Lester looks sharp against Phillies

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Lester looks sharp against Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. Monday afternoon Jon Lester showed why manager Bobby Valentine tabbed the left-hander as the Red Sox Opening Day starter.

Lester carved up the Phillies over seven shutout innings, allowing just three baserunners, as the Red Sox won, 6-0. He gave up just two hits with a hit batter, no walks, and 10 strikeouts. Lester threw 88 pitches, 63 for strikes.

The Phillies entire offensive output came in the third inning, when Luis Montanez opened with a single but was thrown out trying to score on Freddy Galvis double. With two outs Jimmy Rollins was hit by a pitch, before Placido Polanco flied out to Ryan Sweeney in right field to end the threat.

It was a performance Valentine would be happy to see on Opening Day in Detroit.

Yes, I would, Valentine said.

Well, I think that speaks for itself. I dont have to describe it. You saw it. He was outstanding. Thats what he was aiming to do. He threw about 90 pitches and how many strikeoutsd he get, nine, 10? Thats pretty good. But the fact that he was ahead in the count. He was happy with that. Threw his off-speed pitches down in the zone anytime he wanted. Fastball was explosive. Thats pretty good stuff.

And better than his last outing, March 21 against the Pirates, when he gave up four runs on eight hits and two walks with one strikeout over three innings.

Felt pretty much he same as last time, just was able to get the ball down in the zone a little more, Lester said. Obviously when you're able to do that, most of the time you get better results than last time. So that was the biggest thing early, just trying to establish getting the ball down and we were able to do that.

He went to a three-ball count just once, and ended his outing by getting John Mayberry swinging for strikeout No. 10.

Thats a combination of getting the ball down, Lester said. When I throw that breaking ball in the dirt they swing at it because everythings been down. Im not up in the zone, up in the zone, and then try to bounce a breaking ball and they can kind of see it a little bit easier. So more contact early, going after guys. It helps when you only go three balls on one hitter. its a big step in the right direction for me.

Lester threw all his pitches, but was able to stay away from his cutter early, allowing him to work on other pitches.

I think it just happened that way, said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. We were getting ahead and when you get ahead like that you want to work on pitches. We didnt even get to work on his sinker till late in the game because anything he threw, he was just throwing it for a strike.

But his cutters a pitch that you can use early in the count or late in the count. So we used it in both counts, early to gets swings and see if we could jam them and late for the swing.

Said one scout in attendance:

Lester showed the best changeup I have seen him have and he used it a lot. It was dynamite. He pounded his fastball inside well, also. His curveball was sharp, fastball command plus, and cutter was solid.

This was as good as I have seen him. Really good today.

For Lester, now its just a matter of getting ready for Opening Day.

Pitch, Lester said of his focus between now and then. Thats the biggest thing is just pitch. Get innings, get runners on base, work on stuff like that and thats always the biggest thing is just pitch.

Celtics-Heat preview: Do C's need to bounce back from a win?

Celtics-Heat preview: Do C's need to bounce back from a win?

BOSTON – The final score on the Jumbotron Friday night said the Celtics beat the Phoenix Suns 130-120.
 
But there was a clear and undeniable sense of loss on the part of the Celtics, even if Friday’s victory was their third in a row and sixth in the past seven games.
 
The Celtics (47-26) hope to continue on their winning ways tonight against a Miami Heat team currently among a handful fighting for one of the last playoff slots, but are doing so without Dion Waiters (ankle) who has been instrumental in their surge after an 11-30 start to the season.
 
Beating the Heat (35-37) will require Boston to play better than they did against the Suns, a game Boston won, but in many ways had the feeling of defeat.
 
Yes, Devin Booker’s career-high 70 points was very much a blow – a huge blow – to the pride of a team that takes tremendous pride in its defense.
 
But the sense of a loss came in the form of purpose while playing as close to their potential as possible.
 
The Celtics fell short on both fronts Friday night.
 
Being just one game behind Cleveland (47-24) for the best record in the East, the Celtics understand getting as many wins as possible is the mindset right now.
 
But coach Brad Stevens knows that while winning is important, how the team plays is even more valuable.
 
“Like I’ve said before, I’m surprised at where we are record-wise because we’ve got to play at a higher level for 48 minutes,” Stevens said. “We just don’t do it.”
 
Is this Stevens’ way of trying to motivate his players after a not-so-great performance?
 
Or is he seriously concerned that his team isn’t as good as their record?
 
The Celtics, by their own standards, and to those of us on the outside looking in, know they are a better team than the one we saw on Friday night.
 
Not having Avery Bradley (sick) certainly hurt Boston’s efforts defensively.
 
Still, a Friday night’s game wore on, Booker’s confidence only grew and the Celtics’ desire to shut him down or at least slow him down, began to dissipate like an ice cube in hell.
 
And that’s a problem - a big problem - for a team that has to be connected at both ends of the floor for an extended period of time in order to play at the level their capable of and, most important, give them the best shot at emerging victorious in the postseason.
 
That’s why Stevens isn’t too caught up in the team’s chances of catching Cleveland, or whether they go into the playoffs riding a fat winning streak.
 
“I’m not going to get caught up in winning a couple of games in a row and all that stuff,” Stevens said. “I want to get caught up in playing well. We’ve shown ourselves capable of playing well, we have not sustained it throughout a game. And it’s been pretty consistent.”
 

Win vs. Islanders 'a nice building block' for Bruins

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Win vs. Islanders 'a nice building block' for Bruins

BROOKLYN, NY – It wasn’t particularly entertaining and it won’t be all that memorable down the ride aside from the timing and importance of the meeting between the Bruins and Islanders. But it was a solid 2-1 team win for the Bruins over the Islanders at the Barclays Center on Saturday night with the B’s grinding all the way down to the end while protecting a one-goal lead through much of the third period.

Nearly everybody across Boston’s roster contributed in the major victory over the team trying to bypass them in the wild card standings, and it was a beautiful thing. Anton Khudobin stepped up when Tuukka Rask couldn’t start Saturday night’s showdown with a lower body issue, and Riley Nash supplied both Boston goals from a fourth line that’s played some of their best hockey lately.

It was unlikely heroes all around for the Black and Gold in the tightly-wound contest, but that diversity of talent and production can be a very good thing for a team looking to make that playoff push.

“You have to stay with it. You have to stay in the moment and stay with the game no matter what’s happening during the game. That’s how you get results, and that’s how you find ways to persevere through adversity,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We just got back to playing stingy, especially in the neutral zone. We got away from it the last few games, and it was nice tonight to be back playing a low-scoring game like what we’re used to playing.”

When it was all said and done the Bruins only allowed 19 shots on net and also killed off six penalties in the kind of grinding defensive showdown that you haven’t seen all that much out of the Black and Gold lately. It was exactly what Cassidy was looking for to snap the four-game losing streak, and once again start pushing the Bruins upward into the playoff chase.

“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard and fighting that hard to see pucks and find pucks and your D are blocking shots. And you kill that many penalties. It was a nice building block for us,” said Cassidy. “From the goalie on out, everybody was in there [in the win]. It was a tough game. It was a nice Bruins win. We had been doing it with offense earlier, and we’ve got to be able to do it both ways. You need to be able to win 2-1 hockey games, and it had been awhile.”

Now it’s simply up to the Bruins to be feeling good about their latest win while going back to basics, and looking for more next time around after ending their worst losing streak of the season.