For Bard, it was a day when everything went bad
PHILADELPHIA - John Smoltz spent so much of his career sitting in the Braves' dugout with Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux discussing the game, discussing pitching. Smoltz knows if the three future Hall of Famers had seen a kid like Daniel Bard, they all would have been impressed with his arm and his makeup.
Smoltz yesterday reaffirmed that belief after Bard had the worst outing of his brief major league career.
"He's gonna be fine," said Smoltz. "I think situational pitching like he was in today is the toughest thing a young kid has to get used to when he comes up to the big leagues, but this kid has quite an arm and I just love the way the ball comes out of his hand. I don't think we'll have to worry about this kid down the road."
Not that anyone was worried about him yesterday when he relieved Josh Beckett, who left the game training, 6-5, after Jimmy Rollins hit a home run leading off the bottom of the seventh and Shane Victorino followed with a single. Bard had not allowed an earned run in his last seven appearances, spanning eight innings. He had held batters to an .077 average (2 for 26) during that run.
He's already done some extraordinary things, such as strike out his last five batters May 29 vs. the Blue Jays, and strike out the side in the 13th inning Friday night in Philadelphia to pick up his first career save.
So yesterday's performance, in which he surrendered four runs (on two hits and three walks) over two-thirds of an inning, was way off the norm. There was no way to explain it other than to chalk it up to a bad day at the office.
"Well, he came in throwing balls," said manager Terry Francona. "Instead of being free and easy, he started trying to make it go somewhere. We've seen that before, with everybody. It's just a tough thing."
Francona wasn't in the mood to find many positives on a frustrating day. "I think we're always trying to learn. I'd rather not have no silver linings. It wasn't real silver for me today," he said.
Bard finds himself in a precarious position because he has minor league options at a time when roster spots are at a premium. Bard could be ticketed back to Pawtucket when Smoltz is added to the active roster, possibly as early as Thursday.
Bard blamed himself for his 31-pitch workload because he couldn't handle Julio Lugo's throw to complete a double play that would have likely defused the Phillies' six-run inning.
"It wasn't an easy play," Bard said, "but it hit my glove and I had a chance."
Bard walked his first batter, Chase Utley, one pitch after Victorino stole second base. Ryan Howard then hit a grounder to first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who forced Utley at second. But Lugo made an off-balance relay throw as Utley slid hard into the bag, and the throw was toward the right-field side of first base, allowing Howard to reach and Victorino to score.
Jayson Werth followed by crushing a double off the top of the fence in left-center. After Bard recovered to strike out Greg Dobbs, Pedro Feliz doubled to drive in two runs, and the rout was on.
Bard intentionally walked Chris Coste to face pitcher Chan Ho Park, but then he walked Park on four pitches, loading the bases. Trailing, 9-5, Francona summoned Takashi Saito.
"I just had trouble repeating my delivery," Bard said. "I try to learn from everything but I'm sticking to what's been successful to this point."
Bard called yesterday a "bump in the road, you know. I think everyone in this locker room has had at least one. That's the same for me."
Bard remembers a rough outing in Portland last year when he gave up two home runs. "I followed it up with eight or nine scoreless ones after that," he said. He remembers having a long chat with his pitching coach, and he suspected he'd be having a similar talk with his current pitching coach, John Farrell, on the flight back to Boston.
Bard acknowledged he was facing "a lot of All-Stars in that lineup" but he wasn't using that as an excuse. "It had nothing to do with that today," said Bard. "I just didn't execute."
Neither did many of his teammates. Rocco Baldelli misplayed a ball in right that opened the floodgates in the Phillies' four-run fifth. There was a two-out throwing error by Mike Lowell in the fifth. There was Saito hitting Jimmy Rollins and walking Victorino to force in runs. There was Beckett challenging Howard with a fastball in the fifth, resulting in a two-run double. All bad.
Bard had been so good that it was surprising to see him look so bad. But Smoltz doesn't expect many of these from Bard in the future.