ANAHEIM, Calif. — The statistics do not reflect it, but Daniel Bard believes he is ready to return to the major leagues.
The 27-year-old righthander joined the Red Sox Wednesday and will be activated Thursday. Bard spent the last 12 weeks with Triple A Pawtucket after his promising career hit an unexpected detour.
One of the best set-up relievers in the game for the better part of three seasons, Bard failed as a starter, going 5-6 with a 5.24 earned run average. He was demoted June 4, a day after he lasted only 1⅔ innings against Toronto.
Bard walked six batters in that game and hit two. He was demoted the next day.
“It definitely came as a shock, the first half,” Bard said. “But it gave me an opportunity to work on some things.”
Statistically, Bard did not pitch well at all in Pawtucket because of control problems. Over 31 appearances, he had a 7.03 ERA. He walked 29, hit 10, and threw nine wild pitches over 32 innings.
He did not walk any batters in his last three outings and the Sox are hopeful he can gain a measure of consistency.
“It gave me a chance to work on some things without too much consequence in the results,” Bard said. “I accomplished some really good things and I’m headed in the right direction. Now I need to get back in that competitive environment.”
Bard made his major league debut at Angel Stadium on May 13, 2009. Now he gets a fresh start here again.
“It’s a matter of trying to get better every day,” he said.
Bard doesn’t regret trying to become a starter. But he admits that is what led to his having so many problems.
“I think it was trying to morph myself into a starter too much, trying to change,” Bard said. “Throw more changeups, front-door cutters, back-door sinkers. Just trying to do things that I hadn’t done in the past.
“It worked some days and didn’t work other days. I kind of got in too deep with it. I kind of lost the pitcher that I felt like I was the last three years. I had to do what I could to rediscover that.”
That means throwing a fastball and a slider and attacking the strike zone. Bard will not have a defined role in the bullpen.
Manager Bobby Valentine said that Bard got “progressively better” in the minors.
Last week, the Sox suspended Alfredo Aceves three games for his conduct off the field. But the real problem is his performance on the mound.
The righthander, who served the Sox well as their closer for much of the season, has pitched his way out of the job.
Aceves blew his eighth save of the season, and his third this month, in Tuesday night’s 6-5 loss to the Angels. With one out in the bottom of the ninth inning and the Sox ahead, 5-4, Aceves gave away what would have been a satisfying victory.
Aceves hit Erick Aybar in the back foot with a curveball. He then walked Alberto Callaspo after Aybar stole second.
Mike Trout fell behind, 0 and 2. But Aceves left a fastball close enough to the plate for Trout to drive into center field and score Aybar.
Trout is hitting .340. Throwing Trout a hittable pitch in that count was a crucial mistake.
“We broke his bat, shattered it, but he’s a strong kid,’’ said catcher Ryan Lavarnway. He got it out of the infield just enough.”
Torii Hunter was next, and with Callaspo on third, he came through with a sacrifice fly to center field.
Aceves would not speak to reporters after the game, putting a phone to his ear and walking out of the clubhouse.
He came right back Wednesday night, pitching two scoreless innings. After allowing the first two to reach in the seventh he retired three in a row, fanning Trout swinging for the final out. He is 2-9 with a 4.61 earned run average. In his 11 appearances this month, Aceves has allowed 13 earned runs on 15 hits over 12⅓ innings. Four of the hits were home runs.
Overwork may be a cause. He has thrown 180⅓ innings over 115 appearances the last two seasons. Among pitchers with at least 100 appearances the last two seasons, only Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs has thrown more innings and that’s because he has been a starter this season.
Valentine, however, suggested that Aceves could get starts before the end of the season.
Plenty of players
The Sox have used 53 players this season, and that’s before rosters can expand to 40 starting Saturday.
Zach Stewart, who started and took the loss Wednesday night (and was sent to Pawtucket after the game), is the 53d player to suit up. The Sox also used 53 in 2010 and ’06. They last used more in 1996 when 55 players saw action.
The Sox could reach that number if they decide to bring up righthander Chris Carpenter and infielder Ivan De Jesus, who are on the 40-man roster.
Lefthander Rich Hill, who has appeared in seven rehab games while recovering from an elbow strain, is likely to be called up Saturday.
Pedroia a winner
Pedroia, a chestnut filly named after the Red Sox second baseman, won the third race at Suffolk Downs Wednesday. Ridden by Hector Ramos and trained by Arthur Duffy Jr., the 4-year-old sat off the pace and seized command at the top of the stretch, drawing off by 9¾ lengths and completing the mile and 70 yards in 1:47.60, according to the track. Pedroia returned $3.40, 2.20, and 2.20. as the heavy favorite in the field of eight. A horse named Our Pedroia is running in the sixth race at Saratoga Friday . . . An earthquake registering 4.1 on the Richter scale struck in Yorba Linda, about 8 miles from Angel Stadium, at 1:31 p.m. Several members of the Red Sox party felt it . . . Righthander Clayton Mortensen was optioned to Pawtucket to make roster space for Stewart. Mortensen is 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 19 appearances.