Wakefield reunites with Bard
Veteran impressed with catcher's knack at receiving knuckler
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- This is what Josh Bard had to say the night of April 26, 2006, after committing four passed balls in a game at Cleveland with knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on the mound.
"I just missed 'em," Bard said. "[Wakefield] believes in me, I believe in me. We'll get through this."
Nearly three years later, Bard was finally reunited with Wakefield in game action. And the improvement that the catcher hoped for all that time ago was evident in a small sample size on Wednesday night, as Bard worked with Wakefield in an exhibition start against the Twins.
This time, there was a zero in the passed balls department, and that was somewhat impressive considering that there were runners on base throughout a sticky second inning of work for Wakefield.
How was it for Wakefield working with Bard again?
"Fine," Wakefield said. "I thought he did a great job."
Bard, who had left Hammond Stadium by the time the clubhouse was open to the media, was unavailable for comment. However, the patient catcher has spent much of Spring Training answering questions from media members about his rough first go-around with Wakefield back in 2006, when there were 10 passed balls in five starts, and then a trade to the San Diego Padres for Doug Mirabelli.
But unlike last time, when Bard was trying to imitate Mirabelli's catching form, he has vowed to be himself this time when it comes to trying to catch Wakefield's deceptive offerings.
It is an important spring for Bard, who is in competition with George Kottaras (out of Minor League options) for the backup catcher's spot behind captain Jason Varitek.
As for Wakefield, his rotation spot with the Red Sox has long been established, this his 15th season with Boston.
At 42 years old, Wakefield knows better than most what he has to accomplish during the course of a Spring Training. After working around a Justin Morneau double and a Michael Cuddyer walk in the first, Wakefield was touched up for three runs in his second and final inning of work.
"I'd like to have better results, but I felt fine," Wakefield said. "[My right] shoulder felt fine. I just need to get the rust off a little bit. It was the first time in a game facing hitters. [I] just need to work on some things."
Even at this stage of his career, Wakefield is still able to feel the adrenaline kick in for that first exhibition start.
"Oh, absolutely," Wakefield said. "You don't want to make a fool out of yourself, so you have to get the adrenaline up. I felt really good out of the windup today. Out of the stretch, I felt a little rusty."
It was one of those Wakefield innings, as a couple of the hits weren't exactly squared up.
"I didn't think he threw the ball poorly," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "It's nice to see him out there getting his work in. Seven baserunners is a lot, but we didn't have to go get him, which is good. I think he felt OK about himself."
"Weird inning," Wakefield said. "Bloop here, balls falling in everywhere, but it is what it is. I'm glad I got I got to throw my number of pitches. I got a little fatigued in the second. I'm glad I was able to work through that and make the pitches when I needed to [and] get that final out. [I'll] go get 'em again on Sunday."
Again, Wakefield will face the Twins in a road game on Sunday, though next time it will be in relief of Josh Beckett just to keep all the starters on their schedule.
Perhaps between now and then, Wakefield will find time to hit the links with fellow golf junkie John Smoltz.
"I'm getting strokes now instead of me having to give them," quipped Wakefield.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.