Brady happy to have Gronkowski, all targets active

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Brady happy to have Gronkowski, all targets active

FOXBORO -- Not only did the Patriots win to close out the 2012 regular season, they also earned a first-round playoff bye. 
"It was kind of a late Christmas present," Tom Brady said. "So we accept."
They certainly did; New England blanked the Dolphins, 28-0, on Sunday. 
Brady admitted the team knew before kickoff that Indianapolis had upset the Texans, clearing the way for the Patriots to have a week off. 
All they had to do was take care of business. 
"Coach Belichick said, 'Look, the only people that can improve out position are us, so regardless of what anybody else does, we have to win.' "
It helped to have Rob Gronkowski back. 
The tight end hasn't seen game action since fracturing his left forearm in Week 11. This is the player who had 17 of New England's 39 touchdowns last year. This is the player who, behind Wes Welker, led the team in targets, receptions, yards, yards-after-catch, and first downs. 
Between his injury and the injury to fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez (a broken ankle kept him out of six contests), Brady has been deprived of full firepower quite a bit this season. 
Going into Sunday's game, Gronkowski and Hernandez hadn't played together more than four times. The last game they both got snaps was October 21. 
That changed this weekend. 
On New England's first offensive play of the game, Gronkowski cleared room for Hernandez who was running a route underneath him. With Gronkowski's blocking, Hernandez was free to open the game with a 14-yard gain. It's not an unusual play. It's just one that seems to work brilliantly well with those two in particular. 
Brady finished 22-for-36 for 284 yards and two touchdowns. 
He was happy to see Gronkowski on the field again. He was happy to have Gronkowski and Hernandez together. He was happy to have all of his regular targets active. 
"It was nice to get Gronkowski back into the flow of things, you know," Brady said. "We used everybody. It was exciting to have everybody out there at once for the first time all season. We'll use the bye and hopefully come back stronger." 
When the Patriots return to action it will be in the playoffs. 
It appears most players are getting healthy, or are healthy enough, at the right time. Throw in one more week off to rest and rehabilitate, and the outlook is positive.  
Even Brady could admit that much. 
"Well, we've won 10 out of 11, so that's pretty good," he said. "We were 2-3 at one point and we had some tough games earlier in the year, then we win 10 out of 11 and our only loss was against a pretty good football team. But we turned it over four times in the loss to San Francisco."

Then he smiled.  
"If we don't turn it over four times, I like our chances."

Johnson beats Mariners 6-0 for Red Sox' 6th straight win

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Johnson beats Mariners 6-0 for Red Sox' 6th straight win

BOSTON - Brian Johnson pitched a five-hitter in his first big league appearance at Fenway Park, and the Boston Red Sox stretched their winning streak to a season-high six games with a 6-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.

Brought up from Triple-A Pawtucket, Johnson (2-0) gave up five singles, struck out eight and walked none. The 26-year-old left-hander's only previous big league starts were at Houston on July 21, 2015, and at Toronto on April 18 this year.

Johnson became the first Red Sox pitcher to throw a shutout in his first Fenway start since Pedro Martinez on April 11, 1998. In Johnson's first start in Fenway - his fourth as a professional - he sustained a season-ending facial fracture when he hit by a line drive while pitching for Class A Lowell in 2012.

Johnson was helped by a semi-leaping catch by center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. at the wall in the sixth, Bradley's diving grab of Nelson Cruz's sinking liner in the ninth and Bradley's game-ending running catch of Kyle Seager's drive.

Xander Bogaerts' RBI single triggered a three-run first inning and Bradley hit a two-run homer in the sixth

Shut out for the second straight day, Seattle has lost seven of eight.

Rob Whalen (0-1) gave up five runs and seven hits over 5 1/3 innings in his Mariners' debut, his first big league start since Aug. 23 for Atlanta. He is Seattle's 12th starting pitcher, the most in the major leagues.

Andrew Benintendi and Sandy Leon also had RBI singles in the first, when the Red Sox had two batters hit by pitches, two walks and two runners thrown out on the bases - Dustin Pedroia at third for the first out and Hanley Ramirez at the plate for the last.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Mariners: RHPs Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez, both on the DL with right shoulder inflammation, threw bullpen sessions. Hernandez said he "felt really good."... LHP James Paxton (strained forearm) is set to come off the DL and pitch at home Wednesday.

Red Sox: Pedroia was back at second base after getting Friday off to rest his sore left knee and not play on a wet field. He was hit by a pitch on the right forearm his first time up and went 1 for 3. ... 3B Pablo Sandoval, on the DL with a sprained right knee, was expected to play nine innings Saturday night in a rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket. Manager John Farrell didn't rule out that he could be activated next week.

UP NEXT

Mariners: RHP Christian Bergman (1-2, 6.30 ERA) gave up 10 runs and 14 hits over four innings in a 10-1 loss Tuesday at Washington.

Red Sox: RHP Rick Porcello (3-4, 4.35) has gone at least six innings in eight of nine starts.

How dominant has Craig Kimbrel been? The numbers are eye popping

How dominant has Craig Kimbrel been? The numbers are eye popping

Remember that infield hit by Jonathan Villar of the Brewers off Craig Kimbrel on May 11 in Milwaukee?

Don't worry, nobody does. That's the last hit off the Red Sox closer. That's right. One hit this month.

How dominant has Kimbrel been? Going into Saturday, right-handed hitters don't have a hit off him in their past 39 at-bats. Opponents are hitting .083 against him. Move the decimal point and 0.83 happens to be his season ERA, too, to go with 13 saves. 

Here's more via @SoxNotes:

Kimbrel, 28, has been one of baseball's best closers for years with the Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres. His first year in Boston last season was solid with 31 saves and a 3.40 ERA, but his walks climbed (30 total and 5.1 per 9 innings, the second-highest totals of his career). He also struggled in non-save situations.

There's been no struggling lately. The last run Kimbrel gave up was a home run by Kendrys Morales of the Blue Jays in the ninth inning on April 20 in Toronto that tied the score at 1 in a game won by the Red Sox 4-1 in 10. Kimbrel got the win and his only blown save of the season.

His three-out save Friday night was his first outing without a strikeout since a one-out save April 23. That followed his four-strikeout inning Thursday night.