Thinking hard about Bard
Wagner sees similarities in young flamethrower
CHICAGO - Billy Wagner was sprawled out on the couch in the clubhouse in St. Petersburg, Fla., earlier this week sharing stories, when he turned to Daniel Bard, sitting on the adjacent chair, and tried to spin a yarn about Randy Myers. Problem was, in the year in question, Bard was just 10 years old. Wagner shook his head.
But the age difference - it’s 14 years - has hardly stopped Wagner from seeing a bit of his old self in the 24-year-old Bard.
“I think when you’ve got a lot of ability like he has, you tend to just go with what got you here and stuff,’’ Wagner said yesterday. “He’s picking the brains [of his teammates]. Right now his stuff is overpowering, everything he throws is overpowering. It’s not that he’s using everything that he hears, but I think he’s understanding there’ll be a time when you have to maybe pitch a different way or you can go out there and use your advantage, use your fastball as an advantage when you don’t throw it.
“I enjoy him out there. Wasn’t that long ago when I knew how he felt when he went out there. So you see that and his ability and he’s got a great work ethic. He’s got a high ceiling.’’
Wagner pointed out that at some time in Bard’s career, his breaking ball might be more of a weapon than even his fastball. Wagner said the fastball will be feared, given its ability to hit triple digits, and he “can have everybody expecting fastballs and throw three sliders.’’
To that end, it’s worth noting Bard’s slider has improved this season as he has worked to adjust his grip. He now throws the pitch as if he’s throwing a cut fastball, and gets the break he desires. Bard has thrown four scoreless innings in his last three outings, bouncing back from a difficult stretch.
“It’s just sharper,’’ Bard said. “It’s later. I mean, the harder it is, the better for me. When I see it up in the 87, 88, 89-[mile-per-hour] range, that’s where I want it. When it gets down to the low, mid-80s, it’s getting a little too loopy. I think hitters see that. I actually try to throw a cutter and that’s how it comes out, as a slider. Cutter grip, cutter arm.
“I kept experimenting with slider grips and they kept coming out like too much break, too much like a curveball, and I need something harder. So if the slider grip comes out like a curveball . . . It’s not a huge difference. It’s really just tinkering it, making it a little more like a fastball in your hand.’’
And people have taken notice, from Ozzie Guillen, the last time the White Sox and Red Sox met, to teammates like Wagner.
“What he’ll learn through time is when he doesn’t feel good, it’s still better than 95 percent of the rest of the guys that’ll be in his bullpen,’’ Wagner said. “He’s got a lot to learn, but he’s well on his way.’’
“[Wakefield] threw the ball great, which we all knew,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “We just wanted to see how he would bounce back. If he threw and came in this morning, said, ‘Hey, you know what, this is not good,’ we wouldn’t do that. We all know what we’re dealing with. He might not be able to take the ball every five days, we know that. He knows that. But we’ll just kind of see how he does.’’
Wakefield last started against the White Sox Aug. 26, with his most recent outing before that July 8. In his last outing, Wakefield looked tremendous, allowing one run over seven innings. But after that start, the knuckleballer began to experience a recurrence of the back pain and leg weakness that had landed him on the disabled list after the All-Star Game. He was scratched from his next start, and received an injection of cortisone on Monday.
Victor Martinez will catch Wakefield today, as he did in the knuckleballer’s last start.
“Obviously it was the first day and I’m not going to talk too loud,’’ Martinez said. “It was a great outing by him, and obviously I did a decent job, so I’m really looking forward to having the same kind of confidence behind the plate tomorrow.’’
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.