FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For just a moment, top Red Sox relief prospect Daniel Bard was awed by the fact he was getting ready to face Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez to start the top of the ninth inning in Thursday's game against Puerto Rico. A couple of minutes later, he had the same feeling when Bernie Williams dug in.
"I felt comfortable against them, but at the same time, when they stepped in the box, I was thinking, 'I grew up with this guy's baseball card,'" said Bard. "But it was cool. It doesn't get much better than that."
But the 23-year-old Bard didn't exactly serve it up on a tee for the two former All-Stars or any of the other hitters he faced in a dazzling display of power pitching.
The righty, who allowed one hit while striking out two over two innings, fired a 99-mph heater right by Rodriguez for strike three.
But that wasn't what Bard topped out at. He had a 100-mph gift in store for Mike Aviles, and the Royals' infielder didn't get around on it for strike two. Bard then baffled Aviles on a slider for his second successive strikeout. He finished off Williams with some more upper-90s offerings, ultimately getting the former Yankees icon on a lazy flyout to left.
"I don't dial up how hard it's going to come out, but I was probably a little more pumped up than usual," Bard said. "Given the situation, late in the game, it felt good. I don't know if I was trying to throw it any harder."
How often does Bard frequent triple digits on the radar gun? It is something he is modest about.
"I don't count," Bard said. "They tell me. Usually whoever was charting the game last year would tell me, 'Hey, you did it today.'"
Bard's electric performance against Puerto Rico turned some heads.
"That was worth showing up for today," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "That was two really exciting innings. With young players, but young pitchers in particular, you're going to see some ups, some downs, some in betweens. Today was the up. He threw his fastball, breaking ball. I think he threw one changeup that was in the dirt. That was exciting to watch. His angle on his fastball was tremendous. He threw the heck out of the ball."
And that's really nothing new for Bard, whom the Red Sox selected out of the University of North Carolina with the 28th overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. At that point, Bard was a starting pitcher. But that all changed after a completely humbling 2007 season, when Bard posted a 10.13 ERA in five games for Class A Lancaster and then a 6.42 mark at Greenville (also Class A).
The Red Sox converted him to a reliever last season and Bard was overpowering, producing a 0.64 ERA in a 15-game return trip to Greenville and then a 1.99 ERA over 31 appearances at Double-A Portland.
Bard took to the new role immediately, putting him on a fast track to the Majors that could well place him at Fenway Park at some point during the 2009 season.
"It comes down to one thing, and that comes down to completing his delivery and his release point," said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. "There's no denying the ability, there's no denying the three pitches that he throws. The ultimate goal being, when he does misfire, to make an adjustment within one pitch rather than three or four. He's got Major League stuff. There's no doubt about it. And well above-average Major League stuff when you grade out each pitch individually."
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Bard's velocity is how easy he makes it look.
"When you watch him throw, he doesn't generate any increased effort to get that kind of velocity," Farrell said.
As for how fast Bard will make it to Boston, he is taking a wait-and-see approach.
"I think I've proven that I can do it," Bard said. "I've proven that I can stay composed in situations. But it's all about timing, throwing well at the right time, having a spot open -- all those things being out of my control. It's definitely feasible, and I'm just trying to be as prepared as I can when it happens."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.