Commentary

Miller's tale instructional for Bard

Sox lefty Andrew has found success but can commiserate with struggling Daniel

Updated: July 11, 2012, 1:49 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Boston Red Sox left-handed reliever Andrew Miller knows exactly what Daniel Bard is going through this season.

During their respective collegiate and pro careers, Bard and Miller have had countless conversations about countless topics, from personal to professional.

They were teammates at the University of North Carolina, and both were selected as top picks in the 2006 draft. Miller was the sixth overall pick by the Detroit Tigers, while Bard went 28th to the Red Sox.

[+] EnlargeMiller
Jim Davis/Getty ImagesAndrew Miller knows that success depends on finding the right balance between the mental and physical aspects of pitching.

Their pro careers took different paths from there. Miller skyrocketed to the big leagues as a 21-year-old phenom in 2006 with the Tigers after only three games in the minors. It took Bard until 2009 to reach the big leagues.

Miller was traded from the Tigers to the Florida Marlins in December 2007 and dealt with his share of success and struggles. In fact, he spent the majority of the 2010 season at Double-A Jackson, where he struggled mightily. He already had 62 games of big league experience and was the only player on his team with major league service time, but after looking around the clubhouse he determined he was the worst player in the room. He had a 1-8 record with a 6.01 ERA in 18 starts.

He was recalled by the Marlins in August 2010 and remained there for the rest of the season, but the organization gave up on him because of his continued struggles, trading him to the Red Sox in November 2010.

Miller and Bard became teammates again in 2011. The left-hander began his Red Sox career with the PawSox before he was promoted to Boston on June 19, 2011.

At the time, Bard was in the midst of a remarkable season in Boston.

The right-handed reliever did not allow a run in 25 consecutive games from May 27 to July 31, posting a career-best 26 1/3 scoreless innings during that stretch. Miller appeared in a total of 17 games for the Sox, including 12 starts, and posted a 6-3 record with a 5.54 ERA.

Their career paths changed again during the offseason.

Bard was converted from reliever to starter and Miller would eventually become a reliever for the Red Sox.

The move to the bullpen has worked for Miller. In 25 games, he's 2-1 with a 2.75 ERA and has allowed only six runs on 13 hits with seven walks and 21 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings.

Bard, however, struggled in the starting rotation, posting a 5-6 record with a 5.24 ERA in 10 starts and one relief appearance before the Red Sox optioned him to Pawtucket on June 6. It was decided that the best option for him would be a return to the bullpen.

His trip to the minors was supposed to be a quick one, but that hasn't been the case. Bard has struggled mightily with his command. He has shown signs of finding his form and said recently something clicked for him, but the overall numbers tell a different story: An 8.13 ERA with 10 walks and 16 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings.

If there's anyone who knows what Bard is going through, it's Miller. He saw his stock soar then plummet early in his career until the Red Sox took a chance on him, and he has regained his ability.

"He's confident and no one has ever denied his stuff," Bard said. "He's a close friend of mine and he's always been a competitor. It's hard to compete when your confidence isn't there, though. Any pitcher will tell you that; I'll tell you that from the last month and a half that I've been dealing with. When the ability and confidence comes together, it's special and that's what you're seeing with him. He's worked really hard to get to this point, and to have a secure and consistent job with a big league team, I'm happy for him. He's come a long way and worked hard to get there."

Miller and Bard recently went out to eat in Boston and the two talked about their experiences and career struggles.

"He knows exactly the feeling I've had the last month or so," Bard said prior to the All-Star break. "He's been through eerily similar situations, as far as where we're at and stuff we deal with on the mound. We didn't get too in depth, but he definitely feels for me and for what I've been through."

[+] EnlargeDaniel Bard
Mardo-Zayat/Pawtucket Red SoxDaniel Bard is still waiting for things to click.

Remember, Bard went through a similar situation as a starter five years ago at the Class-A level and he was able to work through it. In 2007, he was 3-7 with a 7.08 ERA in 22 starts at the Single-A level, walking a whopping 78 batters in 75 innings. The next year he pitched in relief at Single-A and Double-A and was lights out. In 77 2/3 innings, he walked just 30 and struck out 107 to go along with a1.51 ERA.

Bard believes he'll be able to recover again, and Miller agrees.

"So much of it is confidence," Miller said. "He hasn't mentioned anything physical. He knows what he's capable of doing; he's just not getting the results. To me, everything comes down to confidence. When you have confidence, everything comes a lot easier and a lot more consistently. It's hard when you're in a situation like he's going through because the highs seem so high, and the downs seem so low. It's hard to find that steady progress.

"He had done so well here for so long, he may have been a little blindsided by it and caught him off guard. As unexpected as it was, I'm sure it was tough to go through in the beginning. He knows he has to just grind it out. Once you get humbled a little bit, you get over it, you battle and you find your way back. We all know that will happen with him, it's just a matter of time."

Bard was among the top relievers in the game from May 10, 2009, until his struggles began last September. Sure, he would have a bad outing once in a while, but those were few and far between. When he did suffer a bit of a hiccup, it wasn't big news because he had been so successful and would always come back in his next outing to get the job done.

Now, everything is being scrutinized. If he has a bad outing -- and there have been plenty of them -- it's almost as if he's going completely backward.

"We're not all perfect all the time," Miller said. "We're going to give up hits. We're going to have days when we're wild, and you have to battle through some things. It's all a matter of getting that confidence."

Bard is an intellectually strong person, and he's relying on his past struggles earlier in his pro career to help him find the answers this time around, too.

"I learned a lot more from the downs than the ups and you learn about yourself when you do struggle and you have to come out of it," Miller said. "Hopefully, for him, he'll find what it takes to dig himself out of the hole. He's been through it before and he struggled a little bit at the beginning of his career and then he found what it took and he took off. He knows he can do it, so that's a plus."

The numbers in Pawtucket may not show it, but Miller believes Bard is probably closer to a turnaround than he thinks. Bard's goal is to fix what's wrong and return to the big leagues again as the dominant reliever he's been in the past. He was once nearly unhittable, and now he's a question mark.

"It's a humbling experience, but it's also a great chance to learn about yourself as a pitcher -- more importantly, a person. It kind of puts everything into perspective," Bard said.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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