Bard's control issue out of control

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Bard's control issue out of control

PHILADELPHIA -- It didn't take long for Daniel Bard's outing to head in the wrong direction.

On the sixth pitch of his start Friday night, with a full count to Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, Bard, against his own better judgement, elected to throw Rollins a slider.

The pitch missed, Rollins walked and the inning soon unraveled for Bard. He would walk three of the first four hitters he faced, leading to a big 4-0 inning, from which the Sox couldn't rebound in a 6-4 loss at Citizens Bank Park.

Needing 33 pitches just to get out of the first, Bard would be done after five. He walked five, hit two others and finds himself still struggling in the transition from reliever to starter.

But whether in the bullpen or in the rotation, Bard's command is the biggest issue. He's walked 13 in his last three starts, spanning 18 innings, earning a rebuke from his manager.

"He didn't have his control in the first inning tonight...obviously,'' said Valentine. "The walks, they're not acceptable. That amount of walks...you can't leave your team out there and you can't be letting those guys get on base.

"He's tough to hit in the strike zone. Might as well throw it in there.''

Bard said the problem in the first was initially a physical one, but was then compounded by a mental mistake.

"When you get out of your delivery a little bit,'' said Bard, 3-5, "the best thing to do is kind of step off, take a breath and kind of hit the re-set button. I never did that. I tried to power through it a little bit. You can't do that, especially early in the game.

"It was probably something that should have listed two or three pitches (with a mechanical issue) and it ended up lasting 12-15 pitches. That's my fault. I didn't handle it well.''

In seven starts to date, Bard has had just three quality starts. And in one of those -- a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Patriots Day -- Bard walked seven Rays, including one to force in the winning run with the bases loaded.

The Sox eventually clawed back on the strength of three solo homers and a sacrifice fly and brought the potential tying run to the plate in both the eighth and ninth innings.

But they could never overcome what Bard had spotted the home team in the very first inning.

"This loss is definitely on me,'' he said. "A 4-0 deficit in the first is pretty tough to overcome.''

Bard said the "kink'' in his delivery happens to the most experienced starters.

"It's going to happen,'' he said. "But it's how you respond and how quickly you can get to pounding the zone is kind of what defines you as a pitcher. Today, it took me too long to get back into it.''

In the future, Bard said, he'll take his time and assess what he needs to do, rather than trying to fight his way through the issue.

"It's just a matter of going back to what works,'' he said. "But my mistake was trying to power through it, thinking that the next (pitch) was going to be better and better.''

Instead, things got worse and worse for Bard and the Sox, and the deficit proved to be too much.

Also troubling: Bard has now walked 15 while striking out nine in his last four outings. For someone with a mid-to-high 90s fastball and a overpowering slider, that seems incomprehensible.

Again, the issue is command.

"I'm not getting myself in good counts -- it's as simple as that,'' said Bard. "When I start to establish 'strike one' more consistently, that will all come back.''

Boston pitchers strike out 14, but Red Sox still fall to Rays, 7-3

Boston pitchers strike out 14, but Red Sox still fall to Rays, 7-3

The appearance of Tampa Bay Rays lefty Ryan Yarbrough almost got the Boston Red Sox back in their spring training exhibition game. The Sox managed to score all three of their runs against the 25-year-old in their 7-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Florida on Sunday.

But the Rays, who scored runs in five different innings, managed to widen their lead in the eighth inning by beating up on Sox lefty Luis Isla, a 24-year-old who spent last season with Portland and Pawtucket. In the eighth, Rays' Joe McCarthy homered and Luke Maile managed an RBI single, which cappped off the scoring in the contest. Sox starter Hector Velazquez allowed three hits and an earned run in his two innnings. The 28-year-old, who spent 2016 in the Mexican League, still managed to amass four strikeouts.

"I was a little nervous at the start, being in the United States for the first time and playing for a big league club for the first time," Velazquez told RedSox.com through an interpreter. "But once I got the first out, all the nerves went away, and I was able to bear down."

Despite allowing two homers, Boston pitchers combined for 14 strikeouts.

With the exception of the Sox' inning against Yarbrough, Boston's veterans and prospects struggled mighltily against the Rays pitching staff. Chris Archer started for Tampa, and set the tone in the first two innings, where he threw two strikeouts, one walk and allowed one hit and no runs. Andrew Benintendi (0-for-3), Sam Travis (0-for-2) and Bryce Brentz (0-for-3) went hitless on the day. Travis, however, reached base on balls.

"I felt good. I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish," Archer said, via the Red Sox' team website. "Just out there having fun, it was really fun to be out there in the spectrum with the umpire, the fans, the batter. It was fun."

Marco Hernandez's triple got the Sox' eighth-inning off to a strong start, and singles from Matt Dominguez, Deven Marrero, Rusney Castillo and Cole Sturgeon followed. The Sox' eighth inning scoring ended after Castillo got thrown out by left fielder McCarthy at third. Six Red Sox finished with one-hit outings, including Brock Holt and Blake Swihart.

The Sox will next host the St. Louis Cardinals in Fort Myers on Monday at 1:05 p.m. ET.