PAWTUCKET, R.I. - Daniel Bard got a voice mail from Bobby Valentine earlier this week, the Red Sox manager confirming that the righthander was heading back to the bullpen.
Valentine apparently thought that Bard had already had a conversation with general manager Ben Cherington regarding the issue.
He hadn’t. But no matter. It was the same decision Bard had come to on his own over his last few outings in Pawtucket.
“It just kind of hit me, felt like that’s where I belong,’’ Bard said on Friday. “It just felt right. I knew then that it’s something that I wanted to do moving forward.
“Luckily I talked to Ben the next day, and they were on the same page. They thought that this year me throwing out of the bullpen gives me the best chance to help the team.’’
Said Valentine from Fenway Park Friday night, “He thought long and hard and consulted with everyone. There was a lot of opinion here that he should have been in the bullpen, some of the guys. He thinks that’s where he needs to be. I’m always with what people believe they are and they should be.’’
Bard has struggled this season, going 5-6 with a 5.24 ERA in 10 starts and one relief appearance with the Red Sox, and both parties came to the conclusion that the role wasn’t quite right.
“There was a lot of discussion with staff and also with Daniel after he went to Pawtucket,’’ said Cherington. “We decided that the best way to help us win in 2012 was [using Bard] as a reliever. He agreed.
“We know how big a weapon he is when he is right and he’s working himself toward that.’’
It only took a couple of outings in Pawtucket for Bard to feel right again. He waited to be sure, before he called Cherington.
“I told [Cherington] I still think I could be a good starter,’’ Bard said. “I think I can be a great reliever. I’m already a good reliever. It just seemed like there’s more conviction for me to do that. There’s a lot of conviction in that decision for me.’’
Bard was called upon in Friday night’s game against Louisville with Pawtucket holding a 3-2 lead in the seventh. Bard retired the first two batters but gave up a tying home run. He hit the next batter and allowed a single before getting out of the inning with his second strikeout.
There is no timetable on when Bard might return to the major league club. The Red Sox bullpen has overcome an ugly start to become a shutdown unit over the last two months. Because of that, Bard said he’s prepared to be in Triple A for a while. He’s allowed seven earned runs in 8 1/3 innings with Pawtucket.
Asked if he feels pressure while waiting to be recalled, Bard said, “I don’t think it’s pressure. I know I’ve got to pitch well, and I’ve got to earn it.’’
He seems to be handling the past few weeks well, but he first had to get past the disappointment of being demoted.
It wasn’t only his mechanics that were out of synch. Bard said he had difficulty getting in the right mind-set as a starter, especially in the early innings.
“Nobody on in the first inning, the times when I would have to create my own adrenaline, were tough for me,’’ Bard said. “The focus, the adrenaline for me comes in late-game situations, that forces me to focus.’’
“It’s a feeling,’’ Bard said of his comfort as a reliever. “There’s not much more to it than that. It’s where I’m comfortable, with what a lot of pitchers consider uncomfortable situations - the added pressure in late innings, small leads, guys on base. I feel like that’s when I’m at my best.’’