Boston Red Sox

All-Star pitchers taking note of Bard's control problems

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All-Star pitchers taking note of Bard's control problems

KANSAS CITY -- Daniel Bard is about as far away from the All-Star Game as a player can be -- in the minors, struggling to overcome his increasingly major control problems.

But that doesn't mean that Bard isn't off the radar of some players here.

Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez has been highly critical of the Red Sox' treatment of Bard.

"Reliever, starter . . . reliever, starter," said Perez. "As a pitcher, all you want is to know your roll. He's a tremendous set-up-slash-closer guy. Just leave him there. Obviously, starting pitchers are more valuable, they pitch more and innings and all that. But he had control problems when he first started (in the minors), didn't he? And then they moved him to the pen. It was done and he was nasty. And then back to starting and he did alright in the beginning.

"Now, it's back to no control. You'd have ask to him, but I think part (of the problems) are not feeling comfortable, obviously. Put him back in that eighth inning role and he's a monster."

Chicago White Sox lefty Chris Sale took something of a similar path to the big leagues as Bard. A first-round pick in 2010, Sale made 79 appearances in relief for the White Sox in 2010 and 2011 before being shifted to the rotation this year.

Unlike Bard, he made the transition seem almost seamless. In 15 first-half starts with Chicago, he was 10-2 with a 2.19 ERA, earning a spot on the A.L. All-Star squad.

"I've paid attention to (Bard's struggles," said Sale. "He's a great pitcher. He's got electric stuff. He'll figure it out. It's one of those things that sometimes takes some time to get ahold of. But he'll get there."

Sale has dealt with the different physical demands that come with starting and the mental adjustments, too.

"You come out of the bullpen and it's grip-and-rip," he said. "You're going 100 percent focus and maybe 110-percent effort. As a starter, maybe your effort level is toned down so you have something there in the later innings when you need it."

Perez was unaware that Bard has been dealing with what players call "The Thing" -- the sudden inability to throw the ball over the plate.

"Like Rick Ankiel?" asked Perez, wincing at that the thought, referring to the former St. Louis Cardinals lefty who suffered from the same malady several seasons ago and became an outfielder. "That's what he was doing when he (first) signed. I've been facing him since college. He was at North Carolina and I was at Miami, so I kind of followed him. Now, it's back to that.

"It's obviously something mental. I feel bad for him. My heart goes out to him. Obviously, he knows how to throw a baseball. It's a mental block. It sucks. It's hard enough when you're on and making pitches. But to have that anxiety of, 'Oh, God . . . I don't want to hit this guy.' It's a harsh cycle to break. But he did it once, so he can do it. He's just got to find some confidence somewhere.

"Luckily, I haven't been there. I hope I never get there. But it sucks."

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

BALTIMORE — Baseball records are so precise. When to pursue them, when to value them even if minor risk is involved, is not nearly as clear cut.

The Red Sox, Chris Sale and John Farrell have stumbled upon that grey area, and it will continue to play out in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Sale reached a tremendous milestone on Wednesday night, becoming the 14th different pitcher in major league history to reach 300 strikeouts in a single season. No one else has done it in the American League this century. Clayton Kershaw was the last to get there in the National League two years ago.

“It was really fun,” Sale said of having his family on hand. “My wife, both my boys are here, my mother-in-law. Being able to run out and get a big hug from him and my wife and everybody — it was special having them here for something like this. … I’ll spend a little time with them before we head to Cincinnati.”

Now, there’s another mark ahead of Sale: Pedro Martinez’s single-season club record of 313. And the pursuit of that record is going to highlight the discussion of what matters even more.

The tug-of-war between absolute pragmatism and personal achievement was on display Wednesday, when Farrell gave ground to the latter. 

The manager was prepared for the questions after a celebratory 9-0 win over the Orioles. His pitchers threw 26 straight scoreless innings to finish off a three-game sweep of the Orioles, and the Sox had the game well in hand the whole night.

With seven innings and 99 pitches thrown and 299 strikeouts in the books, Sale went back out for the eighth inning.

If you watched it, if you saw Sale drop a 2-2 front-door slider to a hapless Ryan Flaherty for the final strikeout Sale needed and his last pitch of the night, you surely enjoyed it. Records may not be championships, but they have their own appeal in sports that’s undeniable. 

But Sale could have recorded strikeout No. 300 next time out. Surely, he would have. He needed all 111 pitches to do so Wednesday.

In this case, the difference between 299 and 300 wound up being just 12 pitches. 

It’s doubtful those 12 pitches will ruin Sale’s postseason chances, particularly considering he was throwing hard all game, touching 99 mph. 

Nonetheless, the Sox hope to play for another month, and they've been working to get Sale extra rest. So, why risk fatigue, or worse, injury?

“The two overriding factors for me,” Farrell explained, “were the pitch counts and the innings in which he was in control of throughout. Gets an extra day [for five days of rest] this next time through the rotation. All those things were brought into play in the thinking of bringing him back out.

“We know what the final out of tonight represented, him getting the 300 strikeouts. Was aware of that, and you know what, felt like he was in complete command of this game and the ability to go out and give that opportunity, he recorded it.”

If Sale makes his final two starts of the year, he’ll break Martinez's record of 313. At least, Sale should. But he might not make his projected final start, in Game No. 162, so that he’s set up for Game 1 in the Division Series.

(So, if he could do reach 314 Ks in his next start, he’d make this discussion disappear — but 14 Ks in one outing is not easy.)

When should exceptions be made to let someone get to a record? Where do you draw the line? 

Would it be reasonable to get Sale an inning or two against the Astros in Game 162 if he was a few strikeouts away, even though he may face the Astros in the Division Series?

Letting the Astros get extra looks against Sale is a different matter than Sale throwing 12 extra pitches. But neither is really a guarantee of doom. They're small risks, of varying size.

Consider that if Sale is on, he should rough up the Astros no matter what.

What's 12 pitches Wednesday for a guy who leads the majors in average pitches thrown per game? Not enough to keep Farrell from letting Sale have a go at one milestone.

Will the Sox work to put Sale in position for the next?

Records don’t usually fall into such a grey area. Outside of the steroid era, anyway.

Sale gets strikeout No. 300 as Red Sox shut out O's, 9-0

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Sale gets strikeout No. 300 as Red Sox shut out O's, 9-0

BALTIMORE - Chris Sale struck out 13 to become the first AL pitcher in 18 years to reach the 300 mark, and the Boston Red Sox moved to the brink of clinching a playoff berth by beating the Baltimore Orioles 9-0 on Wednesday night.

Sale (17-7) reached the milestone on his last pitch, a called third strike against Ryan Flaherty to end the eighth inning. The last AL pitcher to fan 300 batters in a season was Boston's Pedro Martinez in 1999, when he set a club record with 313.

Mookie Betts and Deven Marrero homered for the Red Sox, who reduced their magic number for reaching the postseason to one. If the Angels lost to Cleveland later Wednesday night, Boston would be assured no worse than a wild-card spot in the AL playoffs.

The Red Sox, of course, would prefer to enter as AL East champions. They hold a three-game lead over the second-place Yankees with 10 games left.

After winning two straight 11-inning games over the skidding Orioles, Boston jumped to a 6-0 lead in the fifth and coasted to its 11th win in 14 games.