Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard takes another positive step

Junichi Tazawa pitched a perfect eighth inning to help the Red Sox beat the Rays, 6-2, in Port Charlotte, Fla.
Junichi Tazawa pitched a perfect eighth inning to help the Red Sox beat the Rays, 6-2, in Port Charlotte, Fla.
j. meric/getty images

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — When Daniel Bard took the mound in the seventh inning on Sunday, his first three pitches were well outside the strike zone.

Given his recent struggles with command, it was a concern. But Bard quickly adjusted and handled the Tampa Bay Rays with ease.

It was another good step for the Red Sox righthander, who has retired five of the six batters he has faced since spending a week making some mechanical adjustments. Four of those outs have come on strikeouts and his velocity has been higher.

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On Sunday, Bard allowed a single by Chris Gimenez. Then he struck out Jack Cust swinging at a fastball as pinch runner Brandon Guyer tried to steal second. Catcher Christian Vazquez gunned him down for the second out.

Bard then got ahead of Leslie Anderson and got him to ground weakly to second base.

“Daniel once again repeated the delivery mechanics he’s been working on,” Sox manager John Farrell said after a 6-2 victory. “His fastball is more true and he’s staying behind the ball more consistently. Another positive day for him.

“He feels like he’s under control. There’s no wondering where the release point is. There’s more of a feel for it, which allows him to make the necessary adjustments.”

Bard has been working on the angle of his arm and keeping his hand behind the ball, which creates better velocity along with location.

“Most of my fastballs were down. I was happy with that,” said Bard, who took a few seconds to slow himself down when he missed with his first three pitches.

The 22-year-old Vazquez has thrown out four runners stealing and picked off another this spring.

“He’s awesome,” Bard said. “I’ve heard good things. I think I’ve warmed up with him, but this was the first time he’s caught me. He knows what he’s doing. He’s special.”

Uehara stays perfect

Righthander Koji Uehara retired the Rays in order in the sixth inning. His line this spring is perfect: 5 innings, 0 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, and 5 strikeouts.

“He’s throwing the ball exceptionally well,” Farrell said. “He reads swings so well and he can locate according to the information he’s just received on the previous pitch. He’s fun to watch.”

No problem for Napoli

Mike Napoli’s physical condition was a big topic at the start of camp as the Red Sox monitored the condition of his hips. But the first baseman has been low maintenance and highly productive since he started playing.

Napoli is 5 for 12 with three home runs and six RBIs in five games, including against Puerto Rico’s World Baseball Classic team. Napoli is scheduled to play games on Monday and Tuesday and get six plate appearances.

“He’s been great,” Farrell said. “What’s been most impressive is how he’s handled the findings, all that he went through in the offseason, changed positions on a full-time basis.

“He’s very consistent, very steady. Quality guy, a gamer. He’s got very good aptitude. I think the thing that we’re finding out firsthand is that he’s a very good athlete. I don’t think we could have asked anything to turn out better than it has so far.”

Aceves on the way

Farrell hasn’t spoken to Alfredo Aceves. But now that Mexico has been eliminated from the WBC, the righthander is expected to rejoin the Red Sox early this week.

Aceves played a prominent role in the brawl between Mexico and Canada on Saturday, getting thrown to the ground then pounded with a flurry of punches from Adam Loewen.

With Craig Breslow and Franklin Morales seemingly headed for the disabled list to start the season, the Red Sox do not have the bullpen depth they once enjoyed. That could diminish whatever desire the Sox have to trade Aceves.

Cuts coming

With the regular position players going deeper in games and playing consecutive days, the Sox will be making some cuts this week. Toward that end, Farrell suggested that 20-year-old infielder Xander Bogaerts could be assigned to minor league camp once he returns from playing for the Netherlands in the WBC . . . Jon Lester will make his second three-hour bus ride of the spring when he pitches against the Marlins in Jupiter on Monday. Lester took the long ride on Feb. 24 to pitch against the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. Other notable players making the journey include Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Will Middlebrooks, Jose Iglesias, and Rubby De La Rosa . . . NESN analyst Jerry Remy will be taking next weekend off because of a family commitment. Jim Rice will join Don Orsillo in the booth on Friday. The telecast also will include members of the Twins broadcast team. On Sunday, Orsillo and Rice will call the game against the Rays.