HWB Notebook: Daniel Bard

Bard hope to find command, breaking ball in Hawaii

WAIPAHU, Hawaii--For Red Sox righthander Daniel Bard, Hawaii Winter Baseball isn’t just an experience. It’s an experiment.

The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder is hoping to develop more consistency and a reliable breaking ball pitching for the Honolulu Sharks. The 27th overall pick in 2006 out of North Carolina is renown for his mid-90-mph fastball that has at times reached triple digits this past summer in A ball.

“I’m trying to find a breaking ball that I’m comfortable with,” said Bard, who is assigned to the Sharks with fellow Boston outfielder and 2006 first-rounder (who went one pick ahead of Bard) Jason Place. “I threw a curveball for most of this year. It was really good at times and at other times, I couldn’t command it decently, so it was pretty much useless. So now I have to find something, more of a slider or somewhere in between like a slurve-type pitch. Just something I can get over consistently to get ahead early in the count with.”

After signing for $1.55 million late in the game last season, Bard didn’t make his pro debut until this year, starting out at high Class A Lancaster. The California League couldn’t have provided a worse environment for a polished college arm trying to play catch-up, as Bard went 0-2, 10.13 with 22 walks and only nine strikeouts in 13 innings.

After being shut down with a minor triceps injury, the Red Sox sent Bard back to Florida to further work on his command. He was sent out to low Class A Greenville after a month, where he finished 3-5, 6.42, but still had trouble commanding  the zone--Bard walked 56 in 62 innings with the Drive.

“Like any young player, you’re going to face bumps in the road against competition you haven’t faced before,” said Sharks pitching coach Mike Cather, who spent 2007 as the pitching coach at Double-A Portland.

“There’ s a lot of growth involved with that. Without failure, you don’t learn as much.”

Because the Red Sox want him to develop consistency, they prefer to have Bard throw an inning or two of relief, as opposed to starting, Cather said.

Plus, they want to keep his workload reasonable.

“We got him throwing out of the pen so we get a lot more reps out of him,” Cather said. “He might throw in 15, 20 games this year and he’ll get a chance to get out there more consistently and build consistency off of that.

“He had enough starts where they didn’t want to tack on another 50 innings this winter. We’re keeping him short, one-two-inning stints and he’ ll be able to bounce back.”

Bard said HWB is the perfect place to develop his secondary stuff. The competition is comparable so it gives him a true feel of how batters will respond to his pitches. Besides, it isn’t any different from a batter learning to switch hit or learn a new position in this league.

“You want to put up good numbers wherever you go, but I think this would be the opportunity,” Bard said. “If you’re going to experiment with something, this is the time to do it.²

Cather said Bard also needs to learn how to set up batters and take advantage of his lively fastball.

“We’re trying to get him to recognize an opportunity, such as when a guy pulls the ball foul or shows a good swing where he’s got it timed,” Cather said. “(He needs) to recognize, gain confidence from it and throw a changeup. It’s basic fundamentals of fastball command and command the offspeed pitches.”

Bard pitched a a scoreless inning of relief, allowing a walk and a hit with one strikeout in the Sharks’ season-opener loss to the Waikiki BeachBoys.

Cather was pleased with how he pitched out of trouble.

“He got away with one batter, when he walked a lefty on few fastballs up in the zone,” Cather said. “But the most important thing was he readjusted on the next batter, got the ball down, got the out and finished the inning.

“That’s the key, being able to adjust after you misfire a couple of times. Another batter is coming. You have a chance to redeem yourself. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just a part of the game.”

Bard is happy for the opportunity to develop his pitching in a unique environment. In less than a week in Hawaii, Bard and his teammates will have played games on two different islands. The Sharks and BeachBoys are in a three-game series (Oct. 2 to 4) on Maui.

“It’s not an opportunity a lot of people get, to live in Hawaii and to play baseball here,” Bard said. “I’m just going to try to make the most of it baseball-wise and off the field, too.”

The Kid

One of the more intriguing players in the league is Hanshin Tigers pitcher Kento Tsujimoto, who is assigned to the Waikiki BeachBoys.

At 18, he is the youngest in the league. Yet, he has more years as a pro (two seasons) than many of his American colleagues. The 5-foot-11, 165-pound righthander, who turns 19 on Jan. 6, was drafted by the Tigers when he was 15 in 2004. That made him the youngest player drafted in Nippon Professional Baseball since the league started the draft in 1965.

Junior high school graduates in Japan are eligible for the draft, according to Nobuhisa Ito, director of baseball operations of NPB. Ito was in Hawaii during the orientation week for the players.

Ironically, he is not the product of amateur baseball in Japan. When he was 12, he did a home stay with a family in California, where he attended middle school and his freshman year at Mater Dei in Santa Ana. He played on the JV and varsity.

So why did he come to America?

“To play baseball,” said Tsujimoto, who is fluent in English from his three years in the states. “I learned a lot, like mechanically and mentally.”

He got a 10 million yen bonus ($86,000 today) and a roughly $38,000 salary his first season, according to the Japan Times.

He said injuries have hampered his progress the last two years. Tsujimoto has pitched for the Tigers’ minor league club, logging only about 20 innings total. Like the American minor leaguers, he's looking to expand his repertoire.

“My problem has always been with the breaking pitches, the offspeed pitches, so I want to learn a new pitch or get better location for every pitch.”

Getting On Track

North Shore Honu shortstop Cale Iorg is one of those players who will really benefit from HWB.

Despite not playing baseball the last two years because of Mormon church mission in Portugal, the Tigers still made him their sixth-round pick in June. The son of former Blue Jays third baseman Garth Iorg, nephew of former Cardinals outfielder Dane Iorg and brother of Astros minor leaguer Eli played only a handful of games at high Class A Lakeland this summer.

“I strictly want to work on hitting, getting the whole aspect of hitting back because defensively, I feel fine.”

Iorg’s  last full season was in 2005, when he was a starting shortstop as a freshman at Alabama, which played against the University of Hawaii that year.

Back In Paradise

Waikiki BeachBoys righthander Jared Lansford returns to the scene where he learned he was drafted in 2005: Waikiki.

Lansford and some of his classmates were celebrating high school graduation in Hawaii. It also coincided with draft day. He said he learned he was the Athletics’ second-round pick from his computer at his Waikiki hotel.

“I got the news out here, so I got to celebrate out here,” said Lansford, whose father is former big league third baseman Carney Lansford.

Lansford has some other ties to Hawaii, besides vacationing on Maui as a youngster. His uncle, Joe Lansford, played for the the Pacific Coast League's Hawaii Islanders in 1982. Jared’s brother Joshua played against UH in 2004 when he was a member of San Jose State (Joshua transferred to Cal Poly later).

Home Again

CaneFires lefthander Reid Santos, who pitched at Double-A Akron (Indians) this past season, is the only player in HWB from Hawaii. He wanted to pitch here last year, but was assigned to the Arizona Fall League. This year, the Indians granted his request.

Santos, a 2000 graduate of Castle High in Kaneohe, was a 13th-round pick by Cleveland in 2002 out of Saddleback Junior College. The lefthander made his first appearance in HWB on Oct. 2, striking out four, while allowing an unearned run, in two innings of relief against the BeachBoys.

Although his years of experience is seemingly a mismatch against the caliber of players in HWB, he said he doesn’t look at it that way.

“I can work on things I need to work on,” he said. “It’s better than sitting around, doing nothing (in the offseason). At least I get to face some live hitters.”

His appearance was a thrill for the dozen or so family and friends attending the game who had never seen him pitch professionally.