Allen Lessels' On Baseball: Bard tough to watch, tough to root against
MANCHESTER -- One of the toughest parts of what he's going through, struggling Sea Dog pitcher and one-time Red Sox standout Daniel Bard said, is that his side work between games is going pretty well.
Game days? Not so much.
"The preparation work, the work between innings has been really good," Bard said on Thursday outside the Sea Dogs dugout. "We're working with Kipp (pitching coach Bob Kipper) and we're working hard to translate that to the game mound. Frustrating is a good way to put it. Last night after the game I wasn't angry."
Then Bard, who had a brutal outing against the Fisher Cats on Wednesday, even managed a small smile.
"I've tried getting (ticked) at myself and that hasn't always worked out too well," he said. "It's a matter of just keeping your head down and grinding it out until something clicks."
Bard works, too, with Concord's Bob Tewksbury, the former major-league pitcher-turned-Red Sox sports psychology coach.
Bard was tremendous the last time he came to town before this week.
On Wednesday he was, far, far from that.
He was tough-to-watch bad.
"It was," said Richie Hebner, the Fisher Cat hitting coach and longtime baseball guy. "I'm sitting in the dugout watching him, going, 'Geez.' I don't know if want to say I'm rooting against us. But you know the guy."
You know the guy. You know the story.
Bard came through here last nearly five years ago — was it really that long ago? — on his way to Fenway Park stardom and teaming up with Jonathan Papelbon at the back end of the Red Sox bullpen.
His stuff was high velocity and electric.
"He was consistently 97-98 miles an hour with a wipeout slider," said an American League scout working out of the Northeast Delta Dental Stadium press box for this week's series between the Fisher Cats and Sea Dogs. "A wipeout slider: Once he throws it, it's over. You're not going to hit it."
Before Wednesday, Bard's last outing in Manchester came on July 29, 2008 and he struck out five and walked one in 2 2/3 scoreless innings.
On Wednesday, he faced eight batters and walked five of them. He threw a couple of wild pitches that went to the backstop and threw in low to mid-90s.
Bard, 6-foot-4, came on in relief for the sixth inning and walked the first two batters and both ended up scoring. He got a double play ball to end the inning.
He came back out for the seventh and walked the first three batters and was gone.
"He's going through some things right now," said Portland manager Kevin Boles. "He's got some mental challenges right now that he's going to keep continuing to work through. He's got to continue to battle and we know that eventually he'll be fine coming out of this. But he's hit a few bumps in the road, there's no doubt about it."
Fact of the matter is, Bard, 27, has had his ups and downs as a pro and has had control problems at various times. But never to this extent.
Boston picked him late in the first round out of the University of North Carolina in 2006 and in his first year as a pro in 2007 he pitched 75 innings and gave up 76 hits and walked 78 batters.
Jump ahead to 2010 and 2011, his second and third years with the Red Sox. In 74 innings in 2010, he allowed 45 hits, struck out 76 and walked 30.
The next year, in 73 innings, he allowed 46 hits and struck out 74 and walked 24.
"The hits-to-innings are what amaze me," the AL scout said. "You don't see that. And he was very consistent."
Bard made the switch from reliever to starter to begin the 2012 season, the experiment failed and he hasn't been the same pitcher since.
He's been consistent in the wrong direction in the last week especially.
Bard threw 30 pitches on Wednesday night and just eight of them were strikes.
His previous outing on Saturday at New Britain was no better. Twenty-nine pitches, nine of them strikes.
Bard started the season with Portland and was happy with how things were going and got called up to Boston on April 24.
"I got on a good roll for little while and got called up," Bard said. "I didn't stick and got sent down and it's been a bit of a searching mode for a week or so. But in the grand scheme of things that's what it is, a week."
Boles believes that, too.
"He's too talented, he's working too hard and he cares," Boles said. "He wants to get back to where he was and possibly better. That's the plan we have ... Not all is lost here. He's going to work hard. This guy is going to be back on top. He's going to have the last laugh."
You hope so.