Sox begin spring training with 6-5 'B' game loss to Twins

586520.jpg

Sox begin spring training with 6-5 'B' game loss to Twins

FORT MYERS, Fla. The Red Sox began their spring training game schedule Thursday afternoon, losing a B game to the Twins, 6-5, at Hammond County Stadium. While the results will not count in Grapefruit League standings or results, it gave manager Bobby Valentine a chance to get into the rhythm of game activities.

Tim Bogar was there as the bench coach doing his thing, Valentine said. Bench coaches Alex Ochoa and Jerry Royster and I need a rhythm as to what were going to be doing. Bogey needs a little rhythm with me also. This is all necessary stuff.

Alfredo Aceves and Daniel Bard, who are expected to move into the rotation this spring, pitched the first and second inning, respectively. Aceves, who threw 26 pitches, 17 for strikes, allowed one run on two hits with a strikeout. Bard allowed one run on two hits with a strikeout, throwing 25 pitches, 15 for strikes.

Aceves was ok, Valentine said. He threw a lot of pitches that he wanted to work on. He was ok with his work so I was ok with his work. Bard had good pitches, upset with his selection. He threw changeup behind the count 1-0, and then he threw the two-seamer after he hung the slider. He wasnt too happy with that. But his stuff was all right. He was working on the two-seamer. He didnt get much work on his changeup or his slider but pitched out of the windup and got that over with. Pitched out of the stretch and looked OK.

Catcher Ryan Lavarnway opened the scoring with a solo home run to left in the first inning.

Lavarnway got a little jammed and hit it 380 feet, Valentine said. I think he can improve on his catching and Im sure that he will.

But the Twins came back with a run off Aceves in the bottom of the frame, and took the lead in the second with a run off Bard.

Former Red Sox minor leaguer Aaron Bates hit a two-run home run off Jesse Carlson in the fourth to extend the Twins lead, 4-2. Brian Dinkelman added a two-run double in the fifth off Tony Pena, Jr.

Nate Spears two-run triple in the sixth cut the Sox deficit to 6-4. Daniel Butlers solo homer in the seventh completed the Sox scoring.

Shortstop Jose Iglesias, who made a nifty running basket catch on in foul territory behind third base, led off the game with a first-pitch single to center field. He also grounded into a double play in the third, and walked.

He walked once today, Valentine said. I think plate discipline is a wonderful thing and it comes from confidence in a mechanic and aggressive attitude I believe. He has an aggressive attitude and when he has a good mechanic he can have good plate discipline.

As planned, the Sox had nine pitchers throw one inning each.

I think I saw things that people are working on that they brought into the
competition, Valentine said.

Andrew Bailey, who had been slowed by a strained lat suffered during the vertical leap part of his physical, threw a bullpen session Thursday morning.

Bailey threw a bullpen, said he felt better, Valentine said. Still really didnt let go because he doesnt want to have a setback.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

celtics-al-horford.jpg

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

celtics-isaiah-thomas.jpg

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.