Bard was coming off a solid start, having allowed three runs in seven innings in picking up his first major league win as a starter, a 10-3 decision in Chicago against the White Sox last Friday night.
Valentine said that it would be great if the young pitcher's career in the rotation took off like a skyrocket, with each outing getting better and better. But Valentine said there usually are some bumps in the road along the way, growing pains.
And Wednesday night, Bard suffered through one of those bumps in the road in only his fourth career start.
The right-hander coughed up four runs on eight hits to the Oakland Athletics, the worst-hitting team (by far) in the American League, in 5 1/3 innings as the Red Sox suffered a 4-2 loss at Fenway Park. Boston dropped the final two games of the three-game series, and fell to 4-7 at home. The Sox have lost 7 of their past 8 at Fenway.
A misplay in left field by defensively challenged Cody Ross didn't help, but Oakland, which was hitting a mere .212 entering the game (the Angels were next-worst, at .238), scraped together three runs in knocking out Bard in the sixth and taking a 4-0 lead.
Bard threw 101 pitches. He seemed to lose his rhythm after needing only 21 pitches to sail through the first two innings. Over his final 3 1/3 innings, Bard was consistently pitching from behind in the count. He went to three balls on seven batters over that stretch, and this was against a lineup in which six of the hitters entered the game batting .229 or lower.
Either he was nibbling far too often against a feeble lineup or he just plain lost his command, but Bard whiffed only one batter after having struck out 19 in 18 2/3 innings over his first three starts.
Bard was nicked for a run in the fourth on a double off the wall by Yoenis Cespedes and a single by Seth Smith. In the sixth, ex-Sox OF Josh Reddick led off with a single to left-center, and he scored when Ross played Smith's catchable fly ball into a double, over-running it as he raced toward the left-field line near the Wall.
A ringing RBI double pulled to right by Kila Ka'aihue, a hit batsman and a sizzling RBI double to left-center by Brandon Inge, who was batting .103 at the time, finished Bard. Only good relief by Matt Albers, who stranded runners at second and third, kept the damage to four earned runs charged to Bard.
MAJOR LEAGUE DEBUT: Will Middlebrooks, the third baseman of the future, arrived at Fenway Park on Wednesday night, replacing Kevin Youkilis, who was placed on the disabled list with a back injury. Clearly, the Athletics were wary of the hot prospect -- Oakland starter Brandon McCarthy walked him on four pitches with two out and none on in the second inning in the first big league plate appearance for Middlebrooks, who was wearing uniform No. 64 and hitting eighth in the order. Middlebrooks promptly stole second, but was stranded.
In his second plate appearance and first official at-bat, he notched his first big league hit. It wasn't a thing of beauty, but it counted. Middlebrooks beat out a dribbler down the third-base line in the fifth inning, giving him a batting average of 1.000 in the majors.
He maintained that 1.000 average by going the other way and smacking a double toward the right-field corner in the seventh.
But in the eighth, his average dropped to .667. Middlebrooks was fanned by flame-throwing right-hander Ryan Cook with a runner at second and two outs.
Defensively, Middlebrooks' first chance came on a slow roller in the second. He charged in, scooped up Cespedes' grounder and threw on the run, easily getting the Oakland cleanup hitter at first base. He also made the routine 5-3 on Brandon Inge's hard hopper with two on and two out in the fourth.
RED SOX DEBUT: Clayton Mortensen's debut was a success after a rocky beginning. The right-hander, called up from Pawtucket earlier in the day, gave up a single to Cliff Pennington, the first batter he faced, and then uncorked a wild pitch. But he settled down. He fanned Reddick and Cespedes and retired Smith on a weak roller to first. He also pitched a spotless eighth, whiffing two more. And he polished off the Athletics with ease in the ninth, too, racking up his fifth and sixth strikeouts along the way.
YO, ADRIAN: First baseman Adrian Gonzalez has fallen into a deep slump. When he struck out with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh and the Sox trailing, 4-1, it lengthened his skid to 0 for 16. Gonzalez foul-tipped the final strike, which was held by Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki. The normally mild-mannered Gonzalez, who has been batting cleanup, slammed his bat down to the dirt in frustration.
It got even worse in the ninth, when Gonzalez's skid extended to 0-for-17 as he bounced a game-ending grounder to third baseman Inge, stranding Dustin Pedrioa at third base.
THROWBACKS: The Sox were wearing uniforms modeled after the team's1936 version, in honor of the acquisition of slugger Jimmie Foxx. The pant legs were pulled up high, showing the red, white and blue striped socks the team wore back then.