Farrell: Bard here as 'regular' in Sox bullpen
Red Sox manager John Farrell says Daniel Bard is back as a 'regular' in the pen.
BOSTON -- The Red Sox on Wednesday made it official, promoting reliever Daniel Bard from Double-A Portland. Manager John Farrell made it clear that the Sox are hopeful this is more than just a temporary fix, that he will become a permanent part of the bullpen.
"He's here to do just that, perform and be a regular in our bullpen," Farrell said before Wednesday afternoon's game with the Oakland Athletics.
Bard was unscored upon in his last five outings (six innings) for the Sea Dogs, maintaining an average speed in the 93 to 96 m.p.h. range and throwing strikes (8 of 10 pitches he threw Tuesday night were strikes).
"The last three outings, he's been much more consistent," Farrell said. "We've made the comment and took the stance in spring training that this was about repeating his delivery. It wasn't so much on the end result, but the results have been there, along with the consistent arm slot and the delivery. With our need to add to the bullpen, he's back here."
While there is more work to be done, Farrell said, Bard has progressed to the point where no major overhaul is required.
"I think it's a matter of maintenance, not wholesale adjustments by any means," Farrell said. "It's a matter of repeating a delivery that's natural to him, and when he does he's been successful."
Speaking in the dugout before Wednesday's game against the A's, Bard said he was happy to be back at Fenway and is confident in the adjustments he has made.
"My delivery feels simple right now. It feels easy to repeat," Bard said. "Kip [Portland pitching coach Bob Kipper] was a great guy to work with. He kind of pounds things into your head, almost to where it gets annoying, but it's good. I think everyone agrees who has played for him it sticks and he genuinely cares. I couldn't ask for a better guy to work with."
Bard raved about the work he did with Kipper.
"I don't think I ever realized how much I valued him until this year," Bard said. "He was the guy who I played catch with every day. He caught my flat grounds. The feedback was just awesome, the input.
"He just loves to focus on positives. Even in one or two outings that maybe didn't go as well, he'd say, 'How many pitches did you throw that you liked?' I'd say, 'Seven.' He'd say, 'Let's focus on those seven, and get back at it tomorrow.
"Boom. That was it. Erase the negative., A good guy to be around, for sure."
Most importantly, Bard said he has better command of his fastball.
"It's been really good. It's been a thing where even if I come out of my delivery on a pitch, I'm able to get back into it in one or two pitches, rather than spend the whole inning trying to find it kind of thing," Bard said. "I think that's just come from simplifying things, shortening the leg kick a little bit. Things have gotten a little more athletic, a little more rhythm to it, and that's just allowed me to find it a lot quicker out there."
After spending a couple of seasons as a dominant setup man in the Red Sox bullpen, Bard attempted a transition to a starter's role last season. It was a disastrous experiment, ending with Bard's demotion to Triple-A Pawtucket to begin the transition back to the bullpen.
That, too, proved unsuccessful. While with the PawSox last season, he pitched 32 innings, walking a whopping 29 batters as he battled control issues and had an ERA of 7.03.
After a decent spring, Bard got sent not to Triple-A but to the Double-A Sea Dogs. He said Wednesday he took it in stride.
"Not nearly as much of a shock as last year was, getting sent down," he said. "I think that hit me more like a ton of bricks when that happened. This year I knew I was battling for a spot from the first day of spring training. I'm realistic. I knew I had options, and there were other guys who didn't. So if it came down to it, you don't lose guys. I understand that side of the game.
"At the same time, I felt like I showed a lot of things in spring training that showed I was over what happened last year and was ready to move forward. Their decision was to do that in Portland. Obviously, you're not extremely thrilled when you get that news, but at the same time you try not to sit and pout about it too long and say, 'Hey, this is the way it is and I'm going to try and make the best of the situation.' That's what I'm trying to do."
Farrell said the plan is to use Bard in early relief situations.
"I feel like with Taz [Junichi Tazawa], Koji [Uehara} and Andrew [Bailey], that's the back end of our bullpen right now," he said, "so right now it's a matter of him getting back acclimated to this level and building some confidence along the way."
There has not been a jump in Bard's velocity since spring training. The Sox have not seen the Bard who threw in the upper 90s as recently as 2011.
"That doesn't mean he has to get to that level to be successful," Farrell said. "It's been in the 93-to-96 range. I think a lot of guys would sign up to throw that hard.
"If you look back to Daniel's time in Boston before starting, when he was in this velocity range there wasn't a lot of swing-and-miss then, either. It was in the upper end of the 90 range where a lot of the swing-and-miss came in, where guys had to cheat to get to that velocity and the breaking ball became that much more effective.
"I think we're looking for a delivery that's got a reworking to it to add deception. Regardless, we've seen it with Joel Hanrahan, too. Location is still the No. 1 element for anyone."
Bard acknowledged his velocity isn't what it was when he was a dominant setup man a few years ago, but says what's more important than velocity is making hitters swing and miss. He was asked whether his velocity would return to its previous level.
"I don't know. Got a lot of miles on this arm," he said with a smile. "I feel good. The arm feels good. I feel healthy. Like I said, I'm just reading hitters' swings, getting a lot of weak swings on the fastball. That tells me it's doing what it's supposed to. However it's coming out, I'm happy with it."
Bard, who said he was available to pitch Wednesday after throwing a quick inning Tuesday, takes the place of knuckleballer Steven Wright on the Sox roster. Wright was optioned back to Pawtucket after making his big-league debut Tuesday night, allowing five runs in Boston's 13-0 loss to Oakland.
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