Editor's note: Each day this week, NESN.com Red Sox reporter Tony Lee will profile Daniel Bard's rise to the big league. On Wednesday, Bard's epic College World Series start was relived.
Organizations like the Red Sox would love to be able to bide their time and make sure that each player gets his necessary work at every level of the minor leagues. Rushing a player, especially a pitcher, is not anything an organization sets out to do, unless he's something special.
Daniel Bard was on that ordinary path to start his professional career. He spent a year and a half bouncing around Single-A stops, the first full season of which saw him struggle mightily as a starter. Yet, there are guys that are downright impossible to keep down.
Such was the case with Bard once he found his groove as a reliever. There were 31 games at the Double-A level in the latter half of 2008, resulting in a 1.99 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 49 2/3 innings. The obvious next step to Triple-A in 2009 only saw him get better. It was as if Bard was racing that natural progression, as if he had to get to the majors before a certain date which was closing fast.
He would get a boost with a visit to the big league camp during the 2009 spring training, where he managed to draw attention with a simple bullpen session early on, and then with some eye-popping game action. After one particularly impressive performance against the Puerto Rico national team preparing for the World Baseball Classic, Bard was the talk of the camp.
"That was worth showing up for today," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said after Bard threw two scoreless innings that day in early March. "That was two really exciting innings. With young players, but young pitchers in particular, you're going to see some ups, some downs, some in betweens. Today was the up."
There would be more.
It was just over two months later that Bard, who struck out an almost unfathomable 29 men in 16 innings while posting a 1.12 ERA as the short-time closer for Pawtucket, was called up. He was impossible to keep down, and he wasted no time whatsoever in letting the organization know that his skills would translate.
In his first outing as a major leaguer on May 13, 2009, at Anaheim, Bard faced Angels catcher Mike Napoli, who had 22 hits in his previous 56 at-bats (.393) and had already hit a three-run homer in that day's contest, to start things off. Bard threw a 96 mph fastball for a swinging strike. Bard then threw a another 96 mph fastball for another swinging strike. He finished a foreshadowing first at-bat with a 98 mph fastball for a third straight swinging strike. Major League Baseball, meet Daniel Bard.
"He kind of blew my doors off there," Napoli said after the game.
Bard threw two scoreless frames that night and allowed only one earned run in his first 12 innings as a major leaguer. Over the span of 14 innings in 12 outings from June 28-Aug. 1, he yielded a grand total of four hits. There were no runs, no walks and 23 strikeouts. Roughly two years after he couldn't get an out against Single-A hitters, Bard was the best reliever the Red Sox had, including Jonathan Papelbon.
And that's where it all started. Bard would not need that full season at Double-A, or Triple-A, for that matter. He threw fewer than 70 innings at those two levels combined. He was a major leaguer, and a darn good one.
Thing is, he would get even better, and in keeping with his rise in the minors, it would take almost no time at all to make that leap.
Check back Friday for a review of Bard's breakout 2010 season.
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