Red Sox see improvement with Miller's mechanics

605592.jpg

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."

Thomas shines again in fourth quarter, Celtics beat Hornets, 108-98

Thomas shines again in fourth quarter, Celtics beat Hornets, 108-98

BOSTON –  Late in the fourth quarter, the TD Garden was rockin' when the fans charted chanting, 'M-V-P, M-V-P' which is become a nightly serenade of sorts for Isaiah Thomas. 

It's extremely wishful thinking on Celtics Nation's part, but there is no denying his status as one of the game's best players this season. 

He delivered yet another work of art on Monday, scoring 17 of his game-high 35 points in the fourth quarter in leading Boston to a 108-98 win against Charlotte. 

And he did the way he always seems to do it, mixing in 3-pointers with drives to the baskets and an occasional assist to keep the collapsing defenses that surround him relatively honest. 

But the numbers he's consistently posting only tell part of the narrative to what has been a fairy tale of a season for the 5-foot-9 guard who continues to defy odds on a nightly basis. 

Not only is he producing at a high level, but he's elevating the play of those around him which is reflected in the team's overall success.

Boston (26-15) hits the halfway point with its best record under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens and best by the franchise since a 32-9 start to the 2010-2011 season.

The Celtics have now won eight of their last 10 games, and 13 of 16 as they steadily pull away and establish themselves at worst being the third-best team in the East.

And against the Hornets, they got the victory with a nice blending of what they do best – shoot three-pointers and play solid, physical defense.

The game could not have gotten off to a better start for the Boston Celtics, opening with a 10-2 run that put the Hornets on their heels quickly.

Not surprisingly, the Hornets rallied to take the lead in the first quarter before Boston’s second unit stepped up.

Leading the way in the final minute of the first quarter was Jaylen Brown, just minutes removed from a moving pre-game speech honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on MLK Day.

With Boston trailing 30-29, Brown scored the final five points of the quarter to give Boston a 34-30 lead.

The second quarter saw both teams pull ahead by slim margins, neither showing an ability to pull away and take full control of the game.

But again it was the Celtics making all the necessary plays at both ends of the floor in the closing moments.

Trailing 50-48, Boston would close out the half with an 11-3 run to lead 59-53 at the half.

In the third quarter, Boston began to give itself a little more breathing room fueled in large part by their defense which not only limited the Hornets scoring but took advantage of great spacing to get open jumpers or baskets in the paint with little resistance or help-side defense.

A back-to-the-basket hook shot by Al Horford gave Boston a 77-67 lead, the game’s first double-digit margin.

The Celtics increased their lead to 12 points following a pull-up jumper along the baseline by Avery Bradley who was back in the lineup after missing the previous four games with an Achilles injury.

Going into the fourth, the Celtics were ahead 80-71.

Off day for Tuukka Rask plays into rough loss for the Bruins

Off day for Tuukka Rask plays into rough loss for the Bruins

BOSTON – Many times this season Tuukka Rask has bailed out the Bruins when the team was at less than their best.

Monday afternoon was not one of those times as the Bruins goaltender was knocked out of the game after two periods on the way to a listless 4-0 shutout loss to the New York Islanders. Rask allowed three goals on 15 shots in the game’s opening 40 minutes, and was responsible for a very soft goal during the Isles’ three-score barrage in the second period.

After the game Rask wasn’t ducking responsibility for the subpar performance, and admitted he was simply beaten to the short side post on a bad angle shot from Islanders forward Josh Bailey for the soft-serve special.

“I was just late. I picked the wrong seal. It’s one of those [goals] that I should have stopped,” said Rask. “Claude [Julien] mentioned [not taking the Isles lightly] before the game, and the last game we played here they got us. It was a bit of a flat game again last time, and we just woke up too late today. We didn’t want to underestimate them. Any team in this league is good even though the standings might show otherwise. We just never got it going.”

Rask was being kind because the Bruins never actually woke up at all in the first B's shutout loss to the Islanders on home ice in franchise history, and that includes when the Finnish netminder was yanked after the second intermission.

Julien’s act of pulling Rask from a 3-0 game was clearly designed to spark the struggling hockey club, but it did nothing to breathe life into a dead hockey club that simply allowed another goal playing out the string in the third period.

“There are two things that can happen. No. 1, you hope you can spark your team because of the performance in front of him,” said Julien. “If it doesn’t spark your team, [at least] you’re not wasting your number one goaltender’s energy.”

One would expect that Rask will be back between the pipes on Wednesday night against the Red Wings in Detroit, and in hindsight perhaps this Monday matinee might have been a good time to see what Zane McIntyre has to offer as the backup. Instead it will go down as an “off” game for Rask and another inexcusable no-show on home ice for the Black and Gold.