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Closing Time: Red Sox, Clay Buchholz take another step forward against Blue Jays 06.01.12 at 10:07 pm ET
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Clay Buchholz might have finally found his groove.

One game after turning his best start of the season, Buchholz uncovered one better. The righty allowed just two solo home runs over eight innings on the way to earning the win in the Red Sox‘ 7-2 win over the Blue Jays Friday night at Rogers Centre. Over his last two starts, Buchholz — who threw 71 of his 108 pitches for strikes — has given up four runs over 15 innings. He also becomes the first pitcher ever to win six straight road starts against the Blue Jays.

The victory draws the Red Sox even with the Jays at 27-25, with both teams sitting three games behind first-place Tampa Bay.

Taking the loss for the Blue Jays was starter Henderson Alvarez, who had come into the game having allowed just one run in 12 innings pitched against the Red Sox. This time the Toronto righty gave up four runs on eight hits over 6 1/3 innings.

Here is what went right (and wrong) for the Red Sox’ victory:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– Buchholz’ stuff was electric for much of the night, with a fastball sitting at 94-95 mph, along with a much-improved changeup. The stuff translated into a season-high seven strikeouts, three of which came when he struck out the side in the sixth. Buchholz got Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista to fan three times.

– Daniel Nava continued to impress, notching four more hits (three doubles) to improve his batting average to .314. Nava also scored three times, while making it 5-1 with a fifth inning, run-scoring two-bagger. Adrian Gonzalez was the other member of the Red Sox’ lineup to come away with at least three hits, which included two RBI singles. For Gonzalez, it was his fifth three-hit came of the season.

David Ortiz might not want to be in the Home Run Derby this season, but he sure doesn’t act like it. The Red Sox’ DH hit another homer, this one a solo shot that led off the second inning and gave the visitors a 1-0 lead. It was Ortiz’ 13th of the season. The designated hitter added one more RBI before the night was over, singling in Gonzalez for the Sox’ final run, in the seventh. The run-scoring blast to left came against Toronto lefty Luis Perez, who had allowed just four hits in 39 at-bats to left-handed hitters coming into the contest.

– The Red Sox finished the night going 4-for-9 with runners in scoring position, highlighting the performance with a four-run seventh inning.

– For the first time this season, the opposition put a shift on Will Middlebrooks. For his first three at-bats, it paid off for the Blue Jays, with the rookie grounding out to the left side in each of his trips. But in the fourth at-bat, Middlebrooks took the ball the other way, rifling a single into right-center field to up his batting average to .313.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– The first home run allowed by Buchholz — coming off the bat of Yunel Escobar in the third inning, was a very poorly placed changeup, finding the heart of the strike zone. Escobar clearly felt good about his third homer of the season, taking a very long time to round the bases.

– After Alvarez was shaken up via a Mike Aviles grounder off the pitcher’s shin, which brought out the Blue Jays’ trainers and manager John Farrell, the Red Sox couldn’t taken advantage of a clearly distracted pitcher. The Sox chose to try and take advantage of Alvarez’ uneasiness by calling for a hit-and-run with Nick Punto instead of testing the hurler’s wheels with a bunt. The result was a 4-6-3 double play on the first pitcher Punto saw.

It was a walk to the mound to remember (unless you’re Jon Lester) 05.31.12 at 1:19 am ET
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It was an unusual sight ‘€“ that of Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine coming to the mound in the seventh inning, with a runner on second base, one out and his team leading by a run. In what turned out to be a 6-4 win for the Sox over the Tigers, that wasn’€™t the unusual part.

What raised eyebrows was when Valentine left the field without taking out starter Jon Lester.

Lester was sitting at 116 pitches and had Detroit lefty Quintin Berry coming up with the potential game-tying run standing at second in the form of Gerald Laird.

‘€œI don’€™t know. I don’€™t hear half the stuff that goes on out there,’€ said Lester when asked what Valentine told him before leaving the mound. ‘€œAll I know is he came out there, didn’€™t take the ball and walked back to the dugout. I’€™m so attunded to what’€™s going on that I usually don’€™t hear what’€™s being said. I think a lot of pitchers are like that.’€

It was unorthodox, but it worked.

Lester would strikeout Berry on four pitches before finally being replaced by reliever Matt Albers. It allowed the starter to finish his night on a positive note, an important accomplishment considering he the bumps he had to overcome on the way to completing a fairly solid outing.

There was one run in the first inning, and two more in the third. Through four innings, Lester had already thrown 74 pitches.

But, when it was all said and done, he had seemingly figured some things out.

‘€œJon Lester gave up those runs early, but I thought he had the best stuff of the year tonight,’€ said Valentine of his starter, who finished his 6 2/3-inning outing giving up four runs, striking out seven and not walking a batter.

‘€œIt’€™s getting frustrating to have good stuff and get whacked around a little bit. But that being said, more importantly, try to go deep in the game,’€ Lester said. ‘€œGuys gave me a chance to win, which is all you can ask for.’€

Closing Time: Adrian Gonzalez, home runs propel Red Sox to another win 05.30.12 at 10:15 pm ET
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Adrian Gonzalez came through when it counted the most in the Red Sox‘ 6-4 win over the Tigers Wednesday night at Fenway Park.

One half inning after allowing the Tigers to score the game-tying run when he couldn’t haul in Miguel Cabrera’s pop up down the right field line in the seventh inning, Gonzalez brought in the game-winner with a ground rule double into the right field corner with two outs in the seventh. The RBI, which was his second double of the game, brought in Daniel Nava, who had worked a two-out walk.

Also helping the cause were two-run homers in the fourth inning by David Ortiz and Will Middlebrooks, along with Kevin Youkilis‘ solo shot in the eighth inning.

Here is what went right (and wrong) for the Red Sox, who now find themselves at two games over .500 and just 2 1/2 games out of first-place:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– Ortiz continued his torrid stretch, launching a two-run homer in the fourth inning — his 12th of the season — and a wall-ball single in the sixth. The two hits raised the designated hitter’s batting average to .324. It was Ortiz’ sixth homer of the season against a left-hander, which is more than he has had in all but four of the slugger’s 15 seasons.

– The other Red Sox player to homer, Middlebrooks, capped a four-run, fourth inning with his sixth of the season. The ball just cleared the left field wall and plated Kevin Youkilis.

– After Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine praised Daniel Nava’s arm prior to the game, the left fielder showed his stuff in the seventh inning. Nava gathered in Alex Avila’s line-drive off the left field wall and threw to second baseman Nick Punto, who applied a quick tag for the first out of the inning.

– Valentine made a somewhat unorthodox move by visiting the mound with one out in the seventh inning and the tying run at second base, seemingly intent on taking out Lester. But after a brief conversation the manager decided to leave in the lefty, who proceeded to strikeout Quinton Berry before giving way to reliever Matt Albers.

Jon Lester rebounded from a rocky start to turn in a fairly solid outing, allowing four runs on 10 hits over 6 2/3 innings, striking out seven and not walking a batter. The lefty had to dig himself out of a 3-0 hole after the first three innings. It was the first time in 31 starts that Lester had surrendered at least 10 hits.

– After some suspect plays in center field — allowing balls to hit on the warning track, resulting in Detroit hits — Marlon Byrd made the play of the game when he dove head-first to catch Gerald Laird’s sinking liner to end the Tigers’ half of the eighth.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– Adrian Gonzalez was left in the right field in the seventh inning with the Red Sox and it backfired a bit. With two outs and runners on first and second, Miguel Cabrera lobbed a high fly ball down the right field line which was just out of the range of second baseman Nick Punto, forcing Gonzalez to attempt a sliding catch, which he couldn’t quite execute. The result was the game-tying run, as Gerald Laird scored from second.

Could (and should) Scott Atchison carve out another All-Star Game story? 05.29.12 at 9:59 am ET
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Scott Atchison knows All-Star Games.

The Red Sox reliever last appeared in one during the 2004 season, representing the Tacoma Rainiers in the 2004 Triple-A All-Star Game in Pawtucket. It was a game in which Atchison certainly left his mark, as he explains …

“We’€™re losing and I haven’€™t pitched. I’€™m thinking, ‘€˜Great, I flew all the way across the country to Pawtucket and I’€™m not going to play, this is great,’€™” he remembered. “We tie the game. I throw the ninth, 1-2-3. I go out for the bottom of the 10th, I get two outs really quick, nobody is on, and they make an announcement if there is no runs scored this inning this game is going to end in a tie. I was the last pitcher. So the whole place is booing. Two pitches in, whack! Pretty good pitch but [then-Yankees prospect Andy Phillips] hits the homer. The place went nuts. I think the big story was that this would be the only time Red Sox fans applaud a Yankee prospect. That was the last one I pitched in. I made all the fans in Pawtucket happy.”

Eight years later, Atchison has a shot — albeit an outside one — to get a second chance.

With six weeks left until the All-Star Game in Kansas City, Atchison has entered the conversation regarding finding a way on to the American League roster. He leads the AL in innings among all relievers (29), while totaling an 0.93 ERA and .194 batting average against.

The ERA is fourth-best among AL relievers with at least 16 innings pitched, with the Angels’ Scott Downs, Baltimore’s Jim Johnson and Ryan Cook of the A’s the only relief pitchers in front of him. It should be noted than when comparing the pitchers to Atchison, Downs has 13 fewer innings, Johnson is a closer and Cook has eight more walks in fiver fewer innings.

So, a case could be made.

“It’€™s early and I haven’€™t seen too many middle men make All-Star teams,” said Atchison, who has gone 12 straight appearances without giving up a run after his two-inning scoreless stint against the Tigers Monday. “Honestly, I’€™m just trying to do my thing. If something like that was to happen, great. But I can’€™t worry about that stuff. I just worry about going out and throwing zeroes.”

The reality is that middle relievers make fewer All-Star Games than any other position, with nods usually going to starters and closers, and then maybe set-up men. A pitcher like Daniel Bard, who has had first halves in which he dominated his role as set-up man, couldn’t even crack the group. And, last season, it took a first half of pitching 38 innings, giving up five earned runs (1.27 ERA) for Yankees’ reliever Dave Robertson to make the All-Star Game.

“I wish more made it,” Atchison said. “Somebody like Bard, how does that guy not make the All-Star Game? He was leading the league in holds, appearances, stuff like that. That’€™s a valuable role. Without a guy like him we’€™re in trouble. I wish more guys like that would get recognition in an All-Star Game instead of just starters and closers. Not to take anything away from closers or starters, you have to have those guys, but teams that don’€™t have that guy that can get from the starter to the closer then their not winning ballgames and the closer isn’€™t racking up saves. I think that they should get a little bit more respect than they do.

“Every once in a while you’€™re like, ‘€˜That guy should be there.’€™ I know it’€™s a unique position, and maybe it doesn’€™t get the recognition sometimes, but I think maybe sometimes I wish it did.”

If the selections were made today, should Scott Atchison make the American League All-Star Team?

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Adrian Gonzalez, Will Middlebrooks explain two pivotal defensive plays 05.27.12 at 6:53 pm ET
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While most will remember the Rays’€™ last two runs in their 4-3 win over the Red Sox Sunday’€“ coming on Sean Rodriguez’€™ ninth-inning, two-run homer ‘€“ Tampa Bay’€™s first two scores also offered some intrigue.

As it turned out, each of the Rays’€™ initial runs were made possible by defensive plays from the Red Sox that offered some good and some bad.

The first run percolated when Adrian Gonzalez got his initial taste of tracking down a ball in right field at Fenway Park, as Gonzalez was forced to chase down Matt Joyce‘€™s line-drive down the right field line.

The first baseman-turned-outfielder adeptly gathered in the ball deep in the right field corner, but then proceeded to throw errantly to the cut-off man, Dustin Pedroia, allowing Joyce to take third. One batter later, Ben Zobrist had driven in Joyce with the game’€™s first run on a ground out to second.

‘€œI was kind of playing the line a little bit so when he hit it my first instinct was to go back to that spot where I had worked on getting to and waiting from there,’€ Gonzalez explained. ‘€œBut when I saw the way it was going, I chose to go to the line and play it off that first bounce. It was a good decision. I just grabbed it and threw it in and the ball just kind of sailed it a little bit, cut away from Pedey. It was one of those where, it has happened me to in the past, where the ball starts in one position so you get your feet set a little bit and the ball kind of glides away from you so it’€™s hard to get going again to go after it. It just went off the tip of his glove.

‘€œThat one you’€™re basically throwing to an area. You pick up the cut-off man but you know the runner is thinking three. So if I grab and take a look at my target, set my feet, make a good throw to Pedey, it might give him a couple of steps. In my mind I had to grab it and throw it in, so I did. Unfortunately because of where I was I threw it across my body and that’€™s what made it cut. It wasn’€™t a horrible throw, but it cut enough away from him that it went off the tip of his glove.’€

The Rays’€™ second run came in the seventh inning, with Will Rhymes plating Sean Rodriguez from second with a two-out single.

The batter before Rhymes, Drew Sutton, almost ended the inning, however, when he lined a smash down the third base line, which was snagged by a diving Will Middlebrooks. But the Sox’€™ third baseman didn’€™t pull the trigger in throwing to second and potentially doubling up Rodriguez.

It was a play that was made difficult due to Rodriguez being in the base line, and the fact that Pedroia hadn’€™t been able to get to the bag right away.

‘€œWe were playing to pull so Pedey was all the way in the four-hole and Rodriguez was right in line with me at second base, so I would have go over him,’€ Middlebrooks said. ‘€œWill Rhymes was coming up, not a big threat, so I didn’€™t want to make a bad throw and have him score or be on third base. It just didn’€™t work out because he got a hit.

‘€œIt would have been a hell of a play to double him off. I was kicking myself for it because I felt like we could have done it, but I just didn’€™t take the chance. ‘€œ

Closing Time: Alfredo Aceves, Red Sox give it up in the ninth, fail to go over .500 05.27.12 at 5:01 pm ET
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Alfredo Aceves allowed a ninth-inning, two-run home run to Sean Rodriguez, handing the Rays a 4-3 win over the Red Sox in the teams’ series finale, Sunday at Fenway Park. The homer, which came with one out and on a 3-1 pitch, snapped Aceves’ streak of nine successful saves in as many opportunities.

With the loss the Red Sox fail to go over .500, having now had five chances this season to do so.

Before the ninth-inning homer, Adrian Gonzalez had supplied the game’s most notable heroics, nestling a fly ball just over the left field wall and to the right of the foul pole for a three-run homer in the seventh inning.

The Red Sox are now 0-5 in opportunities to go over .500.

The Gonzalez home run (his fourth of the season) came off of Tampa Bay starter Jeremy Hellickson, who up until the seventh had dominated the Red Sox. But after walking David Ortiz and allowing a single to Kevin Youkilis to start the frame, the righty allowed Gonzalez to lift a low and outside changeup over the wall.

Here is what went right (and wrong) in the Sox’ win:

WHAT WENT WRONG

– Gonzalez’ foray into playing right field at Fenway Park took a turn for the worse in the fourth inning. With one out and the game scoreless, Matt Joyce sent a line-drive into the right field corner. A cautious Gonzalez scooped up the ball, but then proceeded to throw it over the head of cut-off man Dustin Pedroia, allowing Joyce to advance to third. The Tampa Bay baserunner would score the game’s first run when Ben Zobrist grounded out on the next at-bat.

– The Red Sox had some difficulty solve Hellickson, who had held the Sox to just one run over six innings in his last start against Boston. In seven starts against the Red Sox, Hellickson has allowed more than three runs just once. This time the righty gave up three runs on six hits over seven innings.

Dustin Pedroia attempted to stretch his first-inning line-drive into left field into a double, but the second baseman wasn’t able to avoid the tag of Will Rhymes. The play was vehemently argued by Pedroia and Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who both claimed Rhymes had missed the tag. Pedroia would argue with second base umpire Mark Carlson again in the seventh inning after Sean Rodriguez was ruled safe after sliding around a tag. Rodriguez was attempting to reach second on a ball high off the left field wall with one out in the frame.

– In the seventh inning, with Rodriguez on second base and one out, third baseman Will Middlebrooks made a diving stop of a Drew Sutton line-drive but didn’t pull the trigger in throwing to second for a potential double play. Pedroia wasn’t yet at the bag, but the second baseman seemed to be agitated that a throw wasn’t made, assuming he would get to the base in time to double off Rodriguez. As it turned out, the next batter, Will Rhymes singled in Rodriguez for the game’s second run.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Clay Buchholz turned in his best outing of the season, by far. The Red Sox starter allowed two runs on eight hits, striking six and walking one. Buchholz saw his ERA drop to 7.19.

– Youkilis managed two more hits, with the infielder now having hit in four of his five games since returning from the disabled list. Also coming away with a pair of hits was Scott Posednik, whose average with the Red Sox stands at .455.

Nick Punto knows bench-clearing altercations (thanks to Izzy Alcantara) 05.27.12 at 2:25 pm ET
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When asked what the best bench-clearing altercation Nick Punto had ever been in, the answer was quickly delivered. When you were part of one of the most memorable on-field conflicts in recent baseball memory — as was the case with Punto — there aren’t a whole lot of close seconds.

Punto’s answer, of course, was reminiscing about playing shortstop for Scranton-Wilkes Barre when then-Pawtucket outfielder Izzy Alcantara made history on July 3, 2001. After  being buzzed by Red Barons’ pitcher Blas Cedeno for a second straight time, Alcantara delivered a kick to catcher Jeremy Salazar before rushing the mound.

Punto remembered immediately rushing in to the fray at the pitcher’s mound, although he had to do so with just one shoe, as one of his cleats slipped off when making the move to the middle of the diamond.

Look closely at the video and you might be able to make out Punto:

Josh Beckett offered another not-so-subtle reminder 05.27.12 at 7:57 am ET
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Josh Beckett was surprised by the question ‘€¦

‘€œAre you pleased that you’€™ve pitched so well in your last three starts?’€

‘€œHow many bad starts did I have in a row? One. How many bad ones in a row did I have? One,’€ Beckett responded after the Red Sox‘€™ 3-2 win over the Rays Saturday night. ‘€œYou can’€™t have one bad start in a row? [Expletive] tough crowd, huh? I feel good. I lived down in the zone today and it worked out.’€

He had a point.

After turning a seven-inning outing against Tampa Bay in which he allowed two runs, Beckett’€™s ERA over his last three starts has been 1.25, having struck out 19 and walked four.

In nine starts this season, Beckett has had two in which he has allowed more than three runs.

In fact, since the beginning of the 2011 season, among American League East starters, only Tampa Bay’€™s Jeremy Hellickson (34) and Toronto’€™s Ricky Romero (32) have managed to pitch in more games while giving up three or fewer runs.

Beckett has allowed three or less 31 times, tying the Rays’€™ James Shields and eclipsing CC Sabathia of the Yankees (29).

Of Beckett’€™s 39 starts over the past two seasons, take away the last two in Baltimore in ‘€™11 and his two worst this season and the righty’€™s ERA stands at 2.43.

Also of note is Beckett’€™s success against the Rays since the beginning of ‘€™11, having totaled a 1.18 ERA in five starts, striking out 25 and walking two.

‘€œHe started off throwing that curveball to strike out [Carlos] Pena to start the game. That was in the back of their minds most of the game,’€ said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine of his pitcher’€™s latest outing. ‘€œHe threw some other good curveballs during the game. He got another strikeout with it later. His ball was moving in and out. It had really good location. Very good competitiveness. He was willing a lot of those outs. He looks great out on the mound right now.’€

The reason why Bobby Valentine took Adrian Gonzalez out in the sixth inning 05.26.12 at 11:49 pm ET
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After the Red Sox‘ 3-2 win over the Rays Saturday night, it was one of the moves that was going to be scrutinized. It did, after all, seem like an unorthodox decision at the time ‘€¦

The Red Sox and Rays locked in a scoreless tie in the sixth inning, runners at first and second after an Adrian Gonzalez single. Two outs and David Ortiz representing the go-ahead run at second base with Will Middlebrooks at the plate.

It was then Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine chose to pinch-run for Gonzalez, who was starting in his first game as a Fenway Park right fielder. Che-Hsuan Lin ‘€“ the defensively-gifted outfielder with a not-ready-for-primetime offensive game ‘€“ was called upon to represent the go-ahead run.

Ortiz would score on a Middlebrooks’€™ single, but Lin was ultimately stranded at third and eventually would be pinch-hit for in the eighth inning by Scott Posednik (who popped out).

So why was the move made? According to the manager, it was all about defense.

‘€œNothing wrong with Adrian,’€ explained Valentine. ‘€œHe just hit a 97-mile-an-hour fastball to left-center field. I thought it was going to be a one-run game. I didn’€™t want that one run to happen to be a run that fell somewhere that he wasn’€™t going to get to. I could play three-run games in that scenario. Because [Kevin Youkilis] comes up one time before him, I decided to go that way and keep Youk in.

Valentine added, ‘€œ[Gonzalez] knows it’€™s a possibility. He’€™s not happy with it. It’€™s a total roll of the dice. We’€™re playing the whole game wondering what we have there. I’€™m confident, but I don’€™t want to learn the hard way. The hard way is always with a loss. Like we always say, you don’€™t know if they’€™re going to hit it to him, but you always know he’€™s going to get up. He says, ‘€˜Yeah, that at-bat in the ninth is probably going to be a big one.’€™ I said, ‘€˜It’€™s probably going to be in the eighth, and you’€™re right. I hope we don’€™t need it. I hope we win 1-0.’€™ As it turned out, it was 2-1 when his at-bat came up.’€

It was a move that Gonzalez certainly wasn’€™t expecting.

“Yeah, I was,’€ said Gonzalez when asked if he was surprised. ‘€œBut he’s the boss. He takes me out ‘€“’€“ I got to come out.”

Debunking myths about Daniel Bard’s velocity 05.24.12 at 4:13 pm ET
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It is every pitcher’s least favorite topic when analyzing performance: a drop of velocity.

But Thursday morning, while attending an event to celebrate the launch of Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary commemorative album at the Hard Rock Cafe, Daniel Bard took some time to elaborate on one of the chief discussion points hovering around the Red Sox these days — the perceived disappearance of the pitcher’s calling card velocity.

For the season, Bard’s fastball is averaging 93 mph, four mph less than a year ago. But where the concern lies is the inability to amp his max velocity to even where it was at the beginning of the 2012 season, having maxed out at 94 mph Sunday afternoon in Baltimore.

So why is the case? Bard admits to be looking for answers. But in the meantime he offers some explanations, debunking some myths surrounding the topic:

THERE ARE TIMES HE IS ACTUALLY TRYING TO HIT 100 MPH

The perception is that while there an acceptance the velocity is going to drop while living the life of a starter, he should at least be able to revisit his flame-throwing glory days on occasion. So why hasn’t that been the case?

An example of when Bard was able to rear back and find that extra something came during the seventh inning of his May 8 start in Kansas City he fanned Brayan Pena on a 96 mph fastball, stranding runners on first and third while preserving a one-run lead. It was the last time the righty has touched 96 mph.

“That’€™s a good sign that it’€™s still there,” he said of the Pena at-bat. “But there is no reason I can’€™ t do that — and not necessarily sit at that velocity, but once an at-bat — there’€™s no reason I shouldn’€™t be able to reach back for it. That’€™s kind of what we’€™re trying to figure out, what I’€™m doing mechanically differently that’€™s not allowing me to get up there. I’€™ll reach back 5-10 a game, trying to max it out. I’€™m just fighting myself mechanically right now.”

IT’S NOT LIKE HE PHYSICALLY CAN’T DO IT ANYMORE

Go back to Bard’s first start of the season, on April 10 in Toronto, and you’ll find 11 pitches which he threw 96 mph or better. That appearance also marked the only time in ’12 he has touched 98 mph (on first-inning fastball to Jose Bautista).

In the seven subsequent starts, Bard has hit 96 mph a total of 11 times.

When looking for the answer to this drop-off, the first thing that should be explored is the pitcher’s health. That, Bard said, is not a problem.

“I’€™m not sure what the difference is, quite yet. I went through a period probably three or four starts in where I was getting pretty sore, pitching in that cold weather which always makes you a little more sore,” he explained. “But honestly my body has felt great for the last three or four starts. It’€™s not really an excuse anymore. The body feels good. The arm feels good. Now it’€™s just a matter of finding what works. But I feel better than I have all year.”

ARM SLOT HAS BECOME A MAJOR ISSUE

As Bard explains it, the angle in which he is throwing the baseball has offered a dilemma.

“From inning to inning, even as a reliever, you’€™re trying to find an arm slot you’€™re comfortable with,” he said. “Even if it’€™s not perfect in the long run, you can make it work for an inning. You can do that as a starter, too, but it’€™s harder to do that throughout a game which is why I’€™ve been battling to find a slot. I throw more strikes from a higher slot at 90 or 91, and then there’€™s a lower slot I throw harder at. That goal is the happy medium, where I can be 93 and 94 with good command. It’€™s happen at times this year it’€™s been either at 90 with good command, or 95 where no idea where it’€™s going.”

When Bard’s arm drops down, that’s when some of the wildness has made an appearance, with the pitches often times finding themselves sailing to the top of the strike zone. Of the 146 pitches he has thrown 94 mph or better this season, 53 percent have found the zone. In comparison, Washington’s Stephen Strasburg (who has thrown more 94 mph-or-better pitches than any pitcher in baseball), has hit the strike zone 57 percent of the time on his 233 96 mph-or-better offerings).

The Strasburg comparison is an interesting one due to the fact that he possesses the effortless delivery Bard has long been identified with, managing high velocity without altering mechanics. It’s a dynamic Bard is trying to rediscover.

“I’€™m trying to find that happy medium, I guess,” the Sox starter said.

RHYTHM MIGHT HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH IT

The adjustments in going from reliever to starter have offered Bard a long list. But one important piece of the equation is figuring out how to bottle what went right and hold on to it for five days instead of just one.

“For me pitching is a lot about rhythm and having a consistent rhythm throughout your delivery,” Bard said. “The last few years with Gary Tuck we’€™ve used the beat system. Like from the stretch I’€™m three beats, and from the windup I’€™m four beats. You just want everything to be consistent and smooth. It’€™s just a matter of maintaining that. Sometimes it’€™s a little off and you have to fight through it, which seems to be the case the last couple of starts.

“When you find it as a reliever you feel it good one night and whatever those mental cues were that got you locked in that night you can use them again in two nights and everything kind of carries through. You try and simulate that with side sessions, but it’€™s just not the same. There’€™s a lot more time to think, more time to analyze everything. It’€™s not the same and that’€™s what I’€™m learning. Trying to find that consistency from outing to outing ‘€“ the physical aspects and the mental aspects.”

WHEN LOWER VELOCITY CAN ACTUALLY WORK

On Bard’s 131 pitches between 90-92 mph, hitters are totaling a .250 batting average. Conversely, from 93 mph and up the average escalates to .276. Not a huge difference, but proof that he can get hitters out with good command and movement.

A big part of making the lower velocity fastball work so well is offering the hitter a more difficult look. As Bard explained it, the key is extension. It isn’t dissimilar to what made Jonathan Papelbon’s fastball appear to jump the last five feet for much of his Red Sox career.

“If I get good extension out front I could hit 91 but get a swing that looks like it’€™s 97,” Bard said. “A 91 mph fastball thrown from the ear, short-armed, with no extension is a lot easier to hit than one with extension that’€™s coming at you.”

It’s all part of the equation. Now it’s up to Bard to uncover the final answers.

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