Bard picks up 1st career win as starter

CHICAGO -- If Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine were to nitpick, he could find some issues with Daniel Bard's start against the Chicago White Sox on Friday night. There was the changeup he threw to A.J. Pierzynski in the first that went for an RBI double and gave the White Sox an early 1-0 lead. Bard also threw a meatball on a 3-0 count to Paul Konerko, who deposited the offering into the left-field bullpen and gave the White Sox a short-lived 3-2 lead.

But Valentine focused on the good and was especially impressed with Bard's ability to brush off a mistake-filled third inning -- an inning in which the Red Sox made multiple defensive miscues, including a passed ball that led to a run.

"He had the adversity inning there in the third, we didn't catch one on a bloop, he came back, made very good pitches and wasn't distracted by it," Valentine said. "We had two 20-minute innings where he had to sit in the dugout with a six-pitch inning of his own in between. Then went right back out and threw strikes, there was a lot to like from what I saw tonight."

In his previous start, Bard had walked seven batters in 6 2/3 innings, leading some to wonder if that lack of control would eventually come back to haunt him. However, Bard said his bout with wildness was due to some mechanical tics that he's since corrected.

That showed on Friday, as Bard allowed only two earned runs in a career-high seven innings, striking out six and walking only one in the Red Sox's 10-3 victory. It was the Red Sox's sixth straight win, but possibly of more importance is the progress Bard is making as he tries to make the conversion from a reliever to a starter.

"I do feel like I've gotten better with each outing going all the way back to the spring," Bard said. "I've gotten more comfortable with throwing off-speed in fastball counts. I'm more consistently throwing strike one with my fastball, which tonight was huge for me. The little nuances of starting, tonight was just another step in the right direction."

Valentine agreed, saying the Red Sox have seen an "evolution" over the past two months from Bard.

"The first time we looked at him we wondered if he could have a windup," Valentine said. "We got through the windup, then we were worried about the third pitch. He got the third pitch, then we were worried about his ability to go more than 60 pitches. He just keeps progressing, he's doing well."

He's doing so well that if it wasn't for the cold weather (39 degrees and dropping at first pitch), both Valentine and Bard agreed that he could have had a chance for a complete game.

Coming into the game, there was some concern that Bard may have some issues since Valentine had decided to skip his last start. Bard pitched 2/3 of an inning of relief on Monday, but hadn't made a start since April 16. Valentine felt vindicated that Bard's short relief stint and a 50-pitch side session on Wednesday was enough to get him ready for Friday night's start. For his part, Bard was never very concerned about his long layoff between starts.

"I hadn't thought about it much; as a reliever you kind of learn to be flexible," Bard said. "Sometimes you threw the day before, sometimes you haven't thrown in four or five days. Your arm's going to feel a little bit different every time out, so you learn to adjust. I guess that's the benefit I have of having that experience as a reliever. I felt good today physically."

The Red Sox already have a torrid offense that's averaging nearly nine runs a game over the past week, and the bullpen is finally showing some signs of consistency, allowing only one run in the relievers' last 13 2/3 innings pitched. As the team charges back toward the .500 mark and tries to pull itself out of the cellar in the AL East, more performances like the one Bard gave on Friday night would be a welcome addition.