FORT MYERS, Fla. — In his previous spring trainings, few would have taken notice of Daniel Bard throwing live batting practice for the first time. But on Saturday, when the righthander took the mound on Field 3, a large crowd gathered.
Manager John Farrell was watching, as were several members of the baseball operations staff, general manager Ben Cherington among them. Television cameras were on hand, too.
Once a premier relief pitcher, Bard became a starter last season and quickly regressed. His velocity fell off sharply and then his control vanished. So alarming were the results that he was sent to Triple A Pawtucket for three months.
Bard is now back in the bullpen and has been throwing well since arriving in camp. On Saturday, with minor leaguers Jeremy Hazelbaker and Jonathan Diaz at the plate, Bard needed a few pitches before he started to consistently throw strikes with some zip. It was a productive session, another step.
“Felt good,” Bard said. “Just trying to work the kinks out. Once I settled in, I felt fine.
“The focus was just being in the strike zone as much as possible, trying to be down with everything. The second half I was pretty pleased with. I felt like I accomplished most of those goals.”
The Red Sox have told Bard not to make every trip to the mound a trial.
“One of the things we’ve talked to Daniel about is let’s not make this a story every day,” Cherington said. “He’s a healthy pitcher getting ready for the season. Understand what happened last year, that he’s of interest. But there’s a lot of other guys like him just trying to get ready for the season and he’s back in a role that should be comfortable for him. I think he feels like every day feels a little better.”
Farrell downplayed the importance of the session.
“Just getting consistent with his timing,” he said. “He had a good feel for his secondary pitches. Again, it’s just BP. I don’t want to overanalyze it too much.”
Cherington was asked whether the pending free agency of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury could become a distraction
“I really don’t see it as a distraction at all,” said the GM. “He’s a very routine-oriented and regimented player who takes care of himself, has always done that. Obviously talented, knows what he needs to do to get ready for a season. And he’s got a lot to play for.
“He’s missed time in two of the last three seasons because of traumatic on-field injuries. You can’t fault him for that. Obviously, we know how good he was when he was healthy in 2011. I just think he’s really excited to feel good, motivated to play this year. I don’t think he’s distracted at all.”
No deal for Reinold
The Red Sox fired physical therapist Mike Reinold after last season, but were considering keeping him on as a consultant. Ultimately, that did not happen.
“There’s no current agreement,” Cherington said. “It’s something that we talked about. We’ll see if that makes sense.”
Reinold’s ouster was one of many changes the Sox have made in their medical staff since the end of the 2011 season.
“We really had a two-year process of reorganizing the medical staff,” said Cherington. “This offseason was Year 2 of two years. It was all done with the intent of putting not just the most talented group together, but a group that would work together seamlessly and put the players first and earn the players’ trust and develop credibility with the players.”
Cherington on lefthander Felix Doubront, who reported to camp a little overweight: “It’s important for a starting pitcher to do what they have to do to give themselves a chance to take the ball 30 times. Felix knows that. It’s something we’ve talked to him over time about, not just this spring but over the years. He understands that. When he’s with us and we’ve asked him to do stuff, he always does it and does it with high intensity.” Cherington said Doubront has time to get himself prepared before the season . . . The Sox plan to start the season with 12 pitchers, believing an extra reliever is not needed. That will make sorting out the bullpen a little more difficult. “I think if we’re healthy as spring progresses and guys are doing what they’re capable of doing, we’ll have hopefully some good decisions to have to make at the end of the spring,” said Cherington. “If that’s the case and we have some good, tough decisions, then great.”