05/10/09 8:46 PM ET
Red Sox call up Bard from Triple-A
Pitching prospect has contract purchased from Pawtucket
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
The Red Sox purchased the contract of their most highly touted relief prospect and activated him for the finale of this three-game series against the Rays.
To make room on the roster for Bard, the Red Sox designated struggling lefty reliever Javier Lopez for assignment. A member of the Boston bullpen for the better part of the last three seasons, Lopez never could get on track this year, posting a 9.26 ERA in 14 outings.
"He's a nice kid, he's a gentleman, he works hard," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said of Lopez. "He's just having a hard time getting people out. Being the specialty guy, we weren't using him in that role. We were using him kind of in mopup. The way we were using him, we weren't getting the most out of our bullpen. So we talked to him last night and told him what we were going to do."
And that opened the door for the 23-year-old Bard, who has a fastball that sits in the upper 90s and can hit triple digits.
"I'm obviously excited," Bard said. "It's something I've worked for my whole life, and I couldn't be happier. Now that I'm here, I'm just trying to help the team win."
Bard certainly made an impression for the Red Sox during Spring Training, striking out 14 over 10 1/3 shutout innings.
"It was good," Bard said. "Anytime you're getting big league hitters out, regardless of whether the game counts or not, they're still up there trying to hit so it did a lot for me confidence-wise. I feel like I'm ready to do it on the big stage."
"Is he here to stay? We really don't know," Francona said. "I don't think that is the most urgent thing on everyone's mind now, and we told him that. The experience will be fantastic, and I think we think he can help us win at the same time. We've tried to balance this in the past and we'll continue to try to do it."
While the Red Sox are always very methodical in how they handle their upper-echelon prospects, they were confident that this was as good a time as any to summon Bard.
"It seems like the right time," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "He's been throwing really well. He made some strides with the last stages of his development in recent weeks, so we felt like the time is right."
Bard, a product of the University of North Carolina, was the 28th overall pick by the Red Sox in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. After struggling as a starter in his first year in the Minors, the Sox converted him to a reliever the next year, and Bard has been dominant since.
"I can laugh about it now," said Bard. "At the time, I knew I needed to put in a lot of work and I've put that work in. Now it's just a blip on the radar, a bump in the road. I'm focused on where I am now."
At Triple-A Pawtucket this season, Bard had a 1.13 ERA in 11 outings. In just 16 innings, he registered 29 strikeouts. Because the Red Sox already have one of the best closers in baseball in Jonathan Papelbon, Bard will be used in the mid to late innings.
"If he attacks the strike zone, he's going to have success," Francona said. "It's hard to get around it. He'll give up a hit or a home run every once in a while, but his stuff is too good. He handles the running game. There's not a lot of moving parts for a young pitcher that throws that hard."
While the Red Sox are confident Bard can contribute right away, they don't think the righty will have too much pressure on him.
"We don't have to give him the ball in the eighth inning and say, 'OK, kid, our hopes are pinned on you.' Hopefully the timing is good," Francona said.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.