The need for speed

BOSTON -- If you're wondering what happened to Daniel Bard's explosive fastball, the one that last season ranked second in the American League in average velocity (97.3 mph), you're not alone.

So is Bard.

On April 10, in Bard's first start of the season, he averaged 95 mph, topping out at 98. A month later, the numbers remained pretty close: On May 8, he averaged 94 and topped out at 97.

But in his last two starts, against the Phillies and Orioles, Bard's fastball has averaged 92 mph, topping out at 94.

"I'm not worried about it," Bard said Wednesday. "I don't think it's a physical thing. My arm feels great.

"But it is frustrating, yes."

Making the transition from reliever to starter, Bard expected some dropoff, given the increased volume of pitches that he is throwing. But this has gone beyond what he anticipated.

"I've trimmed my mechanics so much as a starter," he said, "that might have affected it."

The change in mechanics was made in an effort to improve Bard's fastball command, which remains a work in progress. He still has enough velocity to get swings and misses -- of the nine pitches he threw that were swung on and missed, six came on fastballs. "I can get people out with the velocity I have," he said.

But he'd still like to know that, when needed, he could reach back for something extra. As a reliever last season, Bard averaged 9.12 strikeouts per nine innings. This season, it's 5.25. The walks, meanwhile, have climbed from 2.96 per nine innings to 5.44.

"I think he's pitching to contact more," manager Bobby Valentine said. "That rider, that 96-97 mph fastball, which is often up in the zone, the pitch that most people swing under, is not a main part of his repertoire. When you have pitches that guys can swing over, fastballs are less likely to be swung at and missed."

Yet Bard maintained after Wednesday's game that he still likes to work in the upper part of the zone, especially to right-handed hitters. Of the 21 fastballs he threw to right-handed hitters, 13 were either in the upper third of the strike zone or outside (four balls were chased for strikes).

"I think I'm able to throw the ball down, but I don't have to live down there," he said. "Guys are geared to swing at pitches down in the zone. Up in the zone is uncomfortable for a lot of guys, and I'm trying to take advantage of that. Most of those pitches are by design."

And it's when he's living upstairs that extra velocity would be welcome.

Bard has walked four or more in each of his last four starts, a total of 17 in 23 1/3 innings. In that same span, he has just eight strikeouts. He became the first Sox starter since Tim Wakefield in 2001 to issue four or more walks in at least four straight starts (Wakefield reeled off five in a row in 2001), though he is a long way from the club record. Don Schwall did it 11 times in a row in 1961, his rookie season.

Bard had so much trouble maintaining a consistent release point Wednesday that Valentine and pitching coach Bob McClure suggested after the fourth inning that he pitch exclusively from the stretch.

"It's really weird, man," Bard said. "They're not hitting the ball consistently. One solo home run. I'm struggling to get ahead in the count, but my head's in a good place, I feel confident out there. I'm just having trouble repeating my delivery. That's kind of the opposite of what I had in a few outings, where my delivery locked in but I just wasn't trusting the ball in the middle of the plate, which is where the walks came from.

"I'm in a good place. Just a matter of finding a delivery I can repeat consistently."

For Bard, there's a component of his performance Wednesday that should not be overlooked. For all the rough edges, the Orioles scored just two runs when he was in the game, and he came away with a victory.

"The biggest thing going into this outing is I wanted to throw everything with conviction," he said. "I think I did 95 percent of the time. It may not have been where I wanted it to be, but I threw it with trust and conviction. The mechanics, we'll work on that stuff between starts.

"But to be able to get the win today was huge."

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.