Pressed in a tight spot, Bard looked at ease
Red Sox manager Terry Francona does not have to use Daniel Bard in pressure situations. He has a bullpen chocked with experienced arms that, for most of the season, have delivered when needed. But as last night proved, Francona knows he can use his 24-year-old rookie in any situation.
With the eventual 15-9 win slipping away, Francona called on Bard with no outs in the seventh inning, the Sox leading, 9-7, and the go-ahead run at the plate. Bard, in his 20th big league appearance, came through by striking out the first two batters he faced and getting a ground out to strand his two inherited runners. He allowed two runs, both unearned, in two innings.
“As we’ve seen him and we get to know him, I think the way you pitch you are deserving of innings like that,’’ Francona said. “That wasn’t necessarily the way we wanted to line it up, but he did a very good job.’’
The Sox brought Bard along slowly, but more and more Francona has shown comfort bringing the righthander in during difficult spots. He doesn’t prefer to, but he knows he can.
“I enjoy it,’’ Bard said. “I really like pitching when the game is on the line. I think everybody does. It’s an opportunity to shine.’’
Bard has not allowed an earned run in 7 1/3 innings, a streak that began after he surrendered two runs to the Nationals June 25. Bard insisted that night he had not had enough faith in his pitches. Since then, he’s found consistency with his leg kick and arm slot.
“I was just kind of picking a little bit at corners for a couple outings there,’’ Bard said. “I wasn’t totally trusting my stuff.’’
The first pitch Bard threw last night was a slider, something he would not have done earlier in the year. “I wouldn’t have had the conviction with it,’’ he said. But Bard is finding more comfort with his pitches, in any role.
He was rewarded last week with an All-Star selection, and Beckett will be able to throw an inning in Tuesday’s Midsummer Classic in St. Louis.
Since May began, a span of 12 starts, Beckett is 8-1 with a 2.38 ERA, best in the American League over that time. He registered 10 quality starts and threw at least six innings in all of them.
Francona has watched Beckett, 29, mature as a pitcher since the Sox acquired him from the Marlins. Beckett was already a World Series MVP, but still only 25 when he threw his first Red Sox pitch.
“I think that when we got him, he was evolving,’’ Francona said. “I don’t know that we need to take credit for that. I think he was just getting to a point in his career where he was starting to grow up and it showed.’’
“He’s starting to feel good about himself confidence-wise, swinging the bat,’’ Francona said. “I know there’s not been a lot of hits, but I don’t think that’s the end all, be all. He just needs to play and get stamina.’’
Lowrie, whose rehab from wrist surgery was hindered by knee soreness, could return by next weekend. He will give the Red Sox three options at shortstop with Julio Lugo and Nick Green. Lowrie and Green play other infield positions as well.
Adam Kilgore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org