Terry Francona's eyes got a little wide when a reporter asked him what he saw out of Daniel Bard in the 23-year-old's one-inning stint against the Orioles on Monday.
"Oooh," Francona said. "Good. Good angle. He's been working on trying to get his hands set a little higher so there's not that having to catch up in his delivery where he's leaving those balls up. He's driving the ball down, and when he does that, it's pretty. There's not a lot of effort there and a lot coming out of the arm."
Bard faced three batters and needed just four pitches to retire each. He touched 96 miles an hour on the radar gun, Francona said, and still has plenty more where that came from.
Against rising star Nick Markakis, Bard got ahead 0-2 quickly and then got the outfielder to lunge at a change-of-pace breaking ball; the result was a slow ground ball to shortstop. Aubrey Huff then hit a similar roller to shortstop for the second out.
Ty Wigginton took a fastball up and in to start his at-bat but then swung right through a fastball and hit a check-swing roller toward the first-base dugout on yet another fastball. Bard then threw a great-looking curve on 1-2 that Wigginton started to swing at before holding up -- only to watch the home-plate umpire ring him up anyway.
"I thought Daniel Bard threw the ball very well," pitching coach John Farrell said. "Today, of the three outings he's had, the overall command was improved -- as it has been improved with each of the three outings he's been on the mound. That's evident by, in the heart of that lineup, even though it's spring training, he got deep on some guys with some fastballs and showed a quality power breaking ball for strike three to (Ty) Wigginton.
"I'm sure he's feeling good about his outing, which he should. You rate the stuff and you evaluate the pure stuff, and it's as good as there is in the game. It's a very encouraging step for him."
The issue with the delivery Francona referenced came during Bard's windup, while he was stepping back and kicking his legs. As his knee rose, so too did his hands, and coaches want him to keep his hands as stationary as possible in front of his chest.
With a gangly guy like Bard -- he's 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds -- every muscle movement seems to get in the way of another muscle movement. The more he can keep under control before he pulls the ball out of his glove and explodes into his delivery, the better.
"It's really to eliminate one moving part and one variable in his delivery that may affect the consistency of the timing and, ultimately, the consistency of the release point," Farrell said. "By raising his hands up where they naturally go when they ride up with his knee, that allows him to separate on time and stay behind his arm more consistently."