FORT MYERS, Fla. Daniel Bard is looking forward to the day when every bullpen session is not monitored, every pitch examined, every nuance analyzed and overanalyzed, and he can be just another reliever in the bullpen. But after his dismal foray into starting pitching last season, that day has not yet arrived.
Bard threw his first live batting practice session on Saturday. It was his third time pitching off a mound in Red Sox camp, and he was satisfied with his outing.
It felt good, Bard said after his outing. Just trying to work the kinks out. It takes a few pitches to get used to having the cages around the plate and the L-screen in front of the mound. But once you kind of settle in, it felt good.
That was a feeling that eluded Bard last year. In 11 games, 10 starts, in the first half Bard posted a record of 5-6 with a 5.24 era. It was his disastrous outing on June 3 in Toronto that signaled the death knell for his career as a starter. He went 1 23 innings, giving up five runs on one hit, a home run, and six walks, two strikeouts and two hit batters. He was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket after that, his psyche badly bruised.
Bard returned to the big league team on Aug. 31, making six appearances, spanning 4 13 innings, allowing nine earned runs on eight hits, three home runs, six walks and four strikeouts.
It was frustrating, he said. Trying to do what youve done your whole life and what youve been really good at, and for some reason things just arent clicking. I dont think anybody could quite put a really good explanation on it. I think it was just a combination of things, getting in some bad habits, and I had a hard time getting out of them.
I think the best thing for me was two or three months off after the season, let those habits go away. The first time you pick up a ball in the offseason, youre relearning how to throw and find that release point anyway. So thats kind of how it is. Just starting a new season, Im excited. Im looking forward to it. The past is the past. Im going to go on how I feel on a day to day basis.
Manager John Farrell was the Sox pitching coach from 2007-10 and saw Bard make his big league debut in 2009, becoming a dominant set-up man in 2010, when Bard posted a 1.93 era with a 9.2 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio in 73 appearances. Farrell was also satisfied with Bards outing.
Just getting consistent with his timing, Farrell said. I thought he had a good feel for his secondary pitches. Its BP. I dont want to overanalyze it too much, but repetition on the mound, seeing a hitter in the box.
The one point of emphasis that he was trying to get done was not to guide the ball. Stay aggressive even in early BP and bullpen sessions, and hes doing just that.
Bard believes hes resolved some of the issues that plagued him last season.
The balls coming out of my hand free and easy, he said. I couldnt say that for the first or the second half of last season, so thats it. Its just letting the ball come out and trusting it. So I feel good now.
And that, in itself, is a good feeling.
I know I keep repeating this, but it feels good coming out, and I couldnt even say that playing catch or throwing in the bullpen last year, he said. So to be able to do that, having a hitter in the box today, getting some reactions there, it was a good start. And once you get into some real games and really get some feedback on what the balls doing.
Farrell has noticed Bards improved confidence, too.
Consistent with the way he described what he was feeling, how he was thinking in terms of looking back on last year, and the outlook on camp, and what he was trying to get done on the mound, Farrell said. And thats pitching with that aggressiveness, pitching with that shorter-outing mentality, rather than be efficient and work deeper into games that led into potentially guiding the ball from the mound. And hes showing that. Thats the mindset that hes got here. And yet hes got to be patient. His bodys going to have to catch up with that mentality in terms of the timing in his delivery and thats what hes going through right now.