National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Rangers ace Darvish scratched with neck stiffness

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish was scratched from his scheduled start at Minnesota because of neck stiffness he woke up with, and right-hander Scott Baker was summoned back from the bullpen to face his former team Tuesday night.

This was yet another injury to a star player for the ailing Rangers, who entered the day with wins in five of their previous six games despite the persistence of health problems.

"Just go play. Everyone still has a job to do. We've lost a lot of good ballplayers, but we've also got a lot of good ballplayers out there," said manager Ron Washington, who learned of the latest setback around noon, seven hours before first pitch.

The Rangers were hoping Darvish would be able to avoid the disabled list, and they received favorable news from a precautionary MRI test on his neck, which was stiff enough in spring training to keep him from pitching for nearly three weeks and delay his season debut by one start until April 6.

The team announced a few minutes before Baker took the mound that Darvish's test was "unremarkable" in that it showed no trouble in his neck worse than his previous problem. Darvish was taking medication and receiving treatment and reported improvement from earlier in the day. The date of his next start was still to be determined, depending on how he feels Wednesday.

Baker, who was a second-round draft pick by the Twins out of Oklahoma State in 2003, spent five seasons at the front of their rotation until an elbow injury forced Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in 2012. Baker gave up six runs in six innings Friday at Detroit in his first start of the year but was intended to be moved back to long relief afterward. Against the Twins, he took the mound with three days of rest.

Whether he stays in the rotation this time will depend, of course, on Darvish's status. The 27-year-old Japanese sensation is 4-2 in nine starts with a 2.35 ERA, the fourth-best in the league. He has 71 strikeouts in 61 1-3 innings.

"If he can pitch Sunday, I want him to pitch," Washington said, acknowledging he'd prefer Darvish not have to swing the bat or run the bases with the Rangers playing an interleague series at Washington.

The Rangers will have to make a roster move Wednesday regardless, with left-hander Joe Saunders due to come off the disabled list and pitch against the Twins. Saunders has been out since April 4, when he was hit by a line drive on his left ankle in the fourth inning at Tampa Bay. Saunders suffered a stress fracture and made four rehabilitation starts in the minors this month.

"There's no limit on Joe. The Minnesota Twins are going to tell us how limited he's going to be," Washington said.

50 Cent not on money with 1st pitch at Citi Field

NEW YORK (AP) 50 Cent was on the mound, but not on the money.

The rap star was comically off target when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday night before the Pittsburgh Pirates played the New York Mets at Citi Field.

Standing on the rubber 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate, 50 Cent wound up and launched a left-handed toss that sailed way wide of Mets catcher Anthony Recker. The ball bounced to the backstop and nearly nicked a cameraman standing not all that far from the Mets' on-deck circle as 50 Cent and New York pitcher Jonathon Niese both smiled.

Wearing a Mets jersey with No. 50 and the name Jackson on the back, 50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson III, held a bat as he posed for pictures with Curtis Granderson and other Mets on the field during batting practice.

50 Cent was born in nearby South Jamaica and has a postgame concert at Citi Field scheduled for June 14.

Thomas may get 1st shot as Seahawks punt returner

RENTON, Wash. (AP) Apparently Earl Thomas' $40 million extension with the Seattle Seahawks did not mean fewer responsibilities on his plate.

Next up for the All-Pro free safety: punt returning?

Don't scoff. Seattle coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday after the first organized team activity of the Seahawks' offseason program that Thomas would be the first up as punt returner right now. That all could change by the time the Sept. 4 season opener against Green Bay arrives. But for now, the job is Thomas' to lose.

The question of who will return punts after the departure of Golden Tate in free agency is one of the few the Seahawks must answer this offseason. Tate was a standout for Seattle in that role, but he left for bigger money from Detroit during free agency.

Thomas isn't the only one being considered. Carroll rattled off a list that also included Percy Harvin, Richard Sherman and Bryan Walters. But he was quick to say if the season started now, Thomas would be his choice.

"He's the guy that has the most catches for us," Carroll said. "But I'm anxious to see how Bryan Walters fits into that. He's got experience. Percy is out there vying for it. (Sherman) would tell you he's the best for it and he catches the ball really well."

Thomas has not returned a punt in the NFL. The last time he did was during his sophomore year at Texas when he made three punt returns, including a 50-yarder against Kansas. He said it's an opportunity he's lobbied for since coming to the Seahawks and is hoping to take advantage since there is a void.

"I'm very excited. I've been waiting on this opportunity. That's what I do. I'm an athlete. I've been trying to tell coach Carroll to put me back there for the longest (time)," Thomas said. "I always try and go back there during walkthroughs and try and sneak a punt return just to show him who I am. And I want to score a touchdown so this is my perfect opportunity to score a touchdown. I'm an offensive guy at heart. That's why I don't go out of bounds when I catch an interception."

Thomas is a two-time first-team All-Pro selection, and quickly became the top safety in the NFL thanks to his speed and instincts as part of the top secondary in the league. The idea of Thomas putting himself at risk by returning punts was not a concern for him or his coach.

"I want to show everybody who I am and I want to be able to impact the game as much as possible," Thomas said. "This is a great opportunity. I just need to capitalize on it."

For his part, Harvin said he wants to be in the punt return conversation as well. Harvin has not returned punts in the NFL, focusing just on kick returns, and he said part of that was being on teams that had solid punt returners.

"Every coach I had ... they always wanted me to put that in my tool box," Harvin said. "So I've practiced it enough to be able to try and put it in some type of game."

NOTES: When asked about not slipping after winning the Super Bowl, Thomas mentioned being upset last week when President Barack Obama mentioned rival San Francisco while honoring the Seahawks. "I said, `Why would he speak about the 49ers? This is not about them. This is our day."' ... Carroll raved about OL James Carpenter having lost 15 pounds and being in the best shape of his career. Carpenter, a former first-round pick, is entering the last season of his contract. ... Seattle signed LB Horace Miller of UTEP, who participated in rookie camp as a tryout candidate.

With Pacers down 3-1, Vogel wants simple approach

MIAMI (AP) Frank Vogel stood with his back against a wall, seeming perfectly comfortable.

He's hoping his Indiana Pacers can do the same.

The Pacers' season of great expectation is now in great trouble, with the Miami Heat leading the Eastern Conference finals 3-1 heading into Game 5 at Indianapolis on Wednesday night. The Heat have won three straight in the series, and are now one win from ending the Pacers' season for a third consecutive year.

"I think anytime you lose three in a row in the playoffs, it shakes your confidence some," Vogel, the Pacers' coach, said in a downtown Miami hotel lobby before his team headed to the airport Tuesday. "But we can't worry about that. All we've got to worry about is coming back and winning Game 5 and giving us an opportunity to come down here and win one game.

"We've won one game in each playoff series that we've played here the last two years. We should have confidence that we can do that."

It's safe to wonder if confidence is in short supply, though, as the Pacers seem to be rattling.

Some Indiana issues in the last three games include: Floundering late to lose Game 2 at home, blowing a 15-point lead at Miami in Game 3, Lance Stephenson calling LeBron James out before Game 4, Roy Hibbert failing to score a point Monday, and Paul George and David West both putting that loss on what they thought was one-sided officiating.

"Home-cooking," George said.

Added West: "We learned some new rules."

Vogel said he wasn't bothered by what George said, and declined to say if the Pacers would argue Game 4 officiating points with the league office. The league, however, had issues with George's comments and fined the Pacers forward $25,000 on Tuesday for public criticism of the officiating.

Despite the fine and George's concerns, Indiana - bolstered by a 37-15 edge in Game 1 - has still taken 94 free throws in the series to Miami's 87, and the Heat have been charged with four more fouls.

"We can't control calls," Vogel said. "We've got to worry about what we (can control), our turnovers, our shot selection, our passing, our defense."

There was some irony in George's postgame remarks Monday night, in which he alternated between seeming to gently chide Stephenson for his "weakness" comments about James and making multiple references to the free-throw disparity in Game 4.

After Game 1's one-sided foul-shot totals, the Heat did not openly complain about officiating.

"It had nothing to do with the disparity in that game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We did everything wrong."

They've pretty much done everything right since.

And now it's the Pacers who have absolutely no room for error, since only eight teams in NBA history have successfully overcome a 3-1 series deficit. No one has done so this deep into the playoffs since 1981.

"We know we can close it out, but it's going to be a very hostile environment," said Heat forward Chris Bosh, who scored 25 points in Game 4. "We're expecting that. We're expecting them at their best. It's always extremely hard to close out a team."

Vogel - who held a pre-flight film session before the Pacers left Miami - said he implored his players in that meeting to only think about Game 5 and not allow themselves to become consumed with the daunting task of climbing out of a 3-1 hole.

"I think that is when we are at our best, when our back is against the wall," Pacers guard George Hill said. "We are going to be home in front of our fans and I'm sure they're going to be going crazy."

The Heat would expect nothing less.

A win would give Miami more than a week off before the NBA Finals begin on June 5. It would also give the Heat franchise the distinction of being the third club in NBA history to make the finals in four straight seasons, joining the Celtics and Lakers.

"We don't want to come back for Game 6," James said. "We love our fans, obviously. We love being in Miami, but we want to try to close it out. But we're going to have to work for it. It's not going to be easy, not against this team."

NOTES: Neither team practiced Tuesday.... Heat F Chris Andersen, held out of Game 4 with a deep thigh contusion, was getting treatment Tuesday. So was Heat G Ray Allen, who took a tumble after a hard screen late in Game 4.

Jaguars open OTAs with Bortles as backup

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) The Jacksonville Jaguars' current and future quarterbacks took the field together for the first time Tuesday for the team's first of 10 offseason practice sessions.

Incumbent Chad Henne and rookie Blake Bortles took the majority of snaps in Tuesday's OTA, with Henne working strictly with the No. 1 unit, Bortles directing the second team. Bortles was the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 draft, but Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell said at that time Henne would continue as the starter.

Henne started 13 games in 2013, completing 305 of 503 passes (60.6 percent) for 3,241 yards and 13 touchdowns. But he also threw 14 interceptions, had a 76.5 passer rating and led the Jaguars to just four wins.

Even with Bortles coming in as a first-round pick, Henne said he feels like this is his team this year.

"Definitely with them saying I'm the starter this year and gravitating and becoming more of a leader on this offense and team. I definitely feel that way," Henne said.

The seventh-year pro has his shortcomings to improve on during the 10 days of OTAs.

"I just want to be consistent with my footwork and my drops and it will only better me with my accuracy on the field and getting the ball where it needs to be," he said. "Other than that, it's just demanding more out of myself and demanding more out of myself to be a leader on this team in that regard."

While Henne wants to improve on his performance from a year ago, he'll also be mentoring the team's quarterback of the future. Bortles declared for the draft following his junior season at Central Florida where he compiled a 22-5 record as a starter. He passed for 7,598 yards and 56 touchdowns compared to just 19 interceptions.

His biggest win may have been his final game when he was voted MVP of the Fiesta Bowl in a win over Baylor, throwing for 301 yards and three touchdowns.

After his first practice with the rest of the Jaguars veterans, Bortles said the pace was much quicker than previous workouts with Jacksonville.

"It was awesome to go out there and get a sense of everyone's speed and athleticism," he said. "Definitely much faster than rookie minicamp, but it was a lot of fun. Up tempo, energetic."

Bortles said he continues to learn from Henne.

"A lot. He's helped me out tremendously. From meetings in the morning, to me and him in the quarterback room, to watching him on the field and him giving me little tips."

The first-day showing by the two Jaguars quarterbacks was well received by Jaguars coach Gus Bradley. He especially liked the way Henne was throwing.

"I told him that it appeared to me he was throwing with confidence, and he said, `I'm not there yet; I'm getting closer but I'm not where I want to be,"' Bradley said. "It feels to me like he's just got a better command of the offense.

"I think with Blake you're seeing the ups and downs. We're seeing more good from where he was to where he is now. He's making progress. I love that part that he's so competitive. I think once he gets to a comfort level where he understands the offense, I think things will settle down for him."

All but one member of the Jaguars' 90-man roster participated in the voluntary practice. Veteran defensive end Chris Clemons was tending to personal family business, but Bradley said he was hopeful Clemons would be joining the practices soon. Several other players were withheld from action due to previous injuries.

Wozniacki loses in second round to Wickmayer

PARIS (AP) -- About a week after her engagement to two-time major golf champion Rory McIlroy was called off, Caroline Wozniacki exited the French Open in the first round.

The 13th-seeded Wozniacki, a former No. 1 and the runner-up at the 2009 U.S. Open, lost 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-2 on Tuesday to 64th-ranked Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium. It's the first time Denmark's Wozniacki was beaten in her opener at Roland Garros since 2007, her debut at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament.

At the outset of Wozniacki's post-match news conference, the moderator said: ''Caroline would like to make a statement, and after that she will answer questions about today's match.''

Then Wozniacki spoke briefly before taking questions, never mentioning McIlroy by name or their scrapped wedding plans.

''I don't really want to talk about my personal life. I hope that you all can understand that,'' she began, and put her left hand to her chest. ''The only thing I really have to say is that, you know, (I want to) thank everybody for their support and sweet messages.''

She continued, shrugging her shoulders: ''What happens in my personal life, I just want to really keep that between my closest people around me. You know, I just have to move on.''

Last week, McIlroy was close to tears while telling reporters that he and Wozniacki decided to split only days after sending out wedding invitations. They began dating in 2011 and were engaged this past New Year's Eve.

On Sunday, McIlroy won a European Tour event in England.

Wozniacki was ranked No. 1 in 2010, and she's been as far as the semifinals four times at Grand Slam tournaments. That includes the U.S. Open in 2009, when she beat Wickmayer at that stage before losing to Kim Clijsters in the final. Clijsters has been working with Wickmayer lately.

Until Tuesday, Wozniacki was 6-1 against Wickmayer. But playing her typical brand of often-passive tennis, Wozniacki allowed Wickmayer to build an 18-3 advantage in winners in the first set. Still, Wozniacki served for that set at 6-5, before getting broken at love.

Wickmayer was asked whether she'd thought about her opponent's mental state.

''We all live difficult times with the boyfriend or when somebody dies or when you have personal issues. We all have our personal issues. Everybody is aware of it, because they're a famous couple. But there are other players who have very personal problems,'' Wickmayer said. ''I think she's strong. She's going to recover.''

One on-court issue for Wozniacki is a lingering knee injury that forced her to skip this month's Italian Open.

All told, her run-up to the French Open was hardly ideal.

''You're not prepared for something like this, and (it) came a bit as a shock,'' Wozniacki said. ''I just tried to prepare the best that I could. ... I felt a little bit rusty out there, and it wasn't really a pretty match. But I tried.''

Second-seeded Li Na sent home early

PARIS (AP) Another day on the clay at the French Open, another reigning Australian Open champion bites the red dust.

Li Na lost her first Grand Slam match since winning the title in Melbourne, falling to Kristina Mladenovic of France 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 on Tuesday.

The loss came a day after men's Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka was eliminated in the first round - the first time at any Grand Slam tournament that the men's and women's singles champions from the previous major lost in the first round.

Li, who won the French Open title in 2011 and is seeded second this year, ended up with 37 unforced errors on a cool and overcast day at Roland Garros. Mladenovic had only 25 errors.

''Nobody say if you (are) No. 2 in the world you have to win all the matches. I mean, this is tennis,'' Li said. ''I think doesn't matter who plays today against me, I always lose the match today, because I don't think she ... put a lot of pressure (on) me. I think today just I gave it away.''

In 2011, Li became the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam title. But on Tuesday, she said she wasn't feeling quite like her usual self.

''I don't think I'm doing well. If I doing well, I believe I still can win the match if it's not my best day,'' Li said. ''But I don't think today I try a lot.''

Mladenovic began the day 1-5 at the French Open. She reached the second round last year after four straight first-round exits, including a loss to Li in 2010 in their only previous meeting.

''You don't beat Li Na every day,'' Mladenovic said. ''It means really a lot, especially in Grand Slam.''

The last reigning Australian Open women's champion to lose in the first round at the French Open was Lindsay Davenport in 2000.

On Monday, Wawrinka lost to 41st-ranked Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 6-0.

Caroline Wozniacki also made an early exit, about a week after her engagement to two-time major golf champion Rory McIlroy was called off.

The 13th-seeded Wozniacki lost to 64th-ranked Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-2.

''What happens in my personal life, I just want to really keep that between my closest people around me,'' the former top-ranked Dane said. ''I just have to move on.''

Last week, McIlroy announced he and Wozniacki mutually decided to split only days after sending out wedding invitations. They began dating in 2011.

On Sunday, McIlroy won a European Tour event in England.

Another player to fall in the first round was Japanese veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm, the oldest woman in the field at 43. She lost to 24th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia 6-3, 0-6, 6-2.

Date-Krumm is the third oldest player in French Open singles history; Martina Navratilova was 47 in 2004. She made her main-draw debut at Roland Garros in 1989 - before more than half of this year's women's field was even born.

Others advancing included No. 4 Simona Halep of Romania, No. 6 Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, No. 11 Ana Ivanovic of Serbia, No. 15 Sloane Stephens of the United States, No. 21 Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, No. 27 Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia and No. 26 Sorana Cirstea of Romania.

In the men's tournament, 11th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov lost to Ivo Karlovic of Croatia 6-4, 7-5, 7-6 (4).

Dimitrov reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, but his best result at Roland Garros was getting to the third round in 2013.

Two other seeded men retired from their matches and were eliminated, No. 16 Tommy Haas of Germany and No. 21 Nicolas Almagro of Spain. Former top-ranked player Lleyton Hewitt also lost.

Wimbledon champion Andy Murray successfully made his way through his first match at Roland Garros in two years, beating Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan 6-1, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

Murray missed last year's tournament with a back injury, but he reached the semifinals in 2011 and the quarterfinals a year later.

No. 5 David Ferrer of Spain, No. 12 Richard Gasquet of France, No. 19 Kevin Anderson of South Africa, No. 28 Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany and No. 32 Andreas Seppi of Italy also won.

Pacers' Paul George fined $25K for comments

NEW YORK (AP) The NBA fined Indiana Pacers forward Paul George $25,000 on Tuesday for his public criticism of the officiating in the Eastern Conference finals Game 4 loss to Miami.

Rod Thorn, the league's president of basketball operations, said George made his comments in the postgame news conference following the 102-90 loss to the Heat on Monday night.

Miami was 30 of 34 from the foul line in the game. Indiana was 11 of 17.

George said his team couldn't overcome a "20-point differential" that came through foul calls. He said Miami won the game at the free-throw line.

Miami leads the series 3-1 and can advance to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year with a win in Indiana on Wednesday night.

Cowboys LB Lee leaves practice with knee injury

IRVING, Texas (AP) Oft-injured Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee didn't even make it through the first offseason practice without another setback in a career filled with them.

Lee went down with a left knee injury during the team portion of what was supposed to be a noncontact workout Tuesday. Coach Jason Garrett said Lee was getting an MRI later in the day.

The fifth-year middle linebacker went to the ground with rookie offensive lineman Zack Martin on top of him and didn't get up right away. He had to be helped off the field by trainers, screaming in anger at cameramen lining the entrance to the training room.

The 27-year-old Lee has missed 15 of 32 games the past two seasons and has never played a full a season in his four years in the league. He missed five games last year with hamstring and neck injuries.

"Unfortunately, he's had to deal with a few of these things but he's as mentally tough an individual as I've ever been around," Garrett said. "So whatever the circumstances are he always puts his best foot forward and strives to be his best. Don't anticipate this being any different."

Lee, who wasn't in the locker room when it was open to reporters Tuesday, tore a ligament in his right knee during spring practice at Penn State in 2008 and sat out that season before finishing his college career a year later. The Cowboys drafted him in the second round in 2010.

After a pair of mostly healthy seasons his first two years, Lee sustained a season-ending toe injury in the sixth game in 2012. He finished the season on the inactive list again last year with a neck injury.

Despite playing just 46 games over four seasons, he leads all linebackers with 11 interceptions. He was the team's leading tackler when he started 15 games in 2011.

"Sean's been as committed and hard-working a teammate as I've ever been around," quarterback Tony Romo said. "I love the guy like a brother. He's the epitome of what you want in a football player."

The holdovers on the Dallas roster who filled in at times for Lee last year are Justin Durant and second-year player DeVonte Holloman. Rookie Anthony Hitchens, a fourth-round pick, could play there as well.

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