Daniel Bard is back with the Red Sox, wearing No. 51 again. He looks and sounds pretty much the same, too.
The question now is how he will pitch once he takes the mound in a major league game.
Bard and the Red Sox were co-conspirators in an ill-advised plan to make him a starter last season. The scheme derailed his career, turning Bard into a pitcher who lost velocity, command and confidence in a span of a few months. He ended up in the minor leagues in June and pitched poorly when he returned in August.
The Sox optioned Bard to Double A Portland during the final days of spring training. He worked there with pitching coach Bob Kipper to find a delivery that was more simple and repeatable. Now, after a relatively short run of success against Eastern League hitters, he is back in the majors.
"It feels good to be here. It's been an interesting road," Bard said while sitting in the dugout after batting practice. "I think going to Portland for a little while was probably the best thing. I was with a good group of guys and I couldn't ask for more out of the coaching staff there. They were awesome. But it's always nice to see this place."
Bard said his delivery feels "easy" and that has been reflected in his recent outings.
In his last five games, Bard allowed one unearned run on five hits and three walks over six innings and struck out three.
"Kip was a great guy to work with. Kind of pounds things into your head, almost to where it gets annoying. But it's good," Bard said. "I think everyone agrees who has played for him, it sticks and he genuinely cares."
Bard worked with Kipper when he was coming up through the organization. The lessons he learned then were reinforced the second time around.
"I always had a good relationship with him. I don't think I ever really knew how much I valued him until this year," Bard said.
According to Sox manager John Farrell, Bard has been consistently 93-96 with his fastball, which is down from the 97-99 he showed as a late-inning ace from 2010-11. But that is certainly fast enough to have success. It's how well he commands that fastball that ultimately matters.
"It's been really good," Bard said. "Even if I come out of my delivery on a pitch I'm able to get back into it in one or two pitches rather than spend the whole inning trying to find it. I think that's come from simplifying things, shortening the leg kick a little. Everything's gotten a little more athletic, a little more rhythm to it."
Bard said he doesn't know what his velocity has been. But he can see the reaction from the hitters.
"I've been getting a lot of defensive swings on my fastball, righties and lefties. A lot of broken bats mixed in. That always tells you you're doing something right, that the fastball has a little life to it," Bard said.
Said Farrell: "Location is still the No. 1 element with any pitcher."
The Red Sox called Bard up out of necessity. Steven Wright threw 82 pitches over 3.2 innings on Wednesday and wasn't going to be available for at least four days. When he was optioned after the game, Bard was recalled.
Bard was the only reliever on the 40-man roster not in the major leagues or on the disabled list.
With Joel Hanrahan and Craig Breslow making their way back from injuries, is Bard with the Red Sox temporarily or can he reclaim his spot on the team?
"He's here to do just that, to perform and be a regular in our bullpen," Farrell said.
Bard, Farrell said, will be used in early inning situations. Farrell expects him to need time to get acclimated and gain some confidence.