Red Sox bullpen rounding into form

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Red Sox bullpen rounding into form

BOSTON -- When the Red Sox tripped over themselves en route to a 1-5 start to their season, the bullpen was a big part of the problem.

So perhaps it shouldn't come as a major surprise that the same bullpen has been part of the solution now that the team is on a modest three-game winning streak.

With Sox starters doing a better job taking the team deeper into games -- Josh Beckett gave them eight in the home opener Monday and Clay Buchholz righted things after a shaky first on Saturday to get through the seventh -- the bullpen has had a lighter workload and pitched far better.

In the last three wins, Boston relievers have thrown seven innings and allowed just one run. And that run was a meaningless solo homer off Mark Melancon Friday when the Sox enjoyed an 11-run cushion.

On Sunday, Felix Doubront seemed to hit a wall of sorts in the fifth, tagged for three runs. Somewhat surprisingly, Doubront came back out for the sixth and immediately gave up a solo homer to Luke Scott, tying the game.

That's where the bullpen stepped in. Scott Atchison allowed an infield single and walk before recording a strikeout of Chris Gimenez, creating a mess of sorts for Vicente Padilla.

But Padilla responded, striking out Desmond Jennings and retiring Carlos Pena for the final out, stranding both inherited runners.

"It was a good situation (to get out of)," said Padilla. "I used my pitches and used my fastball to get ahead of hitters. I felt good."

Padilla then came back and contributed another scoreless inning before handing things over to Franklin Morales (one inning, two hits allowed) and Alfredo Aceves (perfect ninth).

When the Sox went ahead in the bottom of the sixth on David Ortiz's run-scoring double, Padilla had himself his first win in relief in more than a decade, dating back to June 15, 2001.

Over his last two outings, Padilla has five strikeouts in his last 5 23 innings and seems to have settled into a multi-inning middle man role.

"They're putting me in big situations," said Padilla, "and it feels good to help the team win."

Morales has been the team's most reliable reliever since the start of the season and is unscored upon over four appearances. In the past, Morales has struggled with his control at times, but in 4 23 innings to date, he has yet to issue a walk this year.

Aceves, who was on the mound when the Tigers scored the winning run on Opening Day then was guilty of a blown save two days later, has found himself of late.

In his last three appearances, he has two saves and and four strikeouts in his last four innings and has not alloweed a baserunner in that span.

"I'm confident in the guys that are coming out of the bullpen," said Bobby Valentine. "They're pitching great. Vicente, Morales and Aceves look like they're setting up pretty nicely...I like what I see."

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. 

Crowder on Cousins' style: 'Step up to the test or you get run over'

Crowder on Cousins' style: 'Step up to the test or you get run over'

BOSTON – There was a point in the fourth quarter when Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins was fouled trying to score which brought about an automatic, intense and angry scowl from the all-star center. 

He raised his hand as he were going to strike back at the potential assailant. 

And then he saw the man was Jae Crowder. 

Cousins, who had a game-high 28 points, then went to the free throw line, incident-free. 

“I’m not one those other cats he be punking,” said Crowder with a grin.

That moment was one of many throughout Friday night’s game when Crowder made his presence felt when the game mattered most, and wasn’t afraid to mix it up with whoever stood between him and helping the Celtics win – even Cousins. 

But as Crowder explained following Boston’s 97-92 win, that moment was about two physical players who have developed an on-the-floor rapport that speaks to their intensity and desire to win at all costs. 

“He’s going to bring the game to you; his physicality,” said Crowder who had 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting. “He’s a very physical type of guy. If he senses you’re not physical at all, he’ll let you know. He’s a dog down there; he’s a bull. I love to go against a player like that. He’s going to give you his best shot each and every night. You either step up to the test or you get run over.” 

As soon as the two made eye contact, Crowder knew it was one of the many intimidation methods used by Cousins against opposing players. 

Crowder wasn’t having it. 

“That’s my guy; he’s my guy,” Crowder said of Cousins. “He plays a lot of tactics against a lot of other players. I’ve earned that respect with him. He knows I’m going to fight him just as hard as anybody else. We leave it on the court. He’s a good friend of mine. We’ve become friends, just playing ball, playing basketball the right way.”