Another spring of change for Lester

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Another spring of change for Lester

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jon Lester typically devotes each spring to focus on one aspect of pitching. Last year it was getting comfortable with his changeup. This spring its becoming confident to throw it along with all his pitches -- when he wants. It was one of the things he worked on in Thursday mornings 'B' game against the Twins.

Lester allowed one hit and two walks, with a strikeout, in three scoreless innings. He threw first-pitch strikes to 7 of the 11 batters he faced coincidentally, the odd-numbered batters in each inning.

Every year its something different, the left-hander said. Last year it was my changeup, really trying to throw that, and get comfortable with it. Now that I feel comfortable with all of my pitches, now its just trying to get them all in the game. And today in different situations that I normally wouldnt, I threw some changeups ahead in the count, which Ive never really done. So it was good.

"Each year gets a little different as far as what Im trying to accomplish. Getting that feel for those pitches early. Walks, any time you can limit those, which I obviously didnt do today, but kind of the same situation. Threw some pitches to some guys that I normally wouldnt do.

Lester said he would like to get to the point where he feels comfortable throwing his changeup in any situation.

You can envision throwing them really in any count, just a matter of getting that feel, he said. Changeups are such a feel pitch for me that if I can get it to where Im comfortable all the time with it, then its good. So thats the biggest thing. And if I can get to where I can repeat the delivery and be consistent and always have that feel, its a pitch you can always go to.

His changeup became more reliable than his curveball for him last year, he said. According to fangraphs.com, he threw his curveball 13.3 percent of the time, down from 16 percent in 2010 and 16 percent in his career. His use of the changeup was down from 2010 (9.3 percent compared to 11.6 percent) but up from his career of 7.5 percent.

I think its a big pitch for anybody, said pitching coach Bob McClure. If I was to pick a second pitch for anyone, it would be a changeup, because it looks so much like a fastball. So I think its a big pitch for Jon, Josh Beckett, Daniel Bard as well. He has a pretty good one. Its a nice pitch to be able to throw and command any time. Greg Maddux kind of proved that, and theres been other guys, too.

I felt like last year my changeup was better than my curveball, Lester said. So I think I threw more changeups than I did anything as far as any off-speed pitch. So this year were just trying to incorporate all of them and try to get a feel for them early on and that way if I dont have a feel for one for one game, I can rely on the other one. Whereas last year I didnt have a feel for my curveball pretty much all year so I had to rely on my changeup.

So, why not focus more on his curveball now? That wont happen for a while.

Because of arm strength, he said. For me, my curveballs not going to be good this time of year anyway. I still try to throw it but its just I dont have the arm strength yet to have a good one. That wont be till we get to four, five, six, seven innings, where youre really building up and have the arm strength.

Without a reliable curveball, though, Lester knows he would be going into a game at less than full strength.

Yeah, absolutely, he said. Its tough when you dont have that fourth pitch or that pitch that you normally rely on. Its definitely a weapon for me especially early in the count. If Im able to steal strikes with it, it just makes my day so much easier. My changeup was inconsistent last year so if we needed an off-speed pitch early in the count, it was basically 50-50 and nine times out of 10 it wasnt a strike. So it was tough not having that. There were some games where I had better ones than normal or not normal but better than average last year. But it was a struggle with me just as far as the feel for it.

Getting a feel for it, getting confidence in it, being able to throw it at any point in a count, can be very valuable.

It can be very important, said McClure. Who wants to swing at first-pitch curveball strike one? Not many people. So its something I dont feel that hell really have trouble with.

Bradley steps up to lead Celtics to 117-87 blowout win over Magic

Bradley steps up to lead Celtics to 117-87 blowout win over Magic

It was one of Tacoma, Washington’s finest carrying the scoring load most of Wednesday night for the Boston Celtics. 
 
But it wasn’t the Celtics’ leading scorer, Isaiah Thomas. 
 
It was his backcourt mate and fellow Tacoma, Wash. native Avery Bradley picking up the slack in Thomas’ absence as Boston pulled away in the second half for a 117-87 blowout win over the Orlando Magic. 
 
Wednesday’s victory was Boston’s first in Orlando since Nov. 8, 2013. 
 
Bradley led seven double-figure scorers for Boston (13-9), with a team-high 23 points.
 
Thomas missed his first game of the season with a right groin injury that will sideline him for a yet-to-be-determined period of time. 
 
The 5-foot-9 guard ranks among the NBA’s leaders in scoring (26.0) in addition to leading the Celtics in assists (6.2) per game. 
 
But Bradley was up to the challenge of filling the void left by Thomas, which isn’t all that surprising when you consider the game was away from the TD Garden. 
 
Bradley has been good this year, but has really stood out in road games where he has averaged 19.0 points on 51.4 percent shooting from the field compared to 15.8 points on 41.3 percent shooting at the TD Garden. 
 
The first half was a tightly contested game with neither team leading by more than eight points. 
 
After Orlando scored the first basket of the third quarter, the Celtics went on a furious 18-2 run to lead 67-54 which had five different scorers for Boston that spoke volumes about the balanced offensive attack the Celtics came with to make up for Thomas’ absence. 
 
Boston’s defense picked up its intensity in the second half, but just as important was the renewed emphasis on ball movement that was simple, crisp and highly effective. 
 
And it came against an Orlando team that came in having won four of its last five games – all on the road – which included beating the always-challenging San Antonio Spurs on their home floor. 
 
But as important as it was for Bradley to help fill the enormous scoring void that exists without Thomas, Boston also needed a strong game from their bench. 
 
That’s exactly what they got, and it wasn’t just one or two guys, either. 
 
Jaylen Brown had arguably the best game of his still-young NBA career coming off the Celtics bench, finishing with 13 points which included a powerful, rim-rattling dunk over Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic
 
Boston also got great play out of Terry Rozier (career-high 16 points, five rebounds) who saw a few more minutes than usual because of Thomas’ injury. 
 
Not only was the victory important to pad the win total, but it also provides a nice boost of confidence for the Celtics as they hit what will be arguably the most difficult stretch of the season in terms of quality opponents. 
 
The Celtics have 12 games remaining this month, with the teams having a combined record of 152-105, or a winning percentage of .591.

CSN CHICAGO: Yoan Moncada 'thrilled' to reunite with Jose Abreu on White Sox

CSN CHICAGO: Yoan Moncada 'thrilled' to reunite with Jose Abreu on White Sox

Yoan Moncada and Jose Abreu are back together.

The two Cuban natives were teammates in 2012 when they played for Cienfuegos in Cuba, and now they'll be in the same dugout once again — this time in Chicago.

"To get the opportunity to play with him right now in the United States, it's an honor for me," Moncada said through a translator on a conference call Wednesday. "I'm thrilled with that."

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