BOSTON, MA - Daniel Bard #51 of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The final line from Daniel Bard's Monday start against the Tampa Bay Rays is something of a mixed bag. He went 6-2/3 innings, struck out seven batters and allowed just four hits and a run, but he also walked seven batters, a total that includes one hit batsmen.
You could look at that without having seen the game and just think Bard's control problems were rampant, but the game was a bit different than that. He's not excused entirely on the matter, but he should have been lifted much closer to 100 pitches than he was, and that would have made his line much more palatable.
In his previous start against the Blue Jays, it was clear when Bard was starting to tire. Right around the 90-pitch mark, his arm slot started to drop, and his fastball began to sail. The result was a pair of baserunners that eventually scored, courtesy of Justin Thomas, giving Bard five runs allowed on the day in a game in which he pitched much better than that. (His one-game FIP was 0.96 -- while there's nothing predictive about that, it gives you a sense of how well he blended low walks, high strikeouts, and groundballs together.)
His arm slot held up longer this time around, but he was very clearly out of gas after getting the first two outs of the seventh inning.
He threw 24 pitches in the seventh, the most of any inning on Monday, and only 10 of those pitches were strikes. He exited the game after his 111th pitch, one that resulted in a bases-loaded walk to Evan Longoria. That inning helped to erase the good he had done: in the first six frames, he averaged 14.5 pitches per inning, and had thrown 61 percent strikes to that point. He had also just come off of a 10-pitch sixth, and in the first inning, threw just eight. He was a much more efficient Bard than he had been in his first start, and he once again picked up a ton of swings-and-misses.
Then the seventh came, and he was clearly gassed, but Bobby Valentine left him out there. It's no secret Valentine wants to get more innings out of his starting pitchers, and the fact the Red Sox are in the middle of six-straight games without a day off might explain some of it, but there's no reason to keep Bard in when he's tiring. That's how you hurt pitchers. Letting them get to 110 or 120 or even 130 pitches if their arms can take it isn't the problem. The problem is letting them get to that point when they are starting to change their mechanics to compensate for fatigue.
Pitching is repetition. When a pitcher throws from an arm angle or with mechanics they haven't used thousands of times before when they are tired, there's a higher risk of injury. Bard likely isn't hurt after yesterday, but if he were to be injured after a start like that, it wouldn't be because he just couldn't cut it as a starter, or because the Red Sox were wrong to try to convert him to the rotation. It would be because he was left in too long, too early in the season, at a time when his arm was saying no more for today.
Had Bard been taken out after the Sean Rodriguez walk -- his fifth of the day (including the HBP) -- he would have finished the day with 92 pitches. That's not how many pitches you want out of Bard, as he'll likely need to throw more to get through six-to-seven innings each time out, but considering he was two-thirds of the way into the seventh, it's acceptable to let him leave at this point. Desmond Jennings followed this walk with a single that took five pitches to get to. Bard was at 97 pitches, but at this point, there was no coaching visit to remove him from the game, or even to give the bullpen time to warm up. That waited until after his four-pitch walk to Carlos Pena, where Bard missed with four-straight four-seam fastballs. That didn't get him out of there, though, as Valentine waited until after he walked Evan Longoria with the bases loaded, on another four-straight four-seamers, to remove Bard.
Bard has to work his way to 100 pitches or more per start, but it's not something that should be forced on him. The starting experiment doesn't need to be completed in a single start, and Valentine shouldn't be using him like it needs to be. He's shown a lot of promise to this point, even with all of the walks yesterday. He's inducing grounders 60 percent of the time, has more strikeouts than innings pitched, and if not for being left out there yesterday, would have more than twice as many punch outs as walks. It's early yet, for both the results and his arm, and that's something Valentine might want to remember next time out.
Pitch f/x data courtesy of Brooks Baseball