Red Sox

Bradley set to return Wednesday vs. Grizzlies

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Bradley set to return Wednesday vs. Grizzlies

WALTHAM Avery Bradley can't walk on air or turn water into wine. So you can save all the talk of him being some sort of basketball savior for the Celtics.

Still, there is no mistaking that his return to the lineup on Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies (19-9) will make the C's a better -- a much better -- team than they are without him.

And his return could not come soon enough with the Celtics riding a season-long losing skid of three games in preparation for a Grizzlies team that is still among the better teams out West despite losing three of their last four games.

If he's healthy enough to play, C's coach Doc Rivers said Bradley will be with the first group.

"Avery's going to start," Rivers said prior to the C's practice on Wednesday afternoon. "We had him markered down -- not penciled down -- before the year that he was going to be a starter."

In terms of what his role will be, Bradley isn't consumed with starting versus coming off the bench.  

"I try not to worry about it," he said. "All you can do is go out and play hard. That's what I'm gonna do. That's how I play. Tomorrow that's what you guys will see."

However, injuries to both shoulders last season resulted in surgery that forced him to miss part of the 2012 playoffs as well as the first 30 games this season.

It was a disappointing finish to what was a breakout season for the former first-round pick of the C's who burst on to the scene as a defensive pest to opponents that was critical in the Celtics becoming a much better team after the all-star break.

According to Hoopsstats.com, the Celtics had an efficiency differential of plus 5.5 prior to the all-star break last season which ranked 10th in the NBA. After the break, the C's more than doubled that to a plus 11.5 which ranked fourth in the NBA.

Part of that bump was Bradley's ability to not only impact the game with his individual defense, but having it trickle down to his teammates.

"He knows his role," said C's guard Rajon Rondo. "He plays with a lot of energy. A lot of guys don't like to face a guy like Avery. I believe he's the best defender in the league, hands down.

Rondo added, "Hopefully we all try to step our level of play up when he steps on the court; the intensity he plays with, hopefully is contagious and we all do the same."
 
The impact that Bradley will make on the C's remains to be seen, although it is expected to be significant.

But Celtics coach Doc Rivers, well aware that the pressure isn't coming from Bradley's teammates or the C's, has made a point repeatedly to emphasize that Bradley should not be seen as some Knight on a white horse coming in to save the day.

"I'm anxious to get him back, but I know that he's not Bill Russell. He's Avery Bradley," Rivers said. "But Avery Bradley is going to be important to our team. He is one of those guys that helps change your culture as far as on the floor and how we play and the intensity that he plays. I hope when he comes it helps one or two other guys do that. Other than that, he's been out a long time. To think he's going to play well right off the bat, I don't know if that will happen or not. But he'll play hard right away."

And that in itself might be just what the C's need; a player who plays with great effort and intensity consistently.

"I don't have any expectations of how I'm going to play," Bradley said. "I'm just going to go out there and play hard. Whatever happens, happens. That's all I can control, how hard I can play."

But that effort in many ways is what fuels Bradley's defense which is his strength as a player.

"Defense, I feel it's an effort thing," Bradley said. "If you want to play hard on the defensive end, you have to want to. I obviously want to and that's what I can bring to this team."

Indeed, Bradley's on-the-ball defense has a way of containing or wiping out at least one member of an opposing team's backcourt.

"Unfortunately there are four others on the floor," Rivers said. "Avery's probably top-5 in the league on the ball defense and not getting beat. But if you can stop one of the guards from dribble penetration, it has to help."
 
And the Celtics (14-16) can use all the help they can get right now.

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

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Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.

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Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel. 

Patriots missing Brady, Gronkowski from start of Wednesday's practice

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Patriots missing Brady, Gronkowski from start of Wednesday's practice

FOXBORO -- Tough day in terms attendance at Patriots practice. 

Several starters were missing from the start of the session, including two of the team's most important players, that took place in the rain on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. 

Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, Marcus Cannon, David Andrews and Patrick Chung were all absent from the start of the practice. 

Hogan (shoulder), Cannon (ankle) and Andrews (illness) were all unable to play against the Raiders last weekend. Chung left the Raiders game briefly with an undiclosed injury but returned later in the game and met with media afterward. The reasons for Brady and Gronkowski's absences are unknown. 

Matthew Slater (hamstring) did not play last weekend in Mexico City, but he was back on the practice field. Newly-acquired defensive lineman Eric Lee -- who took Cassius Marsh's spot on the 53-man roster -- was also present. 

It appeared as though new practice squad return man Bernard Reedy was on the field as well. P-squad defensive lineman Mike Purcell was missing from the session so it looks like he was released in order to make room. 

Finally, Malcolm Mitchell was not on the field for Wednesday's workout. He's eligible to come off of injured reserve and begin practicing, as is defensive lineman Vincent Valentine, but both remain out. 

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