Boston Red Sox

Melo being patient, working on game with Red Claws

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Melo being patient, working on game with Red Claws

Fab Melo looked out his hotel room window from inside the Best Western in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

"I see a bunch of cars covered in snow," he said in a telephone interview Thursday evening. "That's all I see. It's really cold. Really, really cold. I'm not trying to get to know how cold it is."

1,300 miles away the Boston Celtics were getting ready to take on the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center, kicking off the first of three games they will play in California.

Melo was looking forward to watching the matchup. With temperatures reading 12 degrees outside, there was little else he was interested in doing.

The Celtics rookie is on a road trip, too, only his travels have taken him from Idaho to South Dakota for back-to-back games against the Skyforce with the Maine Red Claws, the C's NBA Development League affiliate. Melo has appeared in 10 games for the Red Claws, averaging 23.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.5 blocks in his last two contests, and set a new D-League record with 14 blocked shots in a single game last Saturday.

The 22-year-old seven-footer is improving. He is making strides and developing skills he believes will help him contribute to the Celtics. Yet as he looks on to a frigid snow-covered parking lot, he also knows a weekend in Sioux Falls is beneficial for him at this stage in his career.

"I think this is the best situation for me right now," Melo said. "I am getting playing time, I'm just playing basketball, and that's the thing I needed to be able to do. I can improve my game that way, so I'm not complaining."

The Celtics understood they were acquiring a work in progress when they selected Melo with the 22nd overall pick in this summer's NBA Draft. The big man from Syracuse University had potential, but given that he did not start playing basketball in Brazil until he was 17, he has a ways to go to reach it.

The Celtics assigned Melo to the D-League early in the season. He would be able to receive the playing time on the Red Claws that would not be available to him on a veteran NBA squad.

"I've been working on what the Celtics want me to do -- develop my defensive game," said Melo. "And I've been working on my offensive game, that's something I've been doing every day. Me and J.P. (Clark), one of the assistant coaches, we work every day on post positions, we work on defensive rotations, we watch films to correct the things that I do wrong in the games. I'm just developing my basketball game. On offense, I'm working on my baby hook. That's one thing that has been pretty good for me right now. I've been working on getting post position, running up and down the court, and working on my post moves, things like that."

The foundation of the Celtics system is defense. With limited basketball experience and a college system that played a zone defense, Melo had a lot of catching up to do.

"My biggest improvement has been on the defensive rotations," he said. "I know what I have to do on the rotations and I defend the screens better. That's the thing I was struggling with in the beginning, and now that I know the rotations we have in the game, I think I'm doing better.

"Because of Syracuse I played zone. Now my pick-and-roll defense is a way better. I'm learning how to defend, I learned what I have to call out to my teammates, the coverage. I just learned how to do it and now I'm doing it naturally. I had to think before. Now it's just become an instinct, and that's what it's becoming better for me."

Then there are the 14 blocked shots. Melo followed them up with another nine (to go along with 32 points and nine rebounds) on Wednesday night.

"They kept driving to the basket and I was just getting a lot of blocks in the first half," he said of his record-setting performance against the Erie BayHawks. "I felt really good so I just blocked everything. I had an idea (I had blocked a lot of shots) but I didn't know how many it was. 14, that's a good number for blocks. It felt great that I broke the record. That's the thing I do best, I block shots. That's the thing I want to be part of my game (in the NBA). Not just blocking shots, but changing shots too because that can affect a lot."

Melo's 14 swats came at what could have been seen as "the perfect time" for the Celtics. The following afternoon, Doc Rivers announced forward-center Chris Wilcox could miss up to a month with a thumb injury. This news left the Celtics even more shorthanded at a position at which they already lost Darko Milicic earlier in the season. Yet with a need for a big man, Rivers quickly squashed any speculation Melo would be called on to fill that void.

"I haven't talked to anyone that thinks he's ready to come up yet," Rivers said.

Later that day the Celtics signed D-Leaguer Jarvis Varnado from the SkyForce. Melo was not discouraged by Rivers' assessment or the Celtics decision to look elsewhere.

"I want to put in more work," he said. "I think I have a long way to go with my game, but I really think I can be really good in the NBA someday. I think this is a good situation for me right now and I can get a lot better with this situation."

Melo already had a taste of the NBA life before being assigned to Portland. He joined them for their trip to Istanbul and Milan, experienced flying on private team planes, and stayed in five-star accommodations. While he still receives perks for being an NBA player, such as a first class airline seat and no roommate on the road, he now travels on commercial flights and buses, and his hotel rooms don't exactly rival the Ritz Carlton.

His life may not be as glamorous as his teammates' on the Celtics, but it is all part of the making his way back up to the pros.

"Of course I wanted to be in the NBA and play the game and travel with the team and stuff like that, but what I'm trying to do is move forward with the process," he said. "I'm being patient. I really think I can be good in the NBA someday, so I'm enjoying the process and getting better through it."

Melo is excited to return to Portland later this weekend for the Red Claws' next home game on New Year's Eve. After growing up in Brazil and attending soccer matches in some of the most energetic sports environments, he looks forward to playing in front of those who truly love basketball.

"It's pretty cool because people who go to these games are basketball fans and really appreciate the game," he said. "They like to see an NBA player play for them. They really appreciate that, and I really enjoy playing in front of them."

Melo's long-term goal is to play in front of the TD Garden crowd. But he is taking it one game at a time, knowing the importance of giving it his all in front of the Sioux Falls Skyforce fans on Friday night.

"I feel like an NBA player learning on the Red Claws right now," he said. "What fans should know is that I'm working very hard. I'm working on every part of my game and trying to improve. I think there are good things about to come."

How Drew Pomeranz, 2nd best lefty in the American League, can be even better

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How Drew Pomeranz, 2nd best lefty in the American League, can be even better

BOSTON — Drew Pomeranz may not technically be the No. 2 for the Red Sox in this year’s presumed American League Division Series. Maybe the Red Sox will mix in a right-hander between Pomeranz and Chris Sale.

Either way, everyone knows which pitcher, in spirit, has been the second-most reliable for the Red Sox. A day after Chris Sale notched his 300th strikeout and on the final off-day of the regular season, it’s worth considering the importance of the other excellent lefty on the Sox, and how much he’s meant to a team that’s needed surprise performances because of the lineup’s drop-off.

Per FanGraphs’ wins above replacement, Pomeranz is the second-most valuable lefthanded starter among those qualified in the American League (you know who's No. 1). He's one of the 10 best starters in the AL overall.

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The 28-year-old Pomeranz was a first-round pick seven years ago. But he didn’t exactly blossom until the last two years. He has a 3.15 ERA in 165 2/3 innings. His next start, if decent, should give him a career-high in innings after he threw 170 2/3 last year.

Pomeranz is a 16-game winner, just one win behind Sale. The value of wins and losses is known to be nil, but there’s still a picture of reliability that can be gleaned.

Is this the year Pomeranz became the pitcher he always envisioned he would be?

“I don’t know, I mean, I had a pretty dang good year last year,” Pomeranz said, referring to a 3.32 ERA between the Padres and Sox, and an All-Star selection. “I think these last two years have been kind of you know, more what I wanted to be like. But I still, I don’t think I’m done yet, you know what I mean?”

Most pro athletes say there’s always room to improve. Pomeranz, however, was able to specify what he wants. The focus is on his third and fourth pitches: his cutter and his change-up. 

“My change-up’s been really good this year,” Pomeranz said. “That’s something that still can go a lot further. And same with my cutter too. I still use it sparingly. I don’t think me just being a six-inning guy is the end of it for me either.

“You set personal goals. You want to throw more innings, cover more innings so the bullpen doesn’t have to cover those. Helps save them for right now during the year.”

Early in the year, Pomeranz wasn’t using his cutter much. He threw just nine in April, per BrooksBaseball.net. That led to talk that he wasn’t throwing the pitch to take it easy on his arm. He did start the year on the disabled list, after all, and cutters and sliders can be more stressful on the elbow and forearm.

That wasn’t the case.

“The reason I didn’t throw it in the beginning of the year was because half the times I threw it went the other way,” Pomeranz said. “It backed up. Instead of cutting, it was like sinking or running back. I mean, I pitched [in Baltimore] and gave up a home run to [Manny] Machado, we were trying to throw one in and it went back. So I didn’t trust it.

“Mechanical thing. I was still trying to clean my mechanics up, and once I cleaned ‘em up and got my arm slot right, then everything started moving the way it was supposed to and then I started throwing it more.”

Pomeranz’s cutter usage, and how he developed the pitch heading into 2016, has been well documented.

The change-up is more of an X-factor. He threw five in each of his last two starts, per Brooks, and it’s a pitch he wants to use more.

“It’s been good,” Pomeranz said. “I think I could throw it a lot more and a lot more effectively, and ... tweaking of pitch selection probably could help me get into some of those later innings too.”

Well, then why not just throw the change more often? Easier said than done when you’re talking about your fourth pitch in a key moment.

“I throw a few a game,” Pomeranz said. “Sometimes you feel like you don’t want too throw it in situations where you get beat with your third or fourth best pitch. I mean it’s felt — every time I’ve thrown it it’s been consistent. It’s just a matter of, it’s something me and Vazqy [Christian Vazquez] talk about too." 

(When you hear these kind of issues, which most pitchers deal with, it makes you appreciate Sale’s ability to throw any pitch at any time even more.)

Speaking on Wednesday, the day after Pomeranz’s most recent outing, Sox pitching coach Willis said he thinks the change-up’s already starting to have a greater presence.

“He’s kind of always had a changeup, and he hadn’t had any trust or conviction in that pitch,” Willis said. “I was really excited last night that he used the changeup more. He threw it. He doubled up with it on occasion. Something that’s not in the scouting report.

"It’s his fourth pitch and he seldom threw it in a game and he’s in a situation where, OK, the change-up’s the right pitch, but location of whatever I throw is going to outweigh [selection]. Now he’s starting to gain that confidence [that he can locate it]. 

“I think that’s going to make him an extremely better pitcher. I thought it was a huge factor in his outing last night. Because he didn’t have his best velocity. He really did a good job of changing speeds with the changeup, and obviously with the curveball and being able to give different shapes of the pitches.”

The Sox already have the best left-hander in the AL, if not anywhere. The AL's second-best southpaw happens to pitch on the same team, and has tangible plans to be even better.

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Werner criticizes Price for Eck incident; says Sox' relationship with Yanks is 'frosty'

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Werner criticizes Price for Eck incident; says Sox' relationship with Yanks is 'frosty'

BOSTON — Red Sox chairman Tom Werner doesn’t seem to be the biggest fan of the the Yankees, MLB disciplinarian Joe Torre, and players who can’t take criticism from broadcasters.

In a spot Thursday with WEEI, Werner made clear David Price’s handling of Dennis Eckersley was unprofessional.

“Boston is a tough place to play,” Werner said on WEEI’s Ordway, Merlonia and Fauria. “Some players thrive here, and some players don’t. Get a thicker skin. My feeling is, let the broadcasts be honest, be personable, informative, and get over it if you think a certain announcer took a shot at you.”

“I thought there was a way of handling that. It wasn’t handled appropriately. If I’ve got a problem with Lou [Merloni], and I hear something he says on the radio, I’ll say to Lou, ‘That wasn’t fair.’ ”

Werner also called the team’s relationship with the Yankees “frosty” following the public sign-stealing saga that resulted in fines for both clubs.

“The fact is, I do think this was a minor technical violation,” Werner said. “I start with the fact that this was unfortunately raised to a level it never should have been raised to.”

Werner also insinuated he did not approve of how MLB and Torre handled the disciplining of Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez, who receieved a four-game suspension for his part in a fight against the Tigers (reduced on appeal to three games).

“Do you think Gary Sanchez got an appropriate punishment?” Werner asked.