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Setup needs some cleanup

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / May 24, 2011

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CLEVELAND — Everybody needs a little help now and then.

It seems like Daniel Bard needed some last night.

Having already given up the tying run in the eighth inning, why pitch to Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, one of the hottest hitters in baseball, with a man on second and two outs in a 2-2 game? Bard allowed a game-winning double off the wall in left-center to Cabrera, who earlier had homered for Cleveland’s first run.

Certainly the thinking is understandable. Bard could be the most important pitcher the Red Sox have. He enters games in the toughest situations, and boy was that a tough situation. Cabrera is 8 for 9 with three homers and seven RBIs in his last two games. Can’t get much hotter than that.

Sox manager Terry Francona was asked why they chose to pitch to Cabrera. He answered, “The kid behind him [Shin-Soo Choo] is pretty good, too. Sometimes it can almost be an advantage when you have an open base. You can pitch backwards, do some things. He just didn’t locate when he wanted to.’’

Bard disagreed.

“I felt really good,’’ he said. “I threw both those pitches right where I wanted to.’’

Bard said he checked the location of the pitches on video. “I thought I made good pitches,’’ he said. “If they both didn’t swing, [catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia] wouldn’t have moved his glove on either one.’’

Bard, who has allowed five runs in his last seven outings, didn’t think the Sox would walk Cabrera in that situation. He knows he’s a pitcher who can get anyone out at any time. The Sox have come to think that way as well.

“I guess so,’’ Bard said, when asked whether he should just tip his cap to Cabrera for hitting a good pitch. “Cabrera is seeing the ball really well. He’s hitting just about everything.’’

Bard had replaced Clay Buchholz, after the starter threw his 94th pitch. Buchholz was on a shorter leash because he threw 127 pitches in his previous outing.

So with a runner on second and one out, Bard came on and got pinch hitter Carlos Santana to pop to third base. Michael Brantley then singled in pinch runner Adam Everett.

“On the pitch to Brantley, the count dictated everything the way we got to it,’’ Bard said. “Everything dictated fastball in. I threw a fastball in and he hit it. Didn’t hit it hard. Just enough to get through, but that’s all he needed.’’

Francona said he wouldn’t have changed a thing. He didn’t want to put Buchholz in peril by taking him out too late. Buchholz said he felt well enough to get out of the inning.

Francona agreed that Bard’s throwing really well.

“I would say it’s location sometimes because the ball’s coming out of his hand great,’’ the manager said. “I thought early in the season he got under some breaking balls, tried to remedy. Actually he’d done a pretty good job.

“No matter how hard you throw, some hitters, especially when they’re real hot, and you leave it out over the plate, and especially as they get deeper in the count, they can put a good swing on it.

“Still love going to him . . . obviously we do, and we will. May not always be successful but we believe in him a lot.’’

Certainly not having Bobby Jenks around to lessen the load has put tremendous pressure on Bard. Francona gave him two consecutive days off late last week and on Saturday, that might have cost the Sox a game as Matt Albers couldn’t hold a 3-1 lead in the eighth and the Cubs won, 9-3.

Bard said he felt tired a couple of days ago, but in his last two appearances “I’ve felt great.’’

He believes his recent misfortune might be a case of bad luck.

“You just come to expect it as a reliever . . . you’re going to have a little bid of bad luck. It can look really bad. Same thing the other way. It will even out. I’m confident it will.

“I’ll stick to my plan and do what I’m doing.

“I’m really happy the way ball is coming out of my hand. When they hit the pitches you’re trying to throw, there’s not much you can do about it.’’

Bard hasn’t been the lights-out pitcher he was last season. He’s blown two saves already. He’s got four losses. While his velocity is still in the high 90s, hitters have been able to catch up to him more. Maybe it is bad luck, or maybe scouting reports have Bard pegged pretty well.

This is one guy the Red Sox can’t afford to lose, either from a physical or performance standpoint. He has to be good. He has to be really good for this team to excel.

Lately he’s been human, when before he was extraordinary.

If that’s missing now, that’s not the greatest news for the Red Sox.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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