PORTLAND, Maine — Daniel Bard was right at home in the Portland Sea Dogs locker room.
He was very much at ease with his new teammates and the media during the Sea Dogs media day at Hadlock Field.
The 27-year-old reliever is looking to bounce back from a forgettable 2012 season that followed a September 2011 collapse suffered by Bard and his Boston Red Sox teammates that cost them a playoff spot and resulted in the firing of manager Terry Francona.
Up to that point, Bard was one of the game’s premier setup men.
The Red Sox took the hard-throwing Bard and tried to transform him into a starter last season, but it didn’t work out. And he never regained his velocity, throwing in the low 90s instead of his trademark 98-100 miles per hour.
He was 5-6 with the Red Sox and had a lofty 6.22 ERA. He walked 43 and struck out just 38 in 59 1/3 innings. Things got worse in AAA Pawtucket, where he was 3-2 with a 7.03 ERA and 29 walks and 10 hit batters in 32 innings.
After an up-and-down spring training, the Red Sox brass decided to send him to Portland instead of Pawtucket.
“When they explained it to me, it made more sense,” said Bard. “They wanted me to work with [Sea Dogs pitching coach] Bob Kipper. I had him in 2008 when things kind of clicked for me in the minor leagues for the first time. He knows what that looks like and the preparation I need to put in [to be successful]. I’m excited to work with him.”
“He is exceptionally talented. He still is. That hasn’t changed and it will not change,” said Kipper. “We’re trying to get back to simple. There isn’t an athlete alive who won’t tell you when they’re performing at their best, their game is simple.
“I’m sure there was a lot of noise out there last year. Try to eliminate the noise. Get back to simple. He is determined to do just that. He knows it worked before and it will work again.”
Bard said his arm feels great.
“That’s why I’m trying to take this in a positive light,” said Bard. “I had a pretty good spring. Maybe I didn’t have the consistency I had in the past, but I made some pretty big strides. The velocity is coming back. The biggest thing is to be able to repeat my delivery consistently, and I feel good about it. I feel like I’m under control on the mound,” said Bard.
He explained that when they made him into a starter last year, “I was trying to pitch at 85-90 percent [of my velocity] so I can ramp it up when I needed it. But my delivery got out of whack, so when I tried to go back and get that 100 percent, it wasn’t there because my timing was off. And it was never quite right the rest of the year. I tried to make too many changes as a starter rather than just taking what I did out of the bullpen and doing that for six or seven innings.”
He didn’t throw a ball for two months after the season, which is his normal routine, and he was encouraged when he picked up a ball for the first time in December.
“I felt better from the first time I picked the ball up. Your body hits the reset button and you reteach yourself how to throw,” he explained.
Instead of mixing up his fastball, breaking ball and changeup, he has returned to going primarily with his fastball and breaking pitch with just an “occasional changeup” mixed in.
He said he is focusing on “consistently backspinning the ball and being consistent.”
“I’ve got to make mechanical corrections from pitch to pitch instead of from hitter to hitter,” added Bard.
He said having John Farrell as the new Red Sox manager, replacing the fired Bobby Valentine, is a positive for him. Farrell used to be his pitching coach with the Red Sox.
“It’s good to have someone who has seen me in the past when I was at my best,” said Bard. “We go way back. He knew me when I was 12 years old. It’s good having him around. I can trust that they have my best interests at heart.”
He also said spring training was a breath of fresh air.
“It was a drama-free clubhouse,” said Bard. “It seemed like we had drama every day last year.”
He also said they now have “a lot of players who want to win and win playing the right way. We have 25 players as well as coaches who are working toward the same goal and, hopefully, I’ll be a part of it soon.”
He knows he will be under the spotlight, but he is used to it.
“I don’t know any different. Since they converted me to a starter last year, it was the talk of [training] camp,” said the former University of North Carolina star. “For whatever reason, there was no other good story to talk about, I guess. Every pitch I made was overscrutinized. It was the same thing this spring because people wanted to know what they were going to do with me.
“It is what it is. I’ve learned to deal with it.”
Regardless of where he is pitching, opening day is still exciting.
“You always want to get in games that mean something. I feel good throwing the ball and it’s one of those things that when you’re feeling good, you want to get out there and face hitters. That’s the mindset I’m in right now.”
“He has a great attitude and his stuff is there. Now it’s just a matter of consistency,” said Sea Dogs manager Kevin Boles. “Knowing him and what kind of athlete he is along with his character and makeup, he’s going to get himself back in that position again.”