Should Sox end Bard experiment?

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Is it time to knuckle under the pressure?

I’ve never seen a group of fans so obssessed with a backup catcher, but after watching Josh Bard commit 10 passed balls in five games catching Tim Wakefield, it’s understandable.

Bard has become one of the hot topics facing Red Sox Nation in the spring of 2006. He’s a good man, has hit better than expected, and clearly has the support and respect of his teammate (most notably Wakefield himself.)

That said, he clearly is lost behind the plate trying to catch that knuckleball.

Victor Martinez took an interesting trip around the bases in the fourth inning on Wednesday, a trip that was indicative of how things have gone with Bard behind the plate. The Sox had scored a run in the top half of the inning, and Wakefield walked Martinez. A passed ball sent him to second. A one-out hit sent him to third. Another passed ball (with two outs) allowed him to score.

Maybe it’s too easy to point the finger at Bard with Wakefield at 1-4 on the season. The Sox don’t seem to score runs for Wakefield, putting a grand total of two runs on the board in the last three games he’s pitched.

Two of those games have come against lefties, meaning the Sox play those games without Jason Varitek and without Trot Nixon (who doesn’t usually start against left-handed starters.)

Clearly, Wakefield doesn’t have the same lineup trying to produce runs that other starters have.

Wakefield’s next start is tomorrow night against the Yankees. How confident are you that Bard will handle the duties behind the plate? It’s hard not to be concerned. Ken Huckaby is returning from the DL in Pawtucket, and the team has just signed Corky Miller after he was released by Seattle. Apparently, Miller caught knuckleballer Jared Fernandez in the Reds system.

About the same time, Wakefield was leaving Wednesday’s game and knuckleballer Charlie Zink was brought into Pawtucket’s game against the Durham Bulls. Zink threw 38 pitches – primarily knuckleballs – and Miller (the International League’s Best Defensive Catcher in 2003) caught them all.

Obviously, Wakefield’s knuckleball dances a lot more than Zink’s, and there’s simply no such thing as a “knuckleball catching specialist,” but it may be time for the Sox to explore their options.

Actually, there is one such catcher. He’s sitting on the bench in San Diego, backing up Mike Piazza. His name is Doug Mirabelli, and the Red Sox traded him for Mark Loretta this winter. At the time, it seemed like a great deal – a backup catcher for a starting second baseman.

We now realize we may have not given enough respect to what Mirabelli did for this team. He’d sure look good behind the plate tomorrow (May Day, by the way) when the Sox and Yanks meet for the first time this year.

Lewiston native Tom Caron covers the Red Sox for NESN.

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