Lester looks sharp against Phillies


Lester looks sharp against Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. Monday afternoon Jon Lester showed why manager Bobby Valentine tabbed the left-hander as the Red Sox Opening Day starter.

Lester carved up the Phillies over seven shutout innings, allowing just three baserunners, as the Red Sox won, 6-0. He gave up just two hits with a hit batter, no walks, and 10 strikeouts. Lester threw 88 pitches, 63 for strikes.

The Phillies entire offensive output came in the third inning, when Luis Montanez opened with a single but was thrown out trying to score on Freddy Galvis double. With two outs Jimmy Rollins was hit by a pitch, before Placido Polanco flied out to Ryan Sweeney in right field to end the threat.

It was a performance Valentine would be happy to see on Opening Day in Detroit.

Yes, I would, Valentine said.

Well, I think that speaks for itself. I dont have to describe it. You saw it. He was outstanding. Thats what he was aiming to do. He threw about 90 pitches and how many strikeoutsd he get, nine, 10? Thats pretty good. But the fact that he was ahead in the count. He was happy with that. Threw his off-speed pitches down in the zone anytime he wanted. Fastball was explosive. Thats pretty good stuff.

And better than his last outing, March 21 against the Pirates, when he gave up four runs on eight hits and two walks with one strikeout over three innings.

Felt pretty much he same as last time, just was able to get the ball down in the zone a little more, Lester said. Obviously when you're able to do that, most of the time you get better results than last time. So that was the biggest thing early, just trying to establish getting the ball down and we were able to do that.

He went to a three-ball count just once, and ended his outing by getting John Mayberry swinging for strikeout No. 10.

Thats a combination of getting the ball down, Lester said. When I throw that breaking ball in the dirt they swing at it because everythings been down. Im not up in the zone, up in the zone, and then try to bounce a breaking ball and they can kind of see it a little bit easier. So more contact early, going after guys. It helps when you only go three balls on one hitter. its a big step in the right direction for me.

Lester threw all his pitches, but was able to stay away from his cutter early, allowing him to work on other pitches.

I think it just happened that way, said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. We were getting ahead and when you get ahead like that you want to work on pitches. We didnt even get to work on his sinker till late in the game because anything he threw, he was just throwing it for a strike.

But his cutters a pitch that you can use early in the count or late in the count. So we used it in both counts, early to gets swings and see if we could jam them and late for the swing.

Said one scout in attendance:

Lester showed the best changeup I have seen him have and he used it a lot. It was dynamite. He pounded his fastball inside well, also. His curveball was sharp, fastball command plus, and cutter was solid.

This was as good as I have seen him. Really good today.

For Lester, now its just a matter of getting ready for Opening Day.

Pitch, Lester said of his focus between now and then. Thats the biggest thing is just pitch. Get innings, get runners on base, work on stuff like that and thats always the biggest thing is just pitch.

Will time off in September benefit Brady down the stretch?


Will time off in September benefit Brady down the stretch?

FOXBORO -- As far as Tom Brady is concerned, there were no silver linings to Deflategate or the month he spent in exile from his team. Don’t try to put whipped cream on that particular mound of fecal material.
Found that out Wednesday when I gingerly asked Brady whether he’s ever felt this good in mid-October.
“I feel good,” said Brady. “I felt good at this time last year though, too. From one year to the next, I’d say I’ve become pretty efficient with how I get ready to play.
So the missing of September?
“I always wish I could be out there playing,” he pointed out. “I’d much rather be playing than not playing, but it is what it is. I feel good at this point. But like I said, I felt good last year, I felt good the year before that, and I think every year at this time of year just based on the right routine and kind of doing the right things to get yourself feeling good.”
The line of questioning was prompted by two things.
First, Brady’s played 256 games -- regular season and playoffs -- since 2000. His 31 postseason starts are the most in NFL history and he’ll add to it this year. No quarterback’s ever had a schedule like Brady’s for as long as Brady and the punishment he takes (witness Denver last January) would have destroyed the Montanas and Mannings with whom he’s compared. The extended layoff had to do a body good. And the level at which Brady’s playing right now -- and may continue to because he’s fresher -- can only mean good things.
Second, all the band, resistance and quickness work Brady does will never make him fast. But it has seemed to make him more decisive and determined that -- when he does opt to run -- the body will cooperate and arrive at the appointed destination without disaster.
Sunday, Brady both bought time for completions and embarked on short-range scrambles that picked up key first downs.
When Brady talked last week about making Pittsburgh “defend every inch of the field,” Brady scooting into open areas was a perfect illustration of that.
“If there are two or three plays a game that you can make just moving the pocket, or sliding, or buying your receivers more time, or scrambling on third-and-two, it’s just one more thing that they have to defend,” said Brady. “We made – Jimmy [Garoppolo] made a bunch of those when he was in there early. Jacoby [Brissett] made some.
“It’s nice to be able to do that because I think it’s a little discouraging for a defense when they feel like they’ve got you covered or they’ve got the right call on it, and all of the sudden – I mean, I don’t think they’re preparing for me scrambling for first downs. I know they’re not working on that. They’re working on stopping Gronk [Rob Gronkowski], and stopping Julian [Edelman], and Danny, and Hogs [Chris Hogan], LeGarrette [Blount] and James [White]. That’s not one of their top 10 things on their hit list, so I think it’s pretty discouraging when it happens and hopefully we can keep it going.”
At this point, Brady’s running has to at least be in the scouting report.
Although Rex Ryan isn’t buying.
“I’d like to see him do it more often,” said Ryan when asked if the scrambling of Brady was becoming annoying. “Put him in the option, that’s one thing that doesn’t scare you much, you live with that. What scares you is when he lets the ball go. He’s able to pick up a few first downs, But I think we may have the edge in running ability this week. I may go out there and make that bold statement. They may be worried about (Tyrod Taylor) more than than we’ll be about Tom running.”   


Pregame number: Al Horford to the rescue


Pregame number: Al Horford to the rescue

Tonight’s pregame number to watch is 45.4%. That was the Celtics' score frequency on pick and rolls finished by the screener last season, which was the worst rate in the NBA.

Score Frequency: The percentage of possession in which the team or player scores at least 1 point.

The major problem for the Celtics last season was personnel, as Jared Sullinger finished the most pick and roll plays for the C’s after setting a screen, and he was -- to put it nicely -- freaking terrible. Sullinger was the second-worst roll/pop man in the league, averaging a paltry 0.87 points per possession.

Fortunately, the Celtics replaced Jared Sullinger with four-time All-Star Al Horford, who is one of the elite roll/pop men in the NBA. Last season, Horford finished fifth in the NBA averaging 1.13 points per possession as a roll/pop man and boasted a more than solid 57.1 eFG% on those plays. 

eFG% (Effective Field Goal Percentage): Measures field goal percentage adjusting for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal. The equation is ((FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

If you watched the preseason, then you already know the kind of impact Horford can have on the Celtics half court offense. So keep an eye out for those pick and rolls tonight and throughout the season, and we should see that 45.4% Score Frequency jump somewhere closer to 50%.