Minneapolis, MN, USA: Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Daniel Bard (51) delivers a pitch in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Red Sox won 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE
It's been a tough month for Daniel Bard so far. After a decent start to the year with a 3.72 ERA in three April starts, May has been just short of a disaster for the converted reliever. A 5.79 ERA in 23.1 innings with an awful 7:15 K:BB ratio.
The problem for Bard has been the fastball. At first the issue was just control, with Bard only able to spot the slider with any regularity, leading to too many walks, bad counts, and ultimately bad pitches.
Of late, however, there are some velocity concerns to consider as well. While Bard started around 98 as a reliever, the drop to 94-95 was about what you would expect. The ensuing fall to the low 90s in the last few games, however? That's something else. According to Fangraphs (PITCHf/x), Bard hasn't so much as touched 95 in his last couple of games.
Bard has acknowledged his loss of velocity and suggested that it's not nearly so big an issue for him as the loss of command, and that's likely to be true. Plenty of pitchers can live with a 91-93 MPH fastball, even without Bard's two wipeout sliders, but that doesn't mean the drop in velocity isn't concerning.
The Red Sox knew there would be risks and difficulties in transitioning Bard from the bullpen to the rotation. With one start still to come in May, Bard has already made it halfway to his previous high watermark for innings in a season. His arm hasn't exactly fallen off just yet--as far as we know he's feeling fine physically--but there's plenty of reason to be concerned.
On the other hand, these could simply be growing pains. I expect more than a few Sox fans would hurry to end the Daniel Bard experiment at the first opportunity, but if ever there has been a time to let the situation play out, this is it. With a very full bullpen and a rotation stretched desperately thin, the possibility that Bard will find his control again and perhaps even catch a second wind velocity-wise offers too great a reward to pull any plugs just yet.
May has been bad for Bard, of that there's no doubt. But he deserves at least June to try and figure things out before the Sox should even start thinking about finding a replacement.