Nieves eager to start new job as Red Sox' pitching coach


Nieves eager to start new job as Red Sox' pitching coach

BOSTON New Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves has talked with all his pitchers, including some who are out the country (such as left-hander Franklin Morales, who is playing in the Venezuelan League, and Alfredo Aceves, who is in Mexico). Hes even talked with some who are no longer with the team. Nieves, 47, had served as the White Sox bullpen for the past five seasons, learning under pitching coach Don Cooper. Prior to that, he had served as a pitching coach in the White Sox organization since 1999. It was a pleasure being with Don for so many years, Nieves said. Hes great, not just a mentor but a great friend. We were able to do everything together. We even travelled together in spring training, roomed together. It was everything. I will still talk to him and well still be friends. 
"But its exciting to meet a new group of guys and to get to know everyone's program. Its so important. One of the things that I enjoy the most is the fact that manager John Farrell already has a rapport with many of the Red Sox pitchers, built during his time as the team's pitching coach from 2007-10. So its almost a continuation. As a first-time pitching coach on a major league staff he just wants to say hello to his pitchers, get to know them, give them a chance to get to know him. Hes been watching video, learning their tendencies.  In January, hell visit with some. Hopefully as many as possible within the time frame, Nieves said. I know its hard for them because it would be a one-day situation in which I leave home in the morning, come back. I dont want to take a lot of time. I know this is a very precious time for them, too, which is the holidays, family, the tradition. Listen, well spend enough time together during the season. But its nice to be able to see as many guys as I can reach. It will be great. And also the catchers. Its very important to me just to get acquainted with them. One of the first trips he will make will be to Mississippi to see Daniel Bard. As we were talking on the phone he was going to the woods, he was hunting. So he gave me about 15 minutes of his time for that, Nieves said. But we were just talking on the phone and he said he was going to start throwing in January. Hell probably start throwing a little long toss now. But just to see him throw and play catch with him and see what the progress is what the plan is. Itll be great. Bard will be Nieves' major reclamation project after the right-handers disastrous 2012. I didnt see him early, Nieves said. I think by the time the White Sox played the Red Sox, he wasnt around. So I never really had  a chance to really see him, only through video. But we want to get back to the 2011 Bard and thats a guy that is in there. Another important goal for Nieves is establishing accountability for the starting pitchers. A strong starting five can only lead to success for the entire staff, he believes.  Its an aspect of the team that certainly needed improvement last season. You know something, you dont have to  have five No. 1 guys or five No. 5 guys in a rotation to be successful, he said. I think you expect your 1-2-3 to be consistent, hopefully your 4 and 5 eventually. Its nice when they eventually pick and choose during the course of the season they throw like a 1 and 2 maybe for a month-and-a-half, you never know,. Youve seen flashes of Gavin Floyd doing it before with the White Sox and he picked up maybe when Jake Peavey was not as good. So its important to have a couple guys going well at the same time. Also, like John said when we talked previously in our interview, you help your bullpen stay fresh and thats important. I think accountably for the starting five is very important. It was proven in Chicago and were going to stress that here. You see it with teams like Tampa bay. When  you have a strong five its nice to keep you bullpen nice and healthy, and not only healthy but fresh.

Kevin Durant's future a mystery as OKC collapses


Kevin Durant's future a mystery as OKC collapses

OAKLAND, Calif. - As Stephen Curry dribbled out the clock in a raucous Oracle Arena, Kevin Durant could only stand and watch.

The Golden State Warriors are heading back to the NBA Finals, while Durant's future in Oklahoma City is much less certain.

Two nights after blowing an opportunity to close out the defending champion Warriors at home, the Thunder got sent home for the summer when they lost Game 7 of the Western Conference finals 96-88 on Monday night.

Instead of becoming known as the team that knocked off the Warriors after their record-setting 73-win regular season, the Thunder will be remembered for a playoff collapse. They became just the 10th NBA team to lose a playoff series after taking a 3-1 lead and now head into an uncertain offseason with Durant eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in July.

If he does leave the only franchise he has played for in his nine-year career, he will do it having failed to deliver the championship to Oklahoma City. The closest the Thunder have gotten in Durant's tenure was when they lost the NBA Finals in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012.

They then lost in the second round the next season, in the conference finals in 2014 to San Antonio before missing the playoffs entirely because of an injury to Durant last year.

But under first-year coach Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City earned the third seed in the top-heavy Western Conference this season and then upset 67-win San Antonio in the second round. The Thunder followed that by winning three of the first four games against the Warriors, with a pair of lopsided wins at home.

But after losing Game 5 on the road, the Thunder blew an opportunity to eliminate the Warriors at home on Saturday night. Oklahoma City led by seven points with less than five minutes remaining but made only one basket and committed six turnovers down the stretch of a 108-101 loss that could haunt the franchise for years.

The Thunder responded on the road in Game 7 by taking a 13-point lead in the second quarter. But once Curry and Klay Thompson started hitting Oklahoma City with a flurry of 3-pointers, the Thunder had no answer. The Splash Brothers combined for 13 3-pointers as Golden State outscored Oklahoma City by 30 points from behind the line.

Oklahoma City's stars were no match. Russell Westbrook missed 14 of 21 from the field and shot just 36.8 percent in the three potential clinchers. Durant finished with 27 points but took only 10 shots in the first three quarters.

Durant did score seven straight points to cut an 11-point deficit to four with 1:40 remaining. But Serge Ibaka then fouled Curry on a 3-pointer with the shot clock running down, allowing Golden State to build the lead back to seven.

Durant then missed two shots and could only stare blankly when Curry ended Oklahoma City's season with a 3-pointer with 26.8 seconds left. Now the Thunder can only hope it doesn't end Durant's tenure in Oklahoma City as well.