The surprise isn’t that the Boston Red Sox sent Daniel Bard to the minors; the surprise is that the Red Sox sent Bard to Double-A Portland.
Boston pitching coach Juan Nieves didn’t shy away from talking about the decision, telling the media that the team wanted to remove the temptation from Bard to think that he was a couple of good appearances away from rejoining the team. He’s not.
While Nieves talked about seeing improved velocity and mechanics from Bard, he also talked about wanting to see more consistency from Bard throwing strikes and attacking hitters.
Talk about sending a message. The 27-year-old Bard goes from being one of the best setup men in the American League during the 2010 season to starting the 2013 season in Double-A.
It’s a little bit of tough love that has been long overdue from the Red Sox.
Make no mistake; the Red Sox are partially responsible for where Bard finds himself right now. Bard also shares part of the blame here. Both sides should have known better given the player’s struggles in the minors.
Bard looked like he was on the path to stardom in 2010 after the Red Sox managed to salvage Bard in the minors. After being drafted in the first round of the 2006 MLB draft, Bard started his first 44 appearances as a pro to disastrous results in the minors.
Switching Bard to relief in 2008 likely saved his career, moving his WHIP from 2.05 to .9 in his transition to the bullpen. Also, Bard’s strikeouts took off as well. Always a hard thrower, Bard was able to harness his velocity and dramatically improve his strikeout rate.
For whatever reason, Boston and Bard decided that they wanted to have him try starting again in 2012, to very mixed results that ended with a return down to Triple-A. In theory, the idea made sense; take a very successful reliever who currently gives you 70 dominant innings per season and see if he can develop into a top of the rotation starter.
But, given Bard’s struggles earlier in his career as a starter, it was a curious decision especially when looking at his potential value to the bullpen with Jonathan Papelbon departing to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 2011 season.
Why the Red Sox didn’t anoint Bard as the closer for the 2012 season still remains a mystery. Instead, the Red Sox went out and acquired Andrew Bailey from the Oakland A’s to be the closer. Red Sox manager John Farrell and the organization obviously believe that Bard can be fixed, but he is going to have to be willing to make the necessary adjustments in order to make it back to the majors. Right now, it is up to Bard to do what the Red Sox are asking from him.
If he can regain his 2010 form, the Red Sox would have a very significant weapon coming out of the bullpen. For a Boston team that already looked like they would have one of the best bullpens in baseball, that would be a great development.