Daniel Bard had such electric stuff as a reliever, that you couldn’t fault the Boston Red Sox for wanting to put it out there for six-plus innings every five days. Unfortunately, the plan did not work out.
In fact, it failed spectacularly.
The first warning signs came from Spring Training; somewhere along the transition from reliever to starter, Bard had tweaked his mechanics and not only saw his triple-digits heat disappear into the low-90s, but that he was no longer able to spot it.
Still, the team was determined to soldier on through the ups and downs in hopes that it would be worth it once the bumps were smoothed out, and the Bard’s first starts had given them some reason for hope. Sure, batters were zoned in on his fastball more than ever, but the knockout slider, Bard’s best pitch, was still something that he used to get his fair share of whiffs. Bard recorded 19 strikeouts over 18.2 innings in his first three starts, and outside of the seven-walk debacle against the Tampa Bay Rays, the control was manageable.
It only went downhill from there, as Bard would make just seven more starts, walking four or more batters in five of those outings. By June, the Red Sox had seen enough. When Bard returned to the team from the minors in August, it was as a reliever; but, he still struggled with the same mechanical issues, giving up a homer in each of his first three appearances.
That’s not a story he’ll want to continue in 2013, and that should be motivation enough for Bard to right the ship this Spring.
A reunion with his former pitching coach John Farrell, who is now the team’s manager, should help. Farrell, who watched Bard throw for the first time since the off-season, praised the 27-year-old’s session, saying that he had his confidence back, and that the power had returned to his fastball. More importantly, Farrell pointed out that Bard made significant progress to return to his natural arm slot.
He’s still got his work cut out for him to prove it in Spring Training, but Bard is confident that whatever ailed him will be fixed with the return of his power fastball. When that happens, the ascent up the depth charts in the bullpen will happen quickly, with Bard eyeing the ninth-inning job that’s currently being held newly acquired Joel Hanrahan – but “just maybe not immediately,” as he told Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald.
It’s a lofty goal for any pitcher, let alone one who is coming off a debacle of a season. But, considering how good Bard has been, it could be a very real possibility, even if it’s buried in a sea of doubt.
That’s saying a lot, considering that he’ll be in a bullpen that added both Hanrahan and Koji Uehara in the off-season.