Red Sox see improvement with Miller's mechanics


Red Sox see improvement with Miller's mechanics

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was only one outing in the first official Grapefruit League game, but the Red Sox had reason to be encouraged by Andrew Miller Saturday.

The lefty pitcher, who's had difficulty repeating his delivery and establishing consistent command, pitched two innings in the Red Sox' 8-3 win over the Minnesota Twins and didn't allow a hit while striking out three and walking one.

Miller has been working with pitching coach Bob McClure this spring on trying to simplify his mechanics. Sunday, the lesson seemed to take.

He walked the first hitter he faced -- the No. 9 hitter in Minnesota's lineup -- but then retired the next six straight. That quick rebound caught the attention of Bobby Valentine.

"He didn't let it all get it away from him (after the leadoff walk)," said Valentine. "He made an adjustment out of the stretch to the next hitter and seemed to be in the driver's seat."

McClure had Miller look at video early in camp and Valentine has stressed the importance of having just one voice work on the pitcher's mechanics.

"A lot of people had been tinkering (with him)," said Valentine. "Bob's done a very good getting a consensus, which we got from the very first day we looked at it and then staying with it."

Along the way, Miller fell into the bad habit of throwing across his body, which is not only bad mechanics, but potentially harmful to a pitcher's health.

"Now, he's in a comfortable place (in terms of his delivery)," said Valentine.

McClure has been stressing the importance of Miller getting back the style of pitching that worked for him at the University of North Carolina.

"Obviously, he was pretty good in college," said McClure, "and not too mechanical. It was more about competing. We've been trying to keep it simple instead of trying to change a couple of things. Whatever he's able to do well, just do that instead of trying to do too many things. Hopefully, that (approach) clears him and his thought process and just keeping it simple."

Miller is on his third pro organization (Florida and Detroit before coming to the Sox), and has had a handful of different pitching coaches, including two in two years with the Red Sox and may have suffered from information overload.

"To his credit," said McClure, "he's tried to get better by doing different things, which sometimes can hurt because the ability to sift the information that works you and (get rid) of the rest that doesn't is important. Your sift mechanism has to work.

"The best pitchers are the ones committed to doing whatever they do well. They listen to other things but they'll use what works for them and try it, and the stuff that doesn't, they just get rid of it. What happens is, you get lost and if you listen too much and try to do everything, pretty soon, you forget what you did well. I think that might have happened. So we're just trying to get back (to basics)."

For all the video work and analysis of Miller's mechanics, McClure is coming to the realization that, with Miller, less is more.

"Maybe," said McClure, "he just needs to be let alone and do his thing without having any stuff in his head. We'll see."

Blount powers his way to new career-high in return to Pittsburgh


Blount powers his way to new career-high in return to Pittsburgh

LeGarrette Blount's performance at Heinz Field was an ironic one because the 24 carries he received in New England's 27-16 win over Pittsburgh was more than twice the number of carries he got during his busiest days as a member of the Steelers in 2014.

Blount signed with Pittsburgh as a free agent in 2014, believing he would be a significant part of the organization's plans. He found out relatively quickly that he was not -- not as long as Le'Veon Bell was in town and running well, at least. He averaged just six carries in his 11 games with the Steelers, and he was cut after he walked off the sidelines, frustrated by his lack of playing time, before a Monday night win over the Titans was over.

The Patriots quickly moved to sign Blount, and the match between player and organization has been a fit ever since. There are days where the football is in quarterback Tom Brady's hands for long stretches, and there are days where Blount is leaned on.

"As a running back, you always want the football," he said. "If we have 80 plays, you're going to want 80 carries. You just gotta be patient. When the opportunity presents itself, you just gotta make the most of it."

Sunday presented Blount with his share of opportunities and he capitalized. He ran for 127 yards (a 5.3 yards-per-carry average) and two scores against the Steelers, helping keep an aggressive defense at bay, and punishing his former coach Mike Tomlin for flooding the field with defensive backs when Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett were on the field.

"LG ran hard," Bill Belichick said. "Good ball-security. Good pad level. Made some tough yards, and he made a couple big-play, kind of explosive runs . . . He gave us some explosive plays, and we needed that, particularly when they cut it to a four-point game."

The Steelers made it a four-point game with a field goal before halftime, and then they made it a one-point game when they got another Chris Boswell kick to make the score, 14-13. That's when New England's 250-pound back came up large.

He ripped off gains of 11 yards, then 25 yards. Three plays later, Gronkowski was in the end zone on a 36-yard strike from Tom Brady.

"I thought we ran the ball great on that drive," Brady said. "We really got a hat on a hat and it gave LeGarrette some space to run. He's just so deceptive with his quickness. He's a big back but he's got great agility. He makes yards after contact. He gets guys in space and does a great job attacking the creases there. He had a great day today."

Belichick said those long carries helped "settle" things down as it kept the Steelers pass-rush on its heels when the Patriots were pressing to extend their lead.

"He gave us a couple of big runs there to . . . settle things down where it wasn't just a pass-rush game for them all day," Belichick said. "They had some good pressure early in the third quarter, kind of got us in some long-yardage situations. Holding penalties. Hit the quarterback. Forced the ball out quick. So his runs were able to settle us down. I thought our offensive line came through with some good blocking, as well as our receivers and the tight ends, obviously. We ran behind Marty and Rob a lot."

Through seven games, Blount already has a career-high for rushing touchdowns with eight. He's on pace to find the end zone 18 times, which would best Curtis Martin's franchise record of 14 scores in a single season. 

"We went in there with a game plan," Blount said. "We stuck to it, and we came out with a win."