TORONTO, CANADA: Daniel Bard of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitch during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Brad White/Getty Images)
Daniel Bard struggled at times in the spring during his initial conversion to starter, but he looked better and more in charge of plate appearances the more innings he threw. While he's listed as responsible for five runs in Tuesday night's game against the Blue Jays, just looking at that singular number takes away from what he was able to accomplish. Bard's first official start of the 2012 should give us hope that this experiment is going to pay off, while also reminding us that he's not quite a finished product yet.
The most significant complaint you can make against Bard -- the one that's actually on him -- is that he didn't throw nearly enough change-ups. Out of his 96 pitches, just six were change-ups. He used multiple sliders -- both his slow, somewhat-slurvy version as well as the tighter, faster one -- so he wasn't skipping out on off-speed pitches entirely. But the change-up might have helped him out, as the Jays did a good job of putting his fastball in play.
Granted, most of those balls in play were fieldable. But they weren't fielded, with Kevin Youkilis looking like a statue at third, and Nick Punto putting on a performance that's below his abilities at short. Combine that with the decision to use Justin Thomas after Bard, and it's easy to see how he ended up being on the hook for five runs.
Bard struck out six batters in five innings, walked just one hitter, and induced 11 grounders. It's been one game, so don't take this as anything predictive, but if you're looking for how much wrong Bard didn't do, his FIP for the game was 0.96. It's hard to blame the pitcher when he strikes out six times as many batters as he walks while forcing grounders on the ones who do make contact.
As said, though, some of this was on Bard, even if the defense should have saved him. The Blue Jays knew fastballs were coming since his only other major offering was the slider. They couldn't do a thing with that slider -- they induced nine swings-and-misses on the pitch out of 34 pitches, along with another nine called strikes. His sinker was missed more often than you'd expect, even if it didn't result in grounders. The four-seamer missed bats, but was also fouled off seven times out of 35 chances. Mixing in the change more often will keep hitters off balance enough to slow that rate of fouled-off pitches, and help Bard remain more efficient. It's something that needs to be worked in, at the least against left-handers, as he starts to pile up starts.
He was more comfortable late in the game, retiring seven batters in a row from the third inning until he was finally lifted in the sixth. He used nearly all of his change-ups during that stretch, and began a few at-bats with the slider, using that to set up his high-heat effectively. He worked from behind in the count against Jose Bautista twice to get him to punch out, in two of his more impressive pieces of work for the evening.
He looked like he was out of gas after five, as his arm slot started to drop, causing his accuracy to fall as well. This isn't surprising, as it's the first start of a longer experiment, but it's something to keep an eye on with Bard as the season progresses. If it's late in the year and he's still struggling to get to 100 pitches, then it's something to be worried about.
Pitch f/x data comes from Brooks Baseball.