|Bobby Valentine was ejected for the first time as Sox manager, given the heave-ho by Gary Darling in the ninth inning. (H. Rumph Jr./Associated Press)|
With Bard wild, Red Sox quickly lose control
PHILADELPHIA - It was a noble idea the Red Sox had, taking Daniel Bard out of the bullpen and making him a starter. But that transition has left a pitcher with one of the best arms in baseball either unable or unwilling to throw his fastball for strikes.
Bard continued down a path Friday night that could lead him back to the bullpen, giving up four runs in the first inning as the Phillies beat the Red Sox, 6-4.
“This loss is definitely on me,’’ Bard said.
The Red Sox are 2-5 in games Bard has started and he has a 4.85 earned run average. Worse, he has changed as a pitcher and lost the fastball that once defined him.
Bard, who averaged a tick over 97 miles per hour with his fastball last season, threw only four pitches better than 93 Friday, none after the first inning. He walked five, hit two batters, and struck out only three in five innings.
It was telling in the bottom of the first inning that Bard threw a slider to leadoff batter Jimmy Rollins on a 3-and-2 count instead of a fastball. The pitch missed inside and started a big inning for the Phillies.
“It works for me a lot but it’s probably not the smartest thing to do to the first guy of the game,’’ Bard said. “That’s getting out of that reliever mode still. I need to be more aggressive there.’’
Bard said the pitch selection put him in a funk. With his delivery awry, he walked Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence to load the bases with one out. The next hitter, Carlos Ruiz, hopped on a slider and ripped it for a two-run single.
Ty Wigginton had a sacrifice fly and John Mayberry Jr. an RBI double later in the inning. Pence homered off Bard in the fifth. All four of those run-producing swings came off Bard’s slider as the Phillies ignored his fastball.
Bard expected some drop-off with his fastball once he became a starter. But he’s surprised at the marked decrease in velocity.
“I didn’t think it would be quite this big,’’ he said. “I thought when I needed it I could reach back for 96, 97 and that hasn’t been the case obviously. It hasn’t been there.’’
Bard feels he can pitch effectively at 93 or 94 if he pitches ahead in the count. But that has proven troublesome. He has 26 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings while walking 25. That percentage was certainly unexpected given that Bard has a 2.77 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a reliever in his career.
His last four starts are particularly troubling. Over 23 1/3 innings, Bard has walked 15 and struck out only seven.
“The walks, they’re not acceptable,’’ manager Bobby Valentine said. “That amount of walks, you can’t leave your team out there and you can’t keep letting those guys get on base. It’s tough to hit in the strike zone, you might as well throw it there. I know he’s trying to.’’
Bard claimed he wasn’t too concerned.
“When I start to establish strike one more consistently, that’ll all come back,’’ he said.
With Daisuke Matsuzaka getting close to a return from the disabled list, the last-place Red Sox may not be able to wait for Bard to figure it out. The season is nearly a quarter over and experiments can last only so long.
Cole Hamels (6-1) went seven innings for the win, allowing three runs on six hits against a lineup that didn’t include usual designated hitter David Ortiz. He was limited to a pinch-hitting appearance in the eighth inning and grounded out.
Mike Aviles and Cody Ross had solo homers off Hamels. Ross also doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Daniel Nava.
The Sox drew to within 5-4 in the eighth inning when Adrian Gonzalez homered to right field off Chad Qualls. It was his third of the season, the first since April 17. Gonzalez went 109 at-bats between home runs.
A home run by Freddy Galvis off Franklin Morales in the eighth inning left Jonathan Papelbon with an easy save opportunity in the ninth against his former team.
Papelbon allowed a single by Kelly Shoppach then retired the side. True to form, Papelbon pumped his fist wildly after striking out an overmatched Nick Punto to end the game.
The most interesting moment of the ninth was when Valentine was ejected for the first time this season while arguing a close call at first base.
Marlon Byrd was called out on a grounder to shortstop. Valentine thought Wigginton was off the bag at first and literally hopped up and down trying to make his point. Byrd may have beaten the throw regardless.
Umpire Gary Darling accidentally spat his gum at Valentine then appeared to bump him. Valentine would not comment on that but was still upset when he spoke after the game.
“A bad night,’’ he said. “A very bad night.’’