FORT MYERS, Fla. — Daniel Bard has been kept out of games to work on some mechanical glitches. He pitched a simulated game Monday with manager John Farrell, pitchers John Lackey and Jon Lester, front office personnel and scouts, and team psychologist Bob Tewksbury watching.
When Bard pitches, he draws a crowd.
That’s because Bard has a lot of supporters among teammates and those in the organization who want him to succeed and put last year’s dreadful season behind him.
The story of Bard’s difficulties has been well-chronicled.
He’s the closer-in-waiting turned starter, turned disaster now in recovery. Not long after Farrell was hired he went to see Bard throw and thought the pitcher looked like his old self with his velocity returning.
But early on in spring training, there have been more problems. Bard struggled with control. The pitcher Farrell described this winter was between the guy on the comeback trail and the guy who had a miserable 2012.
So the Red Sox decided to yank him from game action for a while and have him work on things on the side.
Bard threw a simulated game Monday, throwing 18 pitches to four batters. He demonstrated control and had some pop on his pitches.
The positive thing is he felt good about himself after a year of soul-searching and trying to fix things both physically and mentally.
He’ll be back in the saddle on Thursday in a real game.
At this point it’s just a matter of seeing his control and velocity (he formerly consistently hit 96 to 99 miles per hour) return.
Can he get his act together quickly enough to start the season in Boston? Bard seems quietly confident, but he’ll have to prove it not only to himself but to management.
“I felt like I was on top of the ball,” Bard said of Monday’s session. “My changeup was good. I was focusing more on the fastball.”
Farrell pointed out that Bard was overstriding on his delivery earlier in camp. That was one of the things Bard was working on. It just seems when he fixes one thing, something else gets out of kilter. It’s been exhausting for Bard. The things that once clicked automatically are now in need of constant attention.
“One of the things I created was a bad habit of trying to create velocity in all the wrong places,” Bard said. “Trying to overrotate my body. Today it felt like me. Felt like the old me. Power behind the ball. The four-seamer was pretty true and thrown more on a downhill plane.”
Bard feels the time away from game action — working in a nonpressure situations — has been beneficial.
“We got a lot of action early and especially myself were trying to pound some new mechanics,” he said.
“When something feels good you want to keep playing catch because it feels good. I have a bad habit of doing that and then wearing myself out. I need to use the long spring training to give me a couple of days to rest and then work my way back into game situations.”
Asked if he felt pressure to straighten things out immediately so he can make the team, Bard said, “In pitching, you’ve never arrived. Even when you’re going well you’re working hard to keep that feeling you have. And so this is just another step in that process. I feel really good about how the ball is coming out. We got plenty of time. We have a month before we break. I’m not worried about where I need to be at a certain time. I felt good today and build on it tomorrow and wherever that takes me, it takes me.”
Bard believes focusing on one role will help him get to where he wants to be.
“I think it’s easier to focus when you know what the organization wants you to do and it’s not just a hopeful experiment,’’ he said. “I didn’t go into it with that mind-set, but the number of questions I got asked made me think maybe I don’t have a starting job [last year]. I didn’t know what to expect. This year is easier. You’re coming in as a reliever. Throw the ball like you’re supposed to [and] things will work out like they should.’’
He was on his way to becoming a closer. Would he want that again?
“I don’t see any reason why that isn’t a real possibility if I’m throwing the ball like I’m capable of,’’ he said. “A lot of that is opportunity, too. I don’t think I can throw the ball much better than I did in 2010-11, but I had an All-Star closer ahead of me and now we have [Joel] Hanrahan and [Andrew] Bailey here and they have that closer experience. It’s the least of my worries right now.
“I want to pitch meaningful innings for this team whatever role that may be in. As for a specific role, I’m not too worried about it.”
Hanrahan is the closer this year as long he keeps the job. Bailey certainly could be trade bait with the Tigers, for one, possibly needing a closer.
But Bard is right. Thinking that far ahead is the least of his problems. If his pitching doesn’t smooth out and he can’t get close to his 2011 form, the point is moot and Bard will find himself back in the minors.
It’s been a long road back. He’s hitting a few bumps, but he feels there’s time to get it all together.