PAWTUCKET – About a week ago, Daniel Bard and Andrew Miller went out for dinner in Boston. Sure, it was a prime opportunity for two good and longtime friends to catch up, yet the time spent between these two former University of North Carolina teammates boiled down to one particular subject matter.
For a change of pace, it was Bard, not Miller, whose missteps at the big-league level resulted in a demotion to the minors. Yes, Bard had experienced difficulty on the mound prior to this season – he was converted to a reliever in 2008 after struggling the previous season. This current tale of woe, however, was a different animal and required a pep talk from someone (Miller) who had been down this road before.
“He knows exactly the feeling that I’ve had the last month or so,” said Bard, whose ERA with the PawSox stood at a cover-your-eyes 7.30 heading into Monday’s game against Rochester. “He’s been through eerily similar situations as far as where I’m at. We didn’t get too in-depth, but he definitely feels for me what I’ve been through.”
To a degree, the corrective nature of Miller’s 2012 season, one that has seen him emerge as Boston’s primary left-handed option in the bullpen after several seasons of yo-yoing between the majors and the minors, is something Bard can draw upon during this dark time.
After all, if Miller can put everything together, surely Bard can follow suit.
“He’s confident; no one can deny he has the stuff,” said Bard matter-of-factly about Miller. “He’s a close friend of mine and he’s always been a competitor, but it’s hard to compete when your confidence isn’t there. Any pitcher will tell you that. I’ll tell you that because over the last month and a half, I’ve been dealing with that.
“When the confidence and ability come together, it’s pretty special and that’s what you’re seeing with Andrew,” Bard continued. “I know he’s worked very hard to get to this point – to actually have a secure and consistent job in the big leagues. He’s come a long way.
“I’m sure it was a humbling experience, but [the constant ebbs and flows Miller had gone through] represent a great chance to learn about yourself as a pitcher and more importantly as a person,” says Bard. “It kind of puts everything in perspective.”
While the numbers may not bear out, Bard felt that Sunday night’s outing against Lehigh Valley represented a turning point, and not because it was his first game pitching with a new number on his back. Late Friday night, Bard went to Pawtucket clubhouse manager Carl Goodreau with a request to switch from 46 to 25.
Standing in the home team’s dugout at McCoy Stadium, the 27-year-old Bard was bubbling with enthusiasm when talking about the in-game adjustments he made against the IronPigs.
After starting the seventh inning with back-to-back walks, Bard set down three straight on two groundballs and a fly ball.
Upon finishing the frame, Bard pleaded PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur to pitch the eighth. Upon being denied, Bard headed out to the bullpen to throw 15 additional pitches on top of the 21 he had issued.
“Before I even said anything on how I felt, Rich asked, ‘What was the difference with those last three hitters? That was really good,’” Bard shared. “I told him, but he saw it before I did. Ignoring the results, he saw something in the delivery and the finish on the ball and the way the hitters were reacting to it. Something was different.”
Something was, indeed, different Monday as Bard tossed a 1-2-3 seventh, retiring the Red Wings on three weak groundballs and 10 pitches, eight for strikes. The outing represented the first time he’s pitched on back-to-back days with the PawSox.
Whenever a player of Bard’s pedigree is sent down to the minors, he has a responsibility to field questions from inquiring minor leaguers and/or lend words of wisdom.
“Regardless of what the results have been, I know how to get ready for a game and what’s prepared me to pitch late in the game,” said Bard. “A lot of the guys here have that big-league experience, but for someone like Alex Wilson, hopefully I’m a guy that’s worth watching.”
Wilson, a former minor-league starter turned reliever himself, certainly appreciates having Bard around.
“To be able to bounce ideas and question off of (Bard), he’s a guy who you can talk to about anything,” said the 25-year-old Wilson. “He could have came down with a bad attitude, but he’s willing to work and talk to us. He’s definitely been a big part in helping me with my transition as far back as spring training.
“I’ve been bouncing questions off of him for two years now, and now that he’s here fulltime at the moment, it’s been easier for me to do so,” continued Wilson.