McClure applies light touch as Sox' new pitching coach

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McClure applies light touch as Sox' new pitching coach

FORT MYERS, Fla. Bob McClure joined the Red Sox in November as a special assignment scoutinstructor. But in the teams offseason of shakeups, McClures job changed in December and he was named the pitching coach for new manager Bobby Valentine.

Now, McClure the third pitching coach in as many seasons for the Sox -- is spending his time in spring training learning about the 35 pitchers in camp.

Its more getting to know the Sox pitchers as people, what helps them, if I can be of any help to them, what kind of keeps them on line, what they need, said McClure, who spent the previous six seasons as the Royals pitching coach, and coached in the Rockies system for seven seasons before that. "A lot of them Ive already asked, What are some of your key points as far as your deliverys concerned? In the past, what are two or three points that need to be mentioned at times? if things arent going right for them from a mechanical standpoint. And so they write them down and give them to you and you kind of go from there.

McClure -- who spent 19 seasons in the big leagues and had a record of 68-57 with a 3.81 ERA and 52 saves - knows that sometimes, the off-field part of his job can be as important than spotting flaws in deliveries. In 2009, for example, he helped Zack Greinke, who suffered from social anxiety disorder and depression, win the American League Cy Young Award when both were with the Royals.

Its more learning, really, their personalities as far as which guys to leave alone and know when to leave alone, and which guys you need to get in there and dig a little bit, he said.

With a lot of guys, basically as pitching coaches, were not trying to reinvent the wheel. Were just trying to keep them pretty much on line. Its just little things. I think sometimes less is better, in my opinion.

"Thats the way we were brought through it. We didnt even have pitching coaches in the minor leagues. Shoot, our manager and pitching coach hardly even talked to us, really, and if they did, you knew you were either doing really good or you were in trouble. So if they kind of left you alone it was because you were going okay, which most times you know anyway."

And McClure -- the pitcher -- liked it that way.

"I didnt like a a pitching coach chirping in my ear all the time," he said. "I liked to kind of feel my body and let my mind figure out what its doing and fix it on the next pitch. And when someones always chirping in your ear in between innings, a lot of times you lose kind of your concentration on what just happened and then you got to regain it after the conversation. The next thing you know . . . youre going back to the mound and youre still thinking about that other inning. So theres a time there where youre processing, good inning or bad inning, what happened, and whos coming up. What you want to do.

"So a lot of times as a pitching coach you kind of just get out of the way.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.