PAWTUCKET — Daniel Bard admits there’s somewhat of a weight of his shoulders, knowing that regardless of how he’s fared with the Pawtucket Red Sox – 7.45 ERA in 28 appearances – he remains very much on Boston’s radar.
Asked to respond to an item in Sunday’s Boston Herald in which an anonymous Red Sox source clarified that he will pitch again for the big-league team in 2012, Bard took the occasion to explain how he can use the remaining few weeks in Pawtucket’s season to his advantage.
“They’ve told me I’m in their plans regardless of what they’ve seen from me at this level,” Bard relayed Sunday morning from his clubhouse stall. “Certainly it takes a little bit of the pressure off in trying to force my way up there. I think that’s kind of when I’ve gotten myself in trouble a few times … have a few good outings, not get the call and try to do something extra to try and force their hand.
“It takes the focus off me and what I’m doing in trying to have perfect mechanics and make perfect pitches. Instead we’re strictly looking at the game and getting outs,” Bard explained further. “When I’m at my best, I’m able to focus on the competition at hand. Sometimes that’s tough in games down here [with the PawSox]. I’ve been able to do it at times, but doing it on a consistent basis is tough sometimes.”
The back-to-Boston foresight Bard expressed was echoed by Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, who in an email wrote the following: “We know how good Daniel is when he’s on track and we know what a weapon he is on the staff. The work he is doing will likely continue when he gets back to Boston, which will be soon enough. He’s a very hard working, diligent guy and he’s going through what many great pitchers have gone through.”
A rejuvenated Bard reported to McCoy Stadium one day after making a return visit to Fenway Park as part of “Futures at Fenway.” Setting foot in a ballpark that used to be his primary place of employment was cause for some initial uneasiness.
“It was definitely weird; not the most ideal circumstance,” was the way Bard put it.
The trip to Fenway was not something completely out of the Twilight Zone. As fans exited the stadium, Bard made his way to the playing surface along with Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Sauveur. It amounted to a bullpen session that saw Bard throw on flat ground and feel positive about the latest tweak he made to his delivery.
“Again,” said a smiling Bard, no doubt cognizant that he’s uttered “new tweak” many times during the two-plus months he’s been in Pawtucket, “but I felt this is something that simplified things rather than made it more complicated.
“I think we’ve tried to change too many things,” confessed Bard. “There’s been outings where things have been fine and I try to add maybe one little tweak to the delivery or some new thought process and it ends up being all consuming out there and puts me in a two-on-and-no-outs hole. When I’ve kind of abandoned that and just go back to competing, I’ve been able to work myself out of a jam. It’s been a back-and-forth between those two things.”
While his visit to Fenway resembled more of a business trip than a sightseeing venture, Bard says things felt totally different, noting the jolt he received just by standing on big-league grass.
“Even throwing a bullpen in that environment as the stadium was clearing out, it was different than throwing in a Triple-A game,” he explained. “Not using that as an excuse, but honestly, just being in that environment, being back in Fenway and in a big-league stadium …”
In the interim, Bard knows what he needs to do as he waits to rejoin Boston’s bullpen.
“I’m not taking anything for granted, nothing is guaranteed. I’ve got to continue to go about my work,” he stated matter-of-factly.
Echoed Red Sox pitcher Rich Hill, ““He’ll be fine. He’s working on things and he’ll be back.”