02/10/11 2:59 PM EST
Bard excited about additions to bullpen
Adding Jenks, Wheeler vastly improved Sox's relief corps
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
In other words, few people are happier than Bard to see how much extra help he will have out in the 'pen for the coming season.
Francona now has options. And though Bard will often still be choice A to hand the ball to closer Jonathan Papelbon with a lead, he no longer has to be B, C and D.
"It's awesome," said Bard, one of several core players who participated in early-bird workouts at the Red Sox's Player Development Complex on Thursday. "I'm excited about it. It's nice to have more help down there then we had last year. I think we have some veteran guys, and that's kind of what I felt we needed down there -- some guys where you know what you're going to get out of them."
Bobby Jenks is a career closer who will now work as a setup man. Dan Wheeler, one of the most underrated setup men over the last few years, is also in the fold.
"I think with especially Wheeler and Jenks, those are guys you know what you're going to get, and [they] have proven themselves over at least the last five or six years, so I'm excited about it," said Bard.
Bard, who has a lightning bolt for a right arm, is 25 years old, but he has already proven to be a force the last two years. Now he can be an even fresher force. The 73 appearances made by Bard last season tied him for fifth in the American League.
"I mean, it doesn't affect the way I'm going to approach anything, but I think it will hopefully lighten the load a little bit, especially in that eighth inning with some more quality arms to go to," said Bard. "Maybe if you can cut down my appearances by five, that's huge when it comes down to September and October, so I think those guys are definitely going to be able to do that and more."
In truth, Bard held up just fine with his heavy workload last year, as evidenced by a 1.93 ERA. But if he can conserve some of those appearances for October, the Red Sox figure to be far better off.
"I actually felt good," said Bard. "There was no pain whatsoever in anything. My body felt good. There's days where you're just a little stiff. I felt good. I didn't know how I'd handle that workload. I've thrown more innings than that before, but that's by far the most appearances I've ever had. I felt good overall, and I bounced back this offseason and feel good coming in."
There will be a time -- maybe even next year at this time -- when Bard is the one who works in the closer's role. But for now, he will continue to take the ball in the seventh or eighth inning when the occasions calls for it. It's just that this year, it could often be the seventh or the eighth instead of parts of both.
"I haven't talked to anybody about it, but I don't see it changing a whole lot," Bard said. "Maybe [there will be fewer] situations like last year when I was coming in with one out in the seventh, two outs in the seventh, and then throwing an inning and a third, an inning plus. That kind of wears on you throughout a season, those inning-plus outings sitting down and then getting back up. So I think the biggest thing is having Jenks there is going to kind of break that up. We can both get two outs or three outs or whatever it takes to fill that seventh- or eighth-inning gap to get the ball to our closer."
And even though there might be a little more prestige that comes with working the eighth over the seventh, Bard doesn't seem worked up about how the innings will be distributed by Francona.
"No, I don't care," Bard said. "The game is on the line in both situations. Half the time when you're coming in for the seventh, it's to get out of a jam. You have guys on. It's no different to me."
But the bullpen should look very different in the late innings for the Red Sox this season.
"It's no secret that our 'pen wasn't very good last year and we kind of ran out of available options of guys that could come out and compete and throw legit bullpen innings for us," said general manager Theo Epstein. "Hopefully we have more quality and quantity. There's some competition for the last spot or two, and then we should be stronger than we've been in a long time at the end of games with Bard and Jenks setting up Pap. And Wheeler is an important addition in the middle. We have the potential to have a really good bullpen, but again, that doesn't really mean anything. We've got to go out and do it."
While Bard has acclimated to pitching in the Majors without a hitch, the one thing he hasn't been able to do yet is pitch in the World Series.
Though pitchers and catchers aren't due to report until Sunday, Bard saw no reason to wait.
"Yeah, for me, it's just easier for me to get my work in down here," Bard said. "You come in, you've got catchers down here. There's plenty of room to throw and warm weather. It makes it a little easier to be outside."