FORT MYERS, Fla. — We watched Daniel Bard become a dominant reliever at Hadlock Field in 2008.

Two years later, Bard appears ready to make a dominant impact with the Boston Red Sox.

“I’ll tell you what, he’s pretty good,” Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said.

Bard, 24, had been cruising this spring, allowing one earned run and only three hits — until Tuesday.

Entering in relief against the Rays, Bard gave up a leadoff infield single, then a seeing-eye grounder to right field, and it snowballed from there. He left after two-thirds of an inning, allowing five hits and four earned runs.

Bard knows what would have happened if he got hit like that in previous years. “That probably would have been my last outing. I would have been worried about my last impression before I was sent down (to the minors),” he said.

“Now I’d like to get in one more (game) and have good results to carry into the season.”

Bard likely will make an appearance today in Boston’s last exhibition in Florida.

And if all goes well, Bard will come out of the Fenway Park bullpen on Sunday night, ready to secure a late-inning lead.

“If you want to pitch late in the game, you throw strikes and hold runners,” Francona said, “and (Bard) does that. You don’t want guys late in the game to beat themselves.”

Through 8 1/3 innings this spring, Bard has eight strikeouts and no walks.

When Bard was promoted to Boston last May from Pawtucket, he struck out 63 and walked 22 in 49 1/3 innings. His 11.49 strikeouts per nine innings ranked sixth among American League relievers.

He should be better this year, acting as one of the primary set-up men to closer Jonathan Papelbon.

“He’s throwing the ball really well,” Francona said. “When a young player has success, you hope he then wants to be better. He’s really taken that step.

“He had a couple of tough nights (last year) and then he’d bounce back.

“Right-handed, tall, throws downhill and throws about 98 (mph), with a pretty good curveball and an improving change-up — he’s got a lot of ways to get hitters out.”

Bard, at 6-foot-4, is known for his mitt-exploding fastballs. As his breaking ball, which is kind of a combination of a curve and a slider, improves, his fastball becomes deadlier. If his change-up gets up to snuff, Bard is looking at a breakout year.

There were premature calls for Bard to take over the closer’s role from Papelbon, especially after Papelbon’s one rough outing against the Angels in the playoffs.

But Bard has only 49 major league innings. He needs time. And there’s certainly no need to give up on Papelbon.

Papelbon does become a free agent after the 2011 season.

For the next two years, Boston will have a closer-in-training. In 2008, Bard arrived in Portland and showed he could handle the workload just fine (1.99 ERA).

Now he will be pitching those clutch, late innings for Boston.

One more note on Bard: His offseason was spent on more than refining his secondary pitches. He was married in January. With his wife, Adair, came her border collie mix, Bay.

“I’m the stepfather,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com