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Red Sox Notebook

Pressed in a tight spot, Bard looked at ease

Dustin Pedroia got down to business early, beating the throw to Royals third baseman Mark Teahen for a first-inning triple. He scored the Sox’ first run. Dustin Pedroia got down to business early, beating the throw to Royals third baseman Mark Teahen for a first-inning triple. He scored the Sox’ first run. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / July 12, 2009
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona does not have to use Daniel Bard in pressure situations. He has a bullpen chocked with experienced arms that, for most of the season, have delivered when needed. But as last night proved, Francona knows he can use his 24-year-old rookie in any situation.

With the eventual 15-9 win slipping away, Francona called on Bard with no outs in the seventh inning, the Sox leading, 9-7, and the go-ahead run at the plate. Bard, in his 20th big league appearance, came through by striking out the first two batters he faced and getting a ground out to strand his two inherited runners. He allowed two runs, both unearned, in two innings.

“As we’ve seen him and we get to know him, I think the way you pitch you are deserving of innings like that,’’ Francona said. “That wasn’t necessarily the way we wanted to line it up, but he did a very good job.’’

The Sox brought Bard along slowly, but more and more Francona has shown comfort bringing the righthander in during difficult spots. He doesn’t prefer to, but he knows he can.

“I enjoy it,’’ Bard said. “I really like pitching when the game is on the line. I think everybody does. It’s an opportunity to shine.’’

Bard has not allowed an earned run in 7 1/3 innings, a streak that began after he surrendered two runs to the Nationals June 25. Bard insisted that night he had not had enough faith in his pitches. Since then, he’s found consistency with his leg kick and arm slot.

“I was just kind of picking a little bit at corners for a couple outings there,’’ Bard said. “I wasn’t totally trusting my stuff.’’

The first pitch Bard threw last night was a slider, something he would not have done earlier in the year. “I wouldn’t have had the conviction with it,’’ he said. But Bard is finding more comfort with his pitches, in any role.

Rolling along
Josh Beckett will make his final start of the season’s ceremonial first half today, trying to extend perhaps the best regular-season stretch of his career. Beckett has spent the last two months proving why the Red Sox gave him the ball on Opening Day for the first time since he joined the team in 2006.

He was rewarded last week with an All-Star selection, and Beckett will be able to throw an inning in Tuesday’s Midsummer Classic in St. Louis.

Since May began, a span of 12 starts, Beckett is 8-1 with a 2.38 ERA, best in the American League over that time. He registered 10 quality starts and threw at least six innings in all of them.

Francona has watched Beckett, 29, mature as a pitcher since the Sox acquired him from the Marlins. Beckett was already a World Series MVP, but still only 25 when he threw his first Red Sox pitch.

“I think that when we got him, he was evolving,’’ Francona said. “I don’t know that we need to take credit for that. I think he was just getting to a point in his career where he was starting to grow up and it showed.’’

Lowrie nearing return
Shortstop Jed Lowrie went 0 for 4 Friday night with Pawtucket, but Francona received a strong report from PawSox manager Ron Johnson. Lowrie seemed to reflect that support last night, going 3 for 5 in the PawSox’ 8-7 loss to Syracuse.

“He’s starting to feel good about himself confidence-wise, swinging the bat,’’ Francona said. “I know there’s not been a lot of hits, but I don’t think that’s the end all, be all. He just needs to play and get stamina.’’

Lowrie, whose rehab from wrist surgery was hindered by knee soreness, could return by next weekend. He will give the Red Sox three options at shortstop with Julio Lugo and Nick Green. Lowrie and Green play other infield positions as well.

First impression
Aaron Bates picked up his first career hit, an RBI single through the middle in the eighth inning. Bates had entered in the seventh as a pinch runner for Mark Kotsay. “Got in the game late, so I didn’t have time to think about it,’’ Bates said. After the hit, the Fenway crowd, aware of the moment, gave Bates a standing ovation. An umpire retrieved the ball and rolled into the Sox dugout. The ball’s planned destination is Bates’s mother’s house in Amherst . . . On Friday, Bates became the first Sox player to score his first career run in a 1-0 game since Chris Mahoney in 1910. Jonathan Papelbon saved his seventh 1-0 game, most in Red Sox history . . . Mike Lowell took full batting practice for the second consecutive day. Francona reiterated that Lowell will be activated Friday, the first game following the All-Star break. . . . Yesterday was Pan-Mass Challenge Night at Fenway Park, promoting the 30th annual PMC, a fund-raising bike-a-thon across Massachusetts. Thirty cancer survivors rode bicycles around the warning track before the game, and a logo for the event was displayed on the Green Monster. This year’s race will be Aug. 1-2. Last year, 5,241 riders raised $35 million for the Jimmy Fund . . . The Sox will hold a pregame ceremony today to honor the late Dom DiMaggio.

Adam Kilgore can be reached at akilgore@globe.com

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