Bard Improves His Stock With Outstanding Outing
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.--North Carolina righthander Daniel Bard struck out Jon Still to finish his complete-game shutout of North Carolina State, pumped his fist and pointed to the sky.
As emotion flowed out of his body, confidence flowed back in. Bard struck out eight batters, allowed four hits and did not issue a walk against an NC State team that entered the weekend series leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in batting average, runs, on-base and slugging percentage. North Carolina coach Mike Fox called it the best-pitched game of Bard's career, and it couldn't have come at a better time for his team--which pulled into sole possession of first place in the conference--or Bard's draft stock.
"I've never seen Bard pitch like that before," NC State hitting coach Jeff Waggoner said. "Bard really showed a lot more than he did last year, that's for sure."
Bard opened the season on the Royals' short list to become the first pick overall. His effortless delivery and mid-90s fastball had helped him strikeout 82 batters in 65 Cape Cod League innings, but the knock against the 6-foot-4 righthander was that he had never found enough consistency with his secondary pitches to average more than a strikeout per inning during the college season.
Bard went 3-0, 1.93 in his first three starts--including a 13-strikeout complete-game against Purdue--before yielding career-worsts of 10 hits, 10 runs and nine earned runs in a March 17 loss to Maryland.
That sent Bard into a three-game funk in which he failed to make it of the fifth inning in three straight starts. He allowed nine runs on nine walks and 11 hits in 12 total innings against Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami. Bard held Virginia Tech without an earned run for seven innings (four unearned runs did score) in his last start before facing NC State, but he still walked five batters in that game.
"The Maryland game hurt my confidence," said Bard, who hadn't worked without a walk since his first start of the season. "I was leaving the ball up in the zone and the next couple starts I had lost confidence in my fastball. I pretty much found it out there (Sunday)."
Bard worked almost exclusively off his 91-93 mph two-seam sinker and his slider against NC State. His four-seamer gets into the mid-90s, but first-year UNC pitching coach Scott Forbes has spent the season stressing pitching to contact to Bard and fellow rotation-mate Andrew Miller.
"Outs are outs, no matter how you get them," said Bard, who hadn't allowed an earned run 16 innings to improve his record to 5-2, 3.82 with 67 strikeouts in 61 innings.
Forbes added, "When he pitches aggressively, he's throwing more strikes and his stuff is good enough that most guys at this level aren't going to get good swings against it."
Forbes didn't make any mechanical adjustments, though Bard made one on his own before the Virginia Tech start. He had always landed on a stiff front leg and opted for a softer landing during a bullpen session, finding the experiment successful.
Fox pointed to Bard's command of his slider to explain his dominance. When the 6-foot-4 righthander struggled, it often came in locating his offspeed pitches, allowing opponents to sit on his fastball.
"How can a kid with that good an arm lose confidence?" Fox said. "That surprised me a little. He might have told coach Forbes that, but he never told me. I didn't see that. Things like that happen in baseball; you're not going to have smooth sailing everyday. If he did lose some confidence, he's over it now."DRAFT DOTS
• Oregon State junior righthander Dallas Buck
is rolling along this season and beat California ace Brandon Morrow
last weekend in a 5-2 duel. But scouts' concerns about his decreased velocity this season--Buck slid from the 89-91 mph range last year to the 85-88 range this year--were validated when an MRI revealed his elbow soreness was caused by a sprained ligament. There was no evidence of a tear, and he threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings Thursday against Cal Poly to improve to 9-0, 2.76.
• Arizona junior righthander Mark Melancon
felt tightness in his right arm, and an MRI revealed a strained ligament. He won't need surgery, just three weeks of rest. Melancon was 3-3, 2.97 with four saves and a 52-15 K-BB ratio in 39 innings and had established himself as the top relief prospect in the year's draft, and one that could potentially follow the recent trend of polished college closers fast-tracked to the majors.
• Missouri State righthander Brett Sinkbeil
left last Friday's start in the first inning with a strained oblique muscle. He threw a bullpen the following Monday, looked fine and will make his next start Saturday.
• Virginia Commonwealth righthander Harold Mozingo
missed two starts after suffered a hairline fracture near his right thumb after getting struck by a line drive April 14 against William & Mary. He was wearing a temporary cast. He was 6-1, 2.14 with an 89-12 K-BB ratio in 76 innings.
• Yavapai (Ariz.) CC infielder Milton Loo
, a ninth-round draft-and-follow of the Reds last season, has battled his own injury issues with elbow soreness. An examination this week cleared Loo to play in the posteason for Yavapai, which the National Junior College Athletic Association ranks as the nation's No. 2 JC team. Loo has some irritation in the joint and had been limited to DH duty but was cleared to return to playing third base. Playing in a wood-bat league, Loo has hit .323-5-45 for Yavapai with a team-high 27 stolen bases.