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Daniel Bard talks becoming a starter, Jonathan Papelbon and what the future holds

12.20.11 at 8:19 pm ET
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Daniel Bard

Speaking for the first time since the end of the 2011 season, Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard appeared on “The Bradford Files” podcast with Rob Bradford (click here to listen) to touch on a variety of subjects, including the transformation he is making in regards to becoming a starting pitcher.

“I think it would be a great personal challenge,” Bard said of starting. “I think it’s something that I truly believe I can do. I think I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t want it. Either one’s technically a promotion for me, if you want to look at it that way. And I don’t think anyone’s not looking to get promoted within their job. Like I said, either one I’m more than happy to do. And if it means going back to doing the the role I’ve been doing, that may happen, too, which is fine.

“I wanted to let them know, I tried to make it as clear I could to Ben [Cherington] and Bobby [Valentine], that I had no reservations about going into the rotation and I was 100 percent willing and ready to take on that challenge. I didn’t want Ben to be worried about my mindset going into it. I had to make that very clear, I think, just so they wouldn’t hesitate.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation.

On how the offseason has unfolded: “It’s been weird. It’s almost like I’m watching the whole thing happen as an outsider’s point of view. I’ll hear things and then talk to somebody and then hear something totally different. But pretty much the way it went was, within probably two weeks after the season ended, I spoke to Ben, and I think it was pretty shortly after he had gotten the job, maybe right after. For whatever reason, I was pretty confident we were going to re-sign [Jonathan Papelbon]. As good a year as he had, I kind of thought he maybe wanted to come back. That’s the vibe I kind of got from him, actually. I gave it at least a 50-50 chance that he was going to come back and I’d be pitching probably in the same role as I have been.

“So, I told Ben when I heard that [John] Lackey was having surgery and [Tim Wakefield]‘s a free agent that I saw two openings in the starting rotation. For the last two years, I hadn’t said it much, but in my own head, just watching the guys in this league that had a lot of success in a starting role, I just felt like I could do that. I’ve got as good or better raw stuff than them. I try to keep myself in good shape. I felt like everything I had pointed to that I could have success in that role.

“So, I told Ben that, and then when Pap signed with the Phillies, it wasn’t maybe a week or two after that, I kind of figured that whole starter thing would kind of subside and they may forget it even happened. I just figured once Pap was gone they wouldn’t be taking me out of the ‘pen as well. But it turns out they feel pretty strongly about me trying to become a starter, and I do, too. And as of right now, that’s how it stays.”

On the decision to make him a starter: “Obviously, they look at it and say, now that Pap’s gone, what are our options at closer? And I was probably part of that discussion as well as free agents and [Alfredo] Aceves and whoever else you want to throw in there. But I think that they had kind of in their minds said, hey, we’re going to make Bard a starter, and we’re going to stick with it. … A lot of things are subject to change, but as of now I’m going in preparing to start this year.”

On if he currently views himself as a starter: “Yeah, I think I have to. I feel like it would be really easy for me to go back to [closing]. To me, in my mind, there’s not a huge difference between the role I was pitching in and closing. You’re not asking me to anything a while lot different in that. When it comes to starting, it is a different mindset. Just for me, it’s not something I’ve done in a while. But I’ve said in the past, I see myself as a pitcher and I’m not going to drastically alter the way I throw or the way I pitch or anything. There’ll be a few things that need to change maybe a little bit just in my preparation. But I just think it’s a lot easier to go and become a starter and if we have to go back to the bullpen then make that move rather than vice versa.”

On if he is better prepared to be a starter than five years ago: “For sure. A lot of it is confidence. Confidence and command, I think. I’m no Greg Maddux now, but coming out of college I was pretty raw. I could throw a hard fastball and a slider, but that was about it. I really didn’t have a great feel for how to pitch, how to approach hitters. I pretty much lived off a good fastball and just pitching inside a ton. I think when I combined a bunch of things — injuries, weird mechanics and a lack of confidence that first year — it had nothing to do with the fact that I was starting. I think I’ve told this story a thousand times, I just wasn’t mentally or physically ready to pitch in pro baseball. It took me a year to adjust.”

On what changes in offseason preparations he will have to make: “Not much different. There may be just a little more cardio going leading up to spring training. The stuff I’m doing right now hasn’t changed at all. With throwing, typically I don’t even throw a bullpen until I get down to Florida. I’ll throw some flat ground stuff like that, 85 percent, 90 percent to a catcher. But I don’t really cut it loose until I get down to Florida. SO, I may throw another bullpen or two. I’m going to talk to our pitching coach whenever we get one and try to set up a little bit of a program for January.”

On developing his slider: “Yeah, I would say so. I have confidence in it. There’s been stretches where I can throw it for a strike and throw it to both sides of the plate as much as my fastball. Yeah, it’s come a long way.”

On working on his curve and changeup and which is further along: “I wouldn’t put one ahead of the other. I need the changeup to get lefties out. When it’s really good I feel like I can throw it to righties, too. I need both of those pitches, I think, to succeed in either role.

On if he threw the changeup more this year than in past seasons: “I know it was more than my first year, but I think I’ve thrown it about the same the last two years. I think my numbers against lefties have been a lot better than they were that first year and probably even in the minor leagues.”

On the dynamic of game-planning against a lineup: “It’s just something that’s probably the biggest adjustment besides the physical aspect — figuring out how to work hitters and take on some of these great hitters in the American League East. I’m going to be facing them 15-20 times in a year, which is a lot. I think the most I would face a guy in previous years is maybe eight or nine, and that would be a lot. There’ll be a lot more pitching to the scouting reports, I think.

“There were times out of the bullpen, when in doubt you just go to your strength. It doesn’t always work, but you can do that a lot more out of the bullpen than as a starter. I’m still going to pitch to my strengths, but you can just see by the amount of time starters put in pouring over the scouting reports compared to relievers it’s just a little adjustment I’ll have to make, probably.”

On what MLB starters he would compare himself to: “I hadn’t thought of anyone in particular. Off the top of my head, looking at our team, I could watch the way Josh [Beckett] pitches; we have kind of a similar repertoire, I think. Brandon Morrow, with the Blue Jays, maybe similar repertoire to him. That’s going to be the step that I’m going to have to make, just figuring out — if I can watch those guys’ video, how they face a team, and kind of learn from it, good or bad. It’s something I’m going to have to get better at.”

On if 2011 was his best season: “I would say so. Without that Opening Day collapse — I gave up like four [runs] on Opening Day — I think that basically the first five months of the year is the best I’ve ever pitched. September kind of ruined it all, but I’m not worried about it. I’m always focused on the bigger picture. I think the smarter fans out there and I know our coaches and our front office are definitely big-picture thinkers. That’s the way I see it.

“Like I said, looking at things like — not necessarily ERA or my record, which I think are on the surface — but if you look at my WHIP or my strikeout-to-walk and stuff like that, I feel like those are things that I can control as a reliever. Sometimes you’re going to pitch well and give up runs. That’s just part of it.”

On his late-season struggles: “I examined it in the weeks after it happened. In Toronto I had that one outing where I think I had bases loaded, no outs, struck out the next two guys, then had two strikes on the next guy and I think he fouled off about six pitches, worked it to a full count and I ended up walking him and giving up another cheap single. And then they pulled me and the guy after me came in and the bases were cleared. I think I got five earned runs. But I look back at that and I’m like, man, I didn’t throw the ball that poorly. They put together unbelievable at-bats, some ground balls found some holes and I gave up five runs. I look at it that way.

“So, I go out the next time, I think it was the very next night, same deal, I think one- or two-run lead. You have an outing like that the day before and you put that little bit of added pressure on yourself trying to force things to happen, trying to force a good outing rather than trusting your stuff, pitching to contact. I think that’s what happened. I tried to be a little too perfect after having that bad one. And sure enough, when you try to be a little bit too perfect, bad things happen. I think I walked a couple more the next day, trying to make perfect pitches on the corners. It just kind of snowballed for about a week there before I was able to catch my breath and slow things down a little and just go back to trusting my stuff.”

On what he has learned from Papelbon: “I think he’s literally, once the phone rings and it’s a save opportunity or it’s his turn to pitch, he is the same person warming up every time. It doesn’t matter if he’s sore, if he blew a save the a night before, if he’s on a 10-game run where he hasn’t given up a run, it doesn’t matter. He’s the same guy once that phone rings. He might do some different things between the outings, but the guy knows how to get himself ready to pitch, as good as anyone I’ve seen. You just don’t see any change from outing to outing. Yeah, the results change, but as a pitcher and his mindset, it was unbelievable how consistent that was for him.”

On how he found out Papelbon had signed with the Phillies: “I was on a golf course in South Carolina, playing golf with some college buddies of mine. I read it — somebody texted me or something, asked me if I had see it, and I figured it out from there. It was weird, a guy I had played with for three years and probably worked with — we were the only two guys out in that bullpen that were there from the day I got called up until the end of the season. So, it was definitely kind of a weird feeling that he actually had signed somewhere else.”

On the team’s September collapse: “The run of events that led to us blowing that nine-game lead or whatever we had was so just unbelievable. If you plug it into computers it wouldn’t happen again in a million years, with how good our team was statistically. We didn’t get a hit whenever we needed to, we never made a pitch when we needed to, and it was just every night, every night. Calls from the umpire seemed to rarely go our way. It was one thing after another, two or three things a night for that last two weeks, it seemed like.

“That’s part of the game. Baseball’s a weird game like that. But at the same time, if you get caught up in that and you start worrying about — literally, most of that stuff is stuff you can’t control. Yeah, we could have made some better pitches, but we were making those same pitches two months ago and they were getting mis-hits and guys were swinging and missing. Now, they’re running into them or they’re taking that borderline 3-2 pitch and they’re walking instead of striking out.

“Just so many weird things happened that you can’t over-analyze it. We had a great team. I think I saw Jim Leyland said something — I saw it recently — that we were the best team they played last year, hands down. I think we played them in July or something. We were hot then. It just shows how good we were. People are going to forget it because of how bad we were at the end. But we’re still a really good team, and hopefully this coming year we can prove that.”

On how the team felt during the rain delay in the last game: “Really good until about the last five minutes. We sat there for like an hour and a half, and then they come in and make the announcement: Game’s starting in 20 minutes. So, guys are putting their jerseys back on and grabbing their gloves. We had the other game on [TV]. Sure enough, I guess they blew a save, the Yankees blew the save with like five minutes until our game was starting. And everyone just kind of exhaled, like sighed, and we’re like, well, let’s go do our part.

“I think we were up, I don’t know how many runs [3-2]. We were up at the time with a couple of innings to play. We were like, all right, let’s go do this, let’s do our part. If we have to go to Tampa to play that extra game, that’s fine. We’ll control what we can control. But I think it probably would have been better if we had never seen it, but you can’t turn the TVs off in the clubhouse. That’s just not how it works.”

On the possibility of Aceves becoming the Red Sox closer: “Yeah. He might cause a few heart attacks just because of the way he goes about it, he’s just a windup every night. But he could do it. He’s got amazing stuff. I think his stuff is very underrated. He throws six pitches. At times he throws them all for strikes. He wants to win. He could do it. I don’t know what it would look like, but he could do it.”

Read More: alfredo aceves, ben cherington, Daniel Bard, Jonathan Papelbon
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