June 9, 2012 at 12:37 PM
|Daniel Bard (Kelly O'Connor)|
PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Daniel Bard pumped in a 96 mph strike on his first pitch as a starter for the Pawtucket Red Sox, an encouraging sign that the velocity he lacked for much of his major league stint this season was returning. The next pitch, however, was a 95 mph fastball into the side of the batter.
The second batter of the game followed with a bloop hit just over the second baseman's head into right field. Things turned ugly for Bard when the first pitch to Starling Marte, a 94 mph fastball, ticked just off his elbow. Marte actually was checking his swing and moved into the pitch, but nonetheless that loaded the bases with no outs.
Bard followed by inducing a soft ground ball right to Pedro Ciriaco, who got the force out at second, but allowed a run to score. The fifth at-bat of the game, facing former Red Sox prospect Yamaico Navarro, was the most impressive of the stint for Bard. He started him with a 93 mph fastball, and then threw three straight sliders. The first slider had Navarro jumping out of the batter's box, but went for a called strike, and the last struck him out swinging weakly.
Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler pointed to that afterwards as the high point of the outing, saying, “He threw some good sliders to Navarro to strike him out. I'd say he was inconsistent with the fastball and it's command. But he did throw some good sliders.”
The big hit of the outing followed when Jeff Larish lined a 93 mph fastball hard just over the outstretched glove of Ronald Bermudez in left field for a double to drive in two more runs. Bard finished off the final batter quickly on a check-swinging strike out against an 81 mph slider. In all, Bard threw 26 pitches (16 strikes), gave up just the one hard-hit ball and had two strike outs, but the two hit-batsmen ultimately hurt him.
“He was one pitch away from getting out the inning,” said Beyeler following the PawSox' 8-6, 13-inning loss. “So he can just build off of that. He'll be fine. He just needs to throw and get some confidence back. Everybody goes down that path now or then, but he'll be okay.”
“The best thing about throwing down here is you can kind of ignore the results and not worry about the wins and losses as much,” Bard said. “Trying some tweaks mechanically and it was really good on some pitches, and that's what I was looking for, to get that feel. I didn't expect it to be perfect or there on every pitch. But the pitches it felt good on did what they were supposed and went where they were supposed to, and go from there.”
Much of the talk has been about his lower velocity this season as opposed to past seasons when he lived in the high-90s as a reliever. A slight reduction was expected as a starter, but more often than not in Boston he was sitting in the low-90s. In this start he was up at 95-96 mph a few times, but mostly sat at 93-94.
“I think what we're trying to do is get some of that power back and direction and I think they really go hand in hand,” said Bard. “It's using my lower body and getting everything moving toward the target with some power and typically that keeps everything on line. I think the command and the velocity will come together.”
Bard pitched out of the wind-up with no runners on base, something Bobby Valentine had said earlier in the week he thought was unnecessary. Bard did not seem discouraged by the outing despite the results, focusing on trying to make progress in other areas.
“It's hard to say,” said Bard when asked how he felt about the outing. “I don't want to dig too deep into it. We're trying to work on some things. Like I said, you can't focus too much on results. It's hard to take away from one inning besides kind of how you felt. Obviously some weird things happen. I hit two guys, missed badly with two pitches, a blooper fell in and they hit one ball hard. I don't want to look too much into results, but more how everything felt.
“It's such a weird outing, you prepare as a starter, but knowing you're only going one inning. I just tried to block that out and attack every hitter like it's your last. But it's a little bit of a weird mentality. I told them I could do this out of the bullpen, but they wanted me to keep starting and keep that routine in place.”
Beyeler said the plan is for Bard to make his next start on Monday, which is going to be a two-inning outing.
“He's been down that route before with the command issue stuff,” said Beyeler. “He'll figure out, he's been through it before. He'll get the feel. He threw some good fastballs, and he didn't let up. His velocity was pretty good, and he went right at guys. He didn't back off. Even though he hit a few guys, he got through the inning and was one pitch away from being just one run instead of three.”
Matt Huegel is Senior Editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegelSP.