FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When Daniel Bard walked to the mound in the ninth inning, he knew the player he would be facing. In fact, he said, he was thinking that the man in the batter's box, Ivan Rodriguez, once graced a baseball card in his collection. Bernie Williams, too.
That hardly mattered. Bard, the 23-year-old fireballer, got Rodriguez and Williams to fly out in the ninth. Those outs were sandwiched around a strikeout of Mike Aviles during which he hit 100 miles per hour on the radar gun, according to pitching coach John Farrell.
"I feel like I'm at that level where I can compete with them," Bard said. "They're on the down slope of their careers, so I hope I can get them out. No, it was really cool. Two possible Hall of Famers. Doesn't get much better than that."
He did say that without a scouting report on Rodriguez, he resorted to simply going off what he'd seen on TV in the past, and to what he normally throws to a good right-handed hitter. Fastball in, showed a breaking ball, then finished off with a fastball up.
Bard pitched the eighth and ninth in today's game against Puerto Rico, giving up one hit and striking out Aviles.
"I think any pitcher coming up, first time facing big league hitters and big league lineup, you kind of go out there knowing your stuff played at lower levels, hoping it's going to play at the next level," Bard said.
Farrell said Bard has a "fastball that stands out in any league, including this one."
High praise for a player only a year and a half removed from an abysmal 2007 season. But so far this spring training, Bard has allowed just one hit and has struck out three in four innings of work. He has not yet allowed a run.
"I think it's really consistency, that's what John and I have talked about," Bard said concerning what he has to prove he can do. "Consistency of locating the fastball. Locating both the off-speed pitches. Being able to throw those behind in the count, as well, against better hitters. I feel like I definitely do it at times. I'm doing it more than I did in the past. It's just a matter of doing it every outing. I think that's what separates great big leaguers from guys who have trouble staying up."
In the category of that consistency, Farrell specified that Bard needs to be able to repeat his delivery and release point to show the team that he can produce at the major league level. He is likely to start this season at Triple A, with the potential for a call-up at some point this season.
"He's got major league stuff, there's no doubt about it," Farrell said. "And well above-average major league stuff when you grade out each pitch individually."
He added later, "He has been outstanding thus far."