If one ranked everything that Bard needs in order to get out of this very untimely funk, encouragement and support from his teammates and coaches would have to rank high on that list. Such support came in waves after Bard blew a two-run lead in the eighth inning Wednesday against Toronto, eventually taking the loss in a 5-4 setback.
There was his manager, who wanted to make sure nobody went overboard in assessing Bard's funk, which has seen the righty surrender eight earned runs in 2 1/3 innings over the course of three straight losses.
"We do everything we can to try to analyze but not overanalyze, be supportive," Terry Francona said.
"One thing we don't worry about Bard is work ethic. He’s been a kid that’s been there before. He'll figure it out, with help if he needs it, but we'll get there."
There was his pitching coach, who insisted there is nothing physically wrong with Bard and that any mechanical flaws are correctable.
"I'm sure he feels bad," Curt Young said. "You get in that situation and you know it's tough, you're in the eighth inning there trying to close out an inning and when you don't do it, it is disappointing. But he's a guy that will bounce back good. His arm's feeling great, health is good. The one little [mechanical] thing he's feeling isn't working for him so we’ll get him going in the right direction."
John Lackey, who was in line for the win before Bard came on, hopes to see the flamethrower out there as soon as possible.
"Hopefully we can get him back in there with a lead, you know, the eighth inning, real soon," Lackey said. "We have a lot of confidence in him. He'll be just fine."
Finally, the captain chimed in, but after about three or four questions related to Bard, made sure we all knew where he stood.
"I'll put this to rest with Daniel," Jason Varitek said. "How's this: Daniel's been the hugest part of this bullpen, he and [Jonathan Papelbon]. And he's had a tough little stretch for the last few outings. We need Daniel. And Daniel's going to pitch well. Period."
There is little doubt that Bard, possessed with gifts that most pitchers can only dream about, will pitch well. The question is when. Will he rein it back in before his struggles hurt the team even more?
Thus far, they have been a big part of this September swoon. Bard blew a save when he gave up a go-ahead two-run double to New York's Russell Martin in a game at Fenway Park on September 1. There was the disastrous five-run inning in a gut-wrenching defeat at Toronto last Wednesday. He also gave up the game-winning hit in the 10th inning Saturday at Tampa Bay.
Then came his latest stinker in the series finale against Toronto.
Bard entered in the eighth to protect a 4-2 lead. Just like in his prior meeting with the Blue Jays, he couldn't find the strike zone, walking the first two men he faced on just nine pitches.
A bunt attempt followed. Bard fielded but threw wild at first and everyone was safe. That set it up for an RBI groundout and a two-run single that gave Toronto the lead for the first time since the first inning.
At that point, Bard was deep into a process by which he becomes very aware of his mechanical flaw, not the best thing to be thinking about in the middle of an inning. At the very least, the thought process will yield improvements in the coming days, according to Bard.
"Any time you’re thinking about mechanics it’s not a good thing," he said. "When they're out of whack you have to do things to straighten them out. As soon as I get back to the fluid delivery I’m used to — and it’s probably going to look the same to you guys — going to be some minor tweaks that only I can feel, but you’ll notice it by the way the ball is coming out of my hands."
It just goes to show how fine the craft of pitching is. When that delivery was fluid, Bard was the guy who threw 26 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings from May 27 through the end of July. Now, with what may only be a razor-thin drop in arm slot or a tiny change in his timing, he's the guy who has gone 0-3 with a 17.36 ERA in September.
If the Red Sox had their druthers, they would probably swap those two scenarios, having Bard struggle before the All-Star break and put the hammer down when the games increased in intensity and importance.
That’s one reason Bard's slump will be analyzed to the nth degree until he can turn it around.
"I've been through it before," he said of his mechanical issue. "I think the effects of it are just magnified by how big these games are. Sometimes you go out there and your mechanics are a little off and they swing at a couple of pitches and you’re able to get through it. Unfortunately, they really haven't been doing it."
Bard insists that he can make the same fix he made in the past when confronted with this problem. It will take video work with Young and bullpen coach Gary Tuck, and perhaps one positive outing to regain his confidence. With the Tampa Bay Rays breathing down Boston's back and on their way to Fenway Park for four big games, there isn't much time.
"We're going to have to figure it out in a hurry," Francona said.
Otherwise, the curious case of Daniel Bard will continue to rank as the biggest issue plaguing the Red Sox.
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