PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- For the first time since the Boston Red Sox optioned him to Triple-A Pawtucket on June 7, pitcher Daniel Bard worked back-to-back games this week because the right-hander finally felt like something clicked.
Prior to pitching in Monday's game, PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur was patiently waiting to hear back from Red Sox pitching coach Bob McClure as to whether Bard would be allowed to pitch on consecutive days.
The call came and the answer was to give the reliever the ball if the game dictated the situation.
Bard entered in the top of the seventh inning with the score tied at 1-1 against the Rochester Red Wings and retired the side in order. He needed only 10 pitches (eight strikes) to induce a pair of ground outs to second base and one to first base before he walked off the mound with a confident swagger that the Red Sox grew accustomed to seeing in 2009, 2010 and the majority of 2011.
Pawtucket scored in the bottom of the seventh and held on for a 2-1 victory, with Bard earning the win.
"After [Sunday] things felt good at the end of that outing and they said if I felt good physically, we'd try to get out there again, repeat it and feel it again, so it was good," Bard said. "It's all about a feeling and not real focused on results. It's nice when they're good but the feeling was good again."
Results aside, everyone was happy that Bard worked consecutive games, an important step for him.
"He turned it loose," PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler said. "It was like, 'Hey, I quit caring and I'm just going to throw it.' His arm action tonight looked a little bit like we've seen in the past where he got away from the mechanical, robotic look and just reared back and threw the ball.
"That arm action is what we've seen in the past, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get results out of it, but it was free and easy and letting the ball go. He had some pretty positive results tonight."
While Bard appeared mechanically sound, he described his motion as natural.
"It puts me in a more athletic position, which I did naturally for a long time without thinking about it," Bard said. "For whatever reason, starting and trying to perfect mechanics, I got away from it and now I'm getting back to that delivery and 100 percent trusting it."
Bard and the Red Sox recently scrapped the idea of his returning to the starting rotation. Both sides agreed he was a natural reliever and that pitching out of the bullpen would be best for him and the club.
Bard began the season in Boston's rotation and went 5-6 with a 5.24 ERA in 11 appearances, including 10 starts. When the Red Sox optioned him to Pawtucket, the plan was for the right-hander to figure out what he was doing wrong mechanically, then quickly return to Boston. That scenario did not play itself out so easily and it has been nearly a month since he's been with the PawSox.
Prior to Monday's outing, he had allowed 10 runs (all earned) on 12 hits, with one home run, four hit batsmen, 10 walks and 14 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings. He had lost his control and feel for any of his pitches.
On Sunday, however, something finally clicked and he wasn't thinking about his mechanics, his confidence or his statistics.
So what was his thinking about?
"Nothing, seriously," Bard said Monday afternoon at McCoy Stadium. "Just try to be athletic and go out there and compete -- that's it. The line [Sunday] was not real good probably by most peoples' standards, but after I walked the first two guys of the inning, I kind of felt something that clicked for me. From the third hitter of that inning on is the best I've felt in two months."
With the PawSox holding a 1-0 lead, Bard started the seventh inning against the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, allowing one run on one hit with two walks and a wild pitch. He tossed a total of 21 pitches, only nine for strikes, but Bard said when he walked off the mound he felt like his old self for the first time in a long time.
In fact, he felt so good he asked to go back out for the next inning but was told fellow reliever Will Inman was all set to go. So Bard returned to the bullpen after his one-inning outing and threw another 15 pitches.
"That felt really good and I need to repeat it. I needed to do something and lock it in, so I went back to the bullpen and threw 15 more pitches just to repeat it, repeat that feeling. It felt good."
Even before Bard walked off the mound Sunday night, Sauveur noticed the difference.
"Rich has been awesome. He's been extremely positive and he's got good eyes for baseball and seeing things in a delivery," Bard said. "Before I even said anything to him about how I felt coming off the field, he goes, 'Hey, what was the difference on those last three hitters, because it looked really good.' I told him and he saw it before I even did. He saw something in the delivery, something in the finish, something on the ball and the way the hitters reacted to it. He knew something was different. He's been great."
When Bard first got to Pawtucket, Sauveur hoped it would be a quick turnaround and the coach has felt the pitcher's pain during his struggles. They both believe something turned around on Sunday.
"Let's just say he found a comfortable slot and he just let the ball go," Sauveur said. "The first two hitters looked totally different than the last three. He was really good. I was very pleased that it clicked while he was throwing [in a game]."
Even though Bard was pleased with his first efficient outing as a reliever in Pawtucket, he's more concerned with consistency. He's also not about to forecast what will happen next time out.
"I'm done with making predictions and trying to say it's going to be awesome from here on out, because, obviously, I don't know," Bard said. "Results could be great, terrible or somewhere in between. All I know, what I did for those last three hitters [on Sunday] felt really good."