FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Daniel Bard striking out the side against college kids? Two years ago, that wouldn't even be worth a mention. In fact, Bard striking out the side against the Yankees in the middle of a pennant race wouldn't have been that far out of the ordinary.
But in this Spring Training, where the righty is trying to pitch his way out of a nightmare 2012 season, pretty much everything he does will be a story.
Thursday's effort in the Red Sox's 3-0 victory against Northeastern University at JetBlue Park represented the kind of story Bard enjoys talking about. He got on the mound in his first exhibition outing of Spring Training and gave up a single. After that, Bard prioritized his slider while striking out the next three hitters. He threw 18 pitches, 13 for strikes.
"Yeah, I'm satisfied," Bard said. "Not perfect, obviously, but it's a huge step in the right direction. It's always good to get out of the gate with some good results. The focus today was just being in the zone as much as possible. I threw two pitches for strikes. Just go from there."
Bard has no choice but to completely go back to the beginning. There are no steps that can be skipped.
Everyone knows the story from a year ago. Bard came in to camp in a new role -- as a starting pitcher. Despite inconsistent results in Spring Training, Bard was in Boston's rotation to start the season, but he never came close to getting hot. In fact, he completely imploded on a Sunday afternoon in Toronto in early June.
Two days later, Bard was back in Triple-A, where he tried to make the transition back to the relief role he'd been so effective at in his career. Bard didn't pitch well at Pawtucket and he didn't pitch well in Boston when he returned as a late-season callup.
Bard's psyche was a mess, and so were his mechanics. But then came the reprieve -- an offseason in which he could decompress.
"I didn't think about baseball much for about two months," said Bard. "I think that was the best thing for me, just to break some of those bad habits that I built mechanically. I picked up a baseball in December and started fresh. There's nothing like a tough season in the offseason for motivation, just for working out, things like that. I think it was a productive offseason."
Instead of a transitioning to a new role, Bard is shifting back to an old one this year. And easing that comfort is the presence of new manager John Farrell, Bard's pitching coach his first two seasons.
"Let's not forget that it's not too long ago that Daniel Bard was one hell of a reliever," said Farrell. "He's healthy, and that stuff is still in there. It's collectively our job to get him back to that level."
"The last time I really came into camp with something to prove was my first big league Spring Training in 2009," said Bard. "I was not supposed to make the team by any means, but I had a lot of people I was supposed to impress in my mind. I was able to come out and do that, and win a spot about a month later in the bullpen. It's not that much different this year, besides the fact that everyone knows my name and knows who I am. But I feel like I have something to prove."
Bard also has a roster spot to win. If there's one area the Red Sox are overly deep in, it is Bard's specialty -- setup relief.
Andrew Bailey, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara all have the credentials to prove they are capable of setting up closer Joel Hanrahan.
Bard also has Minor League options, meaning the Red Sox could send him down if there's a logjam.
The way Bard looks at it, he can force his way on to the team if he pitches like he did when he was at his best.
"I think it's a good problem for a team to have," said Bard. "We have about 10 guys who deserve to pitch in a big league bullpen. Obviously that can't happen. For me, my focus is on what I'm doing. If I'm throwing the ball like I'm capable of, and build off today, things will take care of themselves."
Catcher David Ross had the best view of Bard on Thursday.
"Bardo struggled early on and then found it. He actually made [an] adjustment midway through the inning and looked sharp," said Ross. "But early on it was just trying to get his body under control. Even though we're going up against college kids, there's still some adrenaline. I had some nerves and adrenaline today."
Bard looks forward to his next challenge -- facing Major League hitters.
"I think I'm a better pitcher when I'm goal-oriented. At the same time, we don't want to get too wrapped up in results," Bard said. "As a short reliever, sometimes you can throw the ball great and have bad results. I want to focus on the task, the process, but at the same time, my goal is to get outs. That's why I broke out the slider pretty early today. I'm at my best when I'm focused on the competition, I think."