Boston Red Sox

New lineup sparks Celtics past Pacers, 94-75

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New lineup sparks Celtics past Pacers, 94-75

BOSTON The Boston Celtics have had impressive wins this season, with most doing little to build momentum going forward.

But Friday's 94-75 victory over Indiana felt different if for no other reason than the lineup being different ... sort of.

Boston's impressive performance was fueled in part by Doc Rivers' decision to put Brandon Bass back in with the first unit, giving the Celtics the same starting five it had when it closed out last season with a 14-5 record that catapulted them into the postseason where they advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.

It was a strong game for the Celtics (15-17), a night that could not be dampened even by the ejection of Kevin Garnett in the fourth quarter after he was whistled for a flagrant-two foul (automatic ejection) on Tyler Hansbrough.

Boston, snapping a four-game losing streak with the victory, still have quite a ways to go before they are a legitimate contender again.

But Friday's win was certainly a step in that direction.

The Celtics could not make shots in the first quarter, which has usually led to a huge early deficit that they would spend the rest of the half trying to cut into.

But despite shooting just 29.2 percent from the field in the first, Boston was only down 16-15 courtesy of some tough, gritty defense.

That defensive intensity was sustained in the second quarter. And when you throw a slew of shots starting to fall from several Celtics players, the C's pulled ahead by as many as 15 in the first half before settling on a 47-35 lead.

Two important developments in the first half were critical to Boston's strong play.

For starters, Rajon Rondo was as aggressive as we've seen in weeks offensively, tallying all 10 of his first-half points in the second quarter. He finished with a team-high 18 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

In addition, Boston was getting a much-needed boost of energy from its bench and Courtney Lee was leading the way.

Lee's defense coupled with some timely shots around the basket gave the Celtics a lift that seemed to energize both his teammates as well as Celtics Nation. He would finished with 13 points.

The third quarter featured the C's missing several shots in the first few minutes. But for a change, it didn't matter because the Celtics defense refused to allow the double-digit cushion built up in the first half to shrink.

And as the fourth quarter rolled along, the Celtics continued to play solid defense while most of their core guys spent most or all of the quarter on the bench, resting up for Saturday night's game at Atlanta.

There will be many theories as to how the Celtics were able to blow out an Indiana team that had won eight of its last 10 games leading up to Friday's game.

But more than anything else, the Celtics finally had players in roles that head coach Doc Rivers envisioned them being at the start of the season.

So it's not a coincidence that Friday's game was arguably their most complete performance of the season.

But Friday's success won't mean much unless they can use it similar to how they did last season and that's rack up multiple wins, home and on the road.

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.