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BOSTON -- A win has been almost automatic when the Boston Red Sox have the lead and reliever Daniel Bard is given the ball in the eighth inning.
Bard is considered one of the best relievers in the game, so anytime he struggles it can be a cause for concern. Bard took the loss on Wednesday after allowing three runs (two earned) on one hit and two walks in the eighth inning as the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Red Sox, 5-4, at Fenway Park.
|After dominating opponents most of the season, Daniel Bard has a 7.47 ERA in 15 appearances since Aug. 1.|
Bard has lost his last three appearances, posting an astronomical 30.86 ERA by allowing eight earned runs in 2 1/3 innings of work. He had completely dominated the opposition for the majority of the season and had a 1.76 ERA in his first 51 appearances. Since Aug. 1, however, he has a 7.47 ERA in 15 outings. And in September, he's given up at least one run in four of his five appearances, all of which have come in Red Sox losses.
Fortunately for the Red Sox, Bard says he knows what's wrong and plans on doing everything possible to fix it. He says he's lost his delivery; now he needs to find it.
"This team needs me and I want to be a big part of this team's success," Bard said. "In order to get to the playoffs, and once we get to the playoffs, they're going to need me. So I'll figure it out."
There could be widespread panic with the wild-card standings so tight, especially with the Tampa Bay Rays, who trail the Sox by four games, coming to town to begin a crucial four-game series on Thursday. But Bard's teammates are confident the hard-throwing right-hander will correct what needs to be fixed and will help the team win, as he has so many times in the past.
"I'll put this to rest for Daniel," Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said. "Daniel has been the hugest part of this bullpen, he and [Jonathan Papelbon]. He's had a tough little stretch the last few outings. We need Daniel, and Daniel is going to pitch well -- period."
Following Wednesday's loss, Bard admitted he's been thinking too much about his mechanics when he's on the mound, and that's not what a pitcher wants to do. As soon as he can find his fluid delivery, he believes, he'll be fine and success will follow.
Meanwhile, he's hasn't been feeling comfortable on the mound.
"It feels a little bit different and I've been through it before," Bard said. "I think it's magnified by how big these games are. Sometimes you go out there and your mechanics are a little off and you're able to get through an inning because [hitters] swing at pitches out of the zone to get you back in it. Unfortunately for me, that hasn't happened lately."
Bard says the tweaks he needs to make to his delivery are minor.
"You guys haven't seen me do it a lot up here because it hasn't happened much," Bard said. "It's happened to me before and I've gotten through it before. I've fixed it before and I'll fix it again."
Bard said that over the next couple of days he will talk with the people who know his delivery best and ask them to pinpoint what has changed from when he's been at his best. That will include watching video and sitting down with pitching coach Curt Young, bullpen coach Gary Tuck and Varitek.
As much as watching game film will help, for Bard it's all about repetition and his ability to command the zone.
Bard's recent struggles began in Toronto on Sept. 7, when he allowed a career-high five runs in one inning for his fourth blown save of the season. He followed with another subpar performance in Tampa last weekend when he entered a tie game and allowed the winning run to score in the bottom of the 11th, throwing just six pitches.
A sure sign of trouble is when Bard walks batters. Before his Sept. 7 outing, he had walked 15 batters all season. In the implosion at Toronto, he had three walks, two with the bases loaded. On Wednesday, he issued a pair of free passes to lead off the top of the eighth, then committed a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt, which led to Toronto's three runs in the inning.
"Obviously it was a tough inning," manager Terry Francona said. "We work so hard to get to him and right now the fastball command is certainly an issue and getting him in trouble.
"His fastball is kind of cutting on him a little bit. We've got to get him back to being the Bard we all have come to trust because he's such an important part of what we're doing."
Bard said he felt confident warming up in the bullpen Wednesday, but it didn't translate into the game.
"You tweak things when things aren't going well, and even though the pitches might be OK, you're trying to force the results and that's what got me in trouble today," Bard said.
There's no doubt Bard is a confident pitcher. He has proved that his entire pro career, so when he struggles in three consecutive games, it's understandable why red flags go up.
"I'm sure confidence plays a part, but that's something we've got to figure out in a hurry," Francona said. "We'll do everything we can. We try to analyze but not overanalyze, and be supportive. The one thing we don't worry about with Bardo is work ethic. He's a kid who has been there before and he'll figure it out with help if he needs it. We'll get there."
In order to get where they want to go, the Red Sox definitely need Bard.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.