman Laura Cox, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and state Rep. Hank Vaupel.
The 2018 constitutional amendment requires that a randomly selected commission of four self-identified Democrats, four self-identified Republicans and five unaffiliated members draw political districts instead of the Legislature, starting in 2021. It is a bid to curtail gerrymandering in a state where the GOP has had one of the largest partisan legislative advantages in the country after controlling the once-a-decade process in 2011.
The suit alleges that the law “can, and likely will, result in a situation where those who do not represent (the party’s) interests are selected as Republican commissioners and, by implication, standard bearers of the political party.”
It says that other states with an independent redistricting panel are different because they have party registration or the political parties are involved in determining their representatives on the commission.
Those excluded from serving on Michigan’s panel include people who currently are or have in the previous six years been elected partisan officials or candidates, their paid consultants or employees, legislative workers, lobbyists and their employees, or political appointees not subject to civil service classification. Also barred from the paid positions are those individuals’ parents, children and spouses.
“We do not oppose the concept of a fairly designed and implemented redistricting committee, but that is not what this is,” Cox said in a written statement. “Instead this is an assault on the associational rights of political parties.”
Voters Not Politicians, the group that spearheaded the ballot measure, said the suit is not surprising but a “reminder of what’s at stake.”
“Those who have the most power to lose will do whatever they can to keep hold of it, but we are confident the redistricting amendment will withstand this legal challenge and all others, and that the will of the people will prevail,” said Nancy Wang, the organization’s executive director.
Under new law, Benson must make applications to join the commission available by Jan. 1, including by mailing them to 10,000 randomly selected voters across the state.
Her office will randomly choose 200 applicants — 60 Republicans, 60 Democrats and 80 unaffiliated with either party. The two Democratic and two Republican legislative leaders will have the option of eliminating 20. After that, Benson will randomly select the 13 members.

Defying the odds: Worst-in-majors Detroit Tigers beat Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander, playoff shoo-in Houston Astros

By KRISTIE RIEKEN
AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON — Justin Verlander was splendid against the Detroit Tigers, pitching a two-hitter and fanning 11 in another dominant performance for the Astros.
Houston’s offense wasn’t nearly as sharp on Wednesday night, and it led to an unusual, tough-luck 2-1 loss.
“Just an incredible performance,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Just not one that we could help him with.
“We wasted a really good start by our starting pitcher.”
John Hicks and Ronny Rodriguez homered off Verlander — the only two baserunners he allowed.
“The two times I gave in and gave them a fastball, they hit a homer on it,” said Verlander, who has been critical of Major League Baseball for what he believes are intentional changes to the ball that have led to more home runs.
“Baseball in 2019. I didn’t go out of the stretch at all the entire game, and we lost. I don’t know what else to say.”
With Verlander on the mound at home against the worst team in the majors, the Astros were more than a 5-1 favorite, one of the biggest favorites in an MLB game that Las Vegas oddsmakers could remember.
Hicks led off the ninth with a tiebreaking blast to left-center field off Verlander (15-5), who leads the majors in strikeouts with 239 but ranks second in homers allowed with 33.
Hicks has a long history with Verlander. His brother Daniel went to high school with him and was in his wedding to supermodel Kate Upton in 2017.
“It’s surreal for sure,” Hicks said.
“I remember being 10 years old watching him and my brother play in high school and watching him dominate.”
Verlander retired the first 14 batters, with six strikeouts, before Rodriguez homered to the seats in right with two outs in the fifth.
The veteran right-hander sat down another 10 straight before Hicks connected.
“That’s the biggest win for us in a long, long time, especially against a premium team like that, a World Series contender and Verlander on the mound,” Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire said.
“In Detroit we got him last year at the All-Star break and we got him again, but we really didn’t get him very much tonight.”

The Astros’ Robinson Chirinos, center, is tagged out by Detroit Tigers third baseman Dawel Lugo while trying to stretch a double into a triple during the ninth inning to end the game played Wednesday in Houston. The Tigers won 2-1. (AP photo)

Detroit Lions, defensive tackle Damon Harrison OK $11 million contract extension

DETROIT (AP) — A person familiar with the situation tells The Associated Press that defensive tackle Damon Harrison and the Detroit Lions have agreed to an $11 million, one-year extension, giving him three years left under contract with the franchise.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday because the agreement had not been announced.
The Lions acquired Harrison from the New York Giants in the middle of last season for a draft pick. Harrison, 30, was a 2016 All-Pro selection.
Harrison is entering his eighth season. He’s started 16 games in six straight seasons while playing for the Jets, Giants and Lions.