Bard's BP session gives Sox hope

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As the Boston Red Sox conducted the first round of live batting practice Saturday morning, all eyes were on pitcher Daniel Bard.

When the right-handed reliever stepped onto the mound, manager John Farrell, GM Ben Cherington and most of the baseball operation staff stood and watched. Reporters, videographers, photographers and fans did, too.

Bard appeared confident and comfortable during his session. Pawtucket Red Sox catcher Dan Butler served as Bard's batterymate.

"He looked good," Butler said. "He's made quick adjustments and looks real confident out there. The ball came out real good out of his hand."

Bard mixed in fastballs, sliders and changeups in the session.

"His changeup looked really good," Butler said. "It had good tilt on it, good break, and he had real good command of it, too. The slider had good bite on it, and he was able to keep the same arm slot. He was very consistent. He looks more confident out there. He's let things go that are in the past, and he's moved on, it looks like. He's just out there pitching."

"Just pitching" was something Bard struggled with mightily in 2012. The botched reliever-turned-starter project affected him physically and mentally. He spent the majority of the season with the PawSox and had trouble finding the plate. The Red Sox recalled him on Aug. 31, and he finished the season in Boston. Overall, he posted a 5-6 record with a 6.22 ERA in 17 games (10 starts) and 59 1/3 innings of work with the Red Sox.

He admits it was a frustrating season for him, but he wants to make it a distant memory and keep his focus on 2013 and beyond.

That process of resurrection began when the Red Sox hired Farrell as their manager this past October. Farrell had previously served as Bard's pitching coach with the Red Sox in 2009 and 2010, when Bard was one of the most dominant relievers in the game. Boston's newest manager quickly reached out to Bard this offseason to formulate a plan moving forward.

In fact, when Cherington spoke with Bard, one of the goals for this spring was not to dwell on last season.

"He looks healthy," Cherington said. "One of the things we've talked to Daniel about is let's not make this a story every day. He's a healthy pitcher getting ready for the season. Understand what happened last year is of interest, but there are other guys like him trying to get ready for the season. He's back in a role that should be comfortable to him. He's working on things, and I think he feels like every day he feels a little better. I think he's another very talented arm back there that's going through his progression and getting ready for games."

Farrell understands the curiosity about Bard this spring. If he can return to form and completely dominate the opposition, the Sox's bullpen could become one of the best in the league.

"He's just getting consistent with his timing," Farrell said of Bard's live BP session. "I thought he had a good feel for his secondary pitches. Again, it's BP, I don't want to overanalyze it too much, but repetition on the mound and seeing a hitter in the box."

Farrell initially was watching Bard's session from behind the cage, but the manager then moved to the third-base coach's box to get a better view of the right-hander's delivery and mechanics. Farrell agreed that Bard resembles the 2010 version.

"Mechanically, yes," Farrell said. "The one point of emphasis he's trying to get done is not to guide the ball. Stay aggressive, even in the early BP and bullpen sessions, and he's doing just that.

"I think we want to be careful not to jump too early here. This is the third time he's been on the mound since we've opened up camp. We'll get a better read once he gets into games and he gets into game speeds and the adrenaline is going to be matched to it, so that's more of an accurate read at that point."

When Farrell spoke with Bard during the winter, the pitcher explained he was pleased with his offseason workouts. Farrell went to see Bard throw in December to witness it for himself. What he saw then, on and off the mound, is exactly what he's seeing from Bard early in camp.

"Consistent with the way he described how he was feeling, what he was thinking looking back on last year," Farrell said. "The outlook on camp, and what he was trying to get done on the mound, and that's pitching with that aggressiveness, pitching with that shorter-outing mentality, rather than trying to be efficient and work deeper into games [as a starter] that led into potentially guiding the ball from the mound. He's showing that, and that's the mindset he's got and he has to be patient, so that his body is going to have to catch up with that mentality, in terms of the timing in his delivery, and that's what he's going through right now."

The running theme among all the relievers in camp this spring is that the team's starters need only work five innings each game because the bullpen has the potential to shut the door in the later innings.

With the likes of Bard, Alfredo Aceves, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Franklin Morales, Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan all ready to help, a healthy bullpen could be a productive one.

"It's unreal," Bailey said. "If me and Joel do what we're capable of, we're going to win a lot of ballgames. Throw everyone else in there, mix and matching, we have a lot of closers down there, guys that can close. If everyone takes their job seriously, and obviously as we go forward everyone will have a certain role, if everyone all buys in, it's going to be a fun group of guys down there."

Bard is a key component and will need to make significant contributions.

"He's going to be huge," Bailey said. "How he was a couple of years ago coming out of the 'pen, I mean last year with him starting and kind of going back and forth, that's a tough go for him. But now that he knows he's back in that reliever's role, you'll see him turn it around. If he can do what he's capable of, it's another arm in the arsenal down there."

Everyone is curious how Bard will respond in 2013. The Red Sox, Bard and his teammates all believe the hard-throwing, talented right-hander will return to form.