Celtics

Hill pleased with progress, optimistic for season

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Hill pleased with progress, optimistic for season

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After undergoing Tommy John surgery last June, Rich Hill won't be ready to start the season on April 5. But he doesn't expect to be sidelined much longer than a month after the season opener.

"Absolutely, no doubt about it,'' said Hill. "We look at March 1 and two months away from there . . . that's a lot of time in my mind. So I think that's absolutely possible.''

Hill is not alone in his optimism. Signed to a minor league deal over the winter, the Red Sox purchased his contract and added him to the 40-man roster earlier this week, weeks before Hill's opt-out clause would have forced a decision.

The message was obvious: The Red Sox believe that Hill will be healthy, and sooner rather than later.

"I think all the work I put in is paying off,'' said Hill.

Hill could be a valuable weapon for the Sox. In limited playing time last season, he held opposing lefties to a .115 (3-for-26) batting average.

For now, however, Hill is focused on his recovery and completing his rehabilitation.

"I just had my fourth bullpen today,'' said Hill. "There aren't any breaking balls or changeups yet. We're working changeups on flat ground. Breaking balls are probably a week-and-a-half away. Long toss is unrestricted. I think now it's a matter of building up endurance off the mound and keep working on repetition of mechanics.

"For the fourth time off the mound, I'm really pleased with how it's been going. The elbow is feeling stronger.''

Hill has progressed so far that the toughest challenge is resisting the urge to speed up his program. But that would put his recovery in jeopardy, and tough as it is, he must be patient.

"I feel like I could have thrown live BP today,' he said. "However, you don't want to go out there and risk anything. Everyone I've talked to says, 'Do the best that you can at the stage you're at and move on.' ''

Should Hill be ready to pitch for the Sox on May 1, his recovery time will be just shy of 11 months. Since he's not starting -- and in fact, will be used mostly as a lefty specialist, tasked with facing only a batter or two -- he needn't worry about getting stretched out to 90-100 pitches, the way Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey, two other Sox pitchers who are coming off Tommy John, must.

Once he begins using his entire repertoire, Hill must guard against any setbacks. It's not unusual for pitchers close to the rehab finish line to experience soreness after throwing breaking pitches for the first time in 10 or so months.

"I'm expecting to feel good,'' he said, "but I haven't had a day where I have to take step back. That could still happen.''

Hill has a decision of sorts to make soon -- whether to use the low three-quarter delivery he used with great effectiveness the previous two seasons or return to a more conventional over-the-top delivery.

"Obviously, over-the-top is the way I threw when I was a starter'' said Hill. "That's not going to be my role here, starting. As soon as we start throwing breaking balls and full bullpens, from there I'll probably decide which route to take.''

Dr. James Andrews, who pioneered the Tommy John procedure and performed it on Hill, assured him that the lower arm angle was not the cause of the ligament tear.

In the meantime, all the rehab work and arm exercises Hill has done has had some unintended consequences in that it also served to strengthen his shoulder and entire body.

"Everything benefits,'' he said. "Overall, your whole body is stronger.''

Plenty of on-the-job training for Celtics' rookies

Plenty of on-the-job training for Celtics' rookies

BOSTON – With all the changes the Celtics went through over the summer, seeing more rookies on the floor this season was a given.
 
But six?
 
Yes, only three games into the season and the Celtics have played more rookies than any team under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens.

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And in the 102-92 victory at Philadelphia on Friday night, the Celtics (1-2) played almost as many first-year players (five) as veterans (six).
 
The youth movement here in Boston has been sped up a bit by the season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward, compounded by a left ankle sprain to Marcus Smart that Smart said won’t keep him out any more than Friday night in Philly.

Even if Smart is back in the Celtics lineup Tuesday night against New York, that doesn’t change the fact that Boston will continue to need rookies to step up and contribute going forward as they did on Friday.
 
And while there’s an old adage about experience being the greatest teacher, Boston’s youngsters are going to have to fast-forward past some of those on-the-floor growing pains for the Celtics to stay among the top teams in the East.
 
“Everybody talks about young players having to learn by going through experience,” said Stevens. “Why don’t we just watch film and learn? Learn from things we can control and in the interim, let’s beat the age thing. Let’s not talk about the age thing. Let’s talk about how we can be better at what we can control and how we can learn and grow every day and expedite the learning curve.
 
Stevens added, “because they are going to get opportunities all the way down the line, let’s not focus on trying to learn from experience; let’s focus on learning from every day and see if we can get a little bit better every day.”
 
The one rookie who has had no problem adjusting to the NBA game early on has been Jayson Tatum.
 
Selected with the third overall pick last June, Tatum has been among the NBA's most productive rookies in this first week of the season.
 
Tatum’s 35.3 minutes played per game is tops among all rookies. His 12.3 points and 9.0 rebounds rank seventh and fourth among his first-year brethren.
 
Stevens loves what he has seen thus far from Tatum, but believes he’s capable of making an even greater impact sooner rather than later.
 
“I like him to shoot it on the catch more,” Stevens said. “Because he has tremendous touch. When he shoots it in rhythm with confidence, the ball finds the net. He’s one of those guys; he’s a natural scorer. But his ability to read the game … he’s very intelligent. It’s been more evident on the defensive end. He’s gonna pick his spots offensively now. But we want him to be aggressive and first and foremost, be a threat to shoot it every time he catches it.
 
Stevens added, “I guess it should feel pretty good when you’re 19 years old and your coach is begging you to shoot it.”
 
How quickly Tatum and the rest of Boston’s youngsters grow into the roles they will be asked to play this season can do nothing but help the Celtics adapt to what has already been a season with major changes needing to be made.
 
“You saw [against Philadelphia], we had Shane [Larkin], we had Guerschon [Yabusele], we had guys coming in that played the game at a high level and we need them to contribute,” said Boston’s Kyrie Irving. “For me to see that and witness that, it makes me nothing but proud and happy to have teammates that are ready to play. It’s not always going to look perfect because we’re still gaining knowledge about one another. But as long as we’re out there competing, having each other’s backs, that’s all that matters.”
 

AFC EAST: Cutler hurt, Moore leads Dolphins to 31-28 comeback win over Jets

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AFC EAST: Cutler hurt, Moore leads Dolphins to 31-28 comeback win over Jets

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - Matt Moore replaced an injured Jay Cutler and threw two touchdown passes in the final 12 minutes, and the Miami Dolphins pulled off another comeback win by erasing a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the New York Jets 31-28 on Sunday. Click here for more.