Red Sox await Bard's return from recent slump

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Red Sox await Bard's return from recent slump

By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen

BOSTON The Daniel Bard of August and September is not the Daniel Bard of April through July or, that matter, the Daniel Bard of the first 2 12 years of his career.

Bards ERA through July 31 was 1.76. Since then, however, he has pitched 15 23 innings over 15 games, giving up 14 runs, 13 earned, on 12 hits and 7 walks with 19 strikeouts and two home runs allowed for a 7.45 ERA.

His problems have become more acute in September. In five games this month, spanning 4 23 innings, he has allowed 10 runs, 9 earned, with 5 walks, 5 strikeouts, and a hit batter, for a whopping 17.34 ERA. In those five games, he has recorded three blown saves and losses in his last three outings.

He took a blown save and the loss when the Sox were beaten by the Blue Jays, 5-4, Wednesday afternoon at Fenway Park.

Entering to start the eighth inning, with the Sox leading, 4-2, Bards outing quickly unraveled.

He walked the first two batters, Edwin Encarnacion and Kelly Johnson, on nine pitches. His own error attempting to field Mark Teahens sacrifice bunt loaded the bases. J.P Arencibia grounded out to Kevin Youkilis at third, cutting the Sox lead to one. No. 9 batter Adam Loewen, a pitcher turned outfielder, singled to center, scoring two runs to give the Jays the lead. An unorthodox 4-3-5 double play ended the inning, saving Bard from further damage.

But the Jays had done enough already, holding on for the win and handing Bard the loss. His record for the season fell to 2-8 with a 3.10 ERA. Bard is second on the staff in losses, behind only the 12 of John Lackey, who started the game and was in line for the win (not counting Erik Bedard's nine losses, seven with the Mariners). Bards 7.71 ERA against the Jays this season is his second-worst against any team this season, behind only his 16.88 ERA against the Indians

Im struggling with timing with my delivery, Bard said. I can feel it on every pitch. Feels a little different. Ive been through it before. I think the effects of it are just magnified by how big these games are. Sometimes you go out there and your mechanics are a little off and they swing at a couple of pitches and youre able to get through it. Unfortunately they really havent been swinging and missing.

The outing was frustrating not only for Bard but for the team. The Rays, who enter Fenway Thursday trailing by four games in the wild card after a 6-2 loss in Baltimore Wednesday night, were watching in their clubhouse in Camden Yards and cheering when the Jays took the lead.

Obviously that was a tough inning, said manager Terry Francona. We worked so hard to get to him and right now the fastball command is certainly an issue. Its getting him in trouble. His fastballs kind of cutting on him a little bit, probably when hes not trying to. So weve got to get him back to being the Bard weve all come to trust because he's such an important part of what were doing.

Things happen throughout a long season, said pitching coach Curt Young. Youre going to have games that get away from you the way it did. He came back good after walking the first two guys. Came back, got a ground ball and then gave up the base hit but finished with a grounder and throwing with his regular stuff.

Young said Bards mechanics are good.

Hes got a nice checkpoint that he has with his delivery, Young said. Well get back on that tomorrow. Im sure he feels bad. You get in that situation and you know its tough. Youre in the eighth inning there trying to close out an inning and when you dont do it, it is disappointing. But hes a guy that will bounce back good. His arm's feeling great, health is good. So the one little thing hes feeling isnt working for him. So well get him going in the right direction.

Perhaps Bard is fatigued. But he has pitched 66 23 innings over 64 games this season, compared to a total of 68 23 innings over 66 games on the same date last season. His average fastball velocity, however, has dipped this month, from 97.7 in August to 96.2 in September.

I think everybodys beat up physically a little bit, Young said. The seasons so long and you play 162 games and sometimes it shows up physically at the end as well as mentally. Like I say, well get back at it tomorrow and hell be fine.

I dont think theres anything wrong with him, said catcher Jason Varitek. He needs some stuff going his way a little bit. We just got a little bit of walk trouble and then gave him them a couple of extra outs. They had the big hit by Loewen on a bad pitch.

But maybe its more than physical. Bard acknowledged his recent outings have crept into his thoughts while hes on the mound.

I think it starts with mechanics getting a little bit out of whack, he said. Anytime youre thinking about mechanics its not a good thing. When theyre out of whack you have to do things to straighten them out. As soon as I get back to the fluid delivery Im used to and its probably going to look the same to you guys going to be some minor tweaks that only I can feel. But youll notice it by the way the ball is coming out of my hands.

Asked if he noticed anything different about Bards demeanor on the mound, Varitek wasted few words defending the pitcher.

Ill put this to rest with Daniel, Varitek said. Hows this: Daniels been the hugest part of this bullpen, he and Jonathan Papelbon. And hes had a tough little stretch for the last few outings. We need Daniel. And Daniels going to pitch well. Period.

But the Daniel they need is the one who showed up before September.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen.

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