Daniel Bard's 2012 campaign was a disaster. While none of the arm trouble that many were worried about in his conversion from relief to starting plagued him, the shift in approach undid Bard as we knew him. His command vanished, his control followed suit, his plus velocity began to wilt as time went on, and ground balls became the focus and supposed saving grace. In this process, his arm slot changed repeatedly, and Bard, a cerebral pitcher, might have actually over-thought his situation and caused further trouble to his mechanics.
Trying to simplify in-season with a demotion to Pawtucket, and, eventually, the bullpen once more, did nothing to bring Bard back to where he had been prior to 2012. (Or, truth be told, to his August 2011 form, as Bard struggled mightily in the last month of the previous campaign with many of the same command-and-control-related issues.) New manager John Farrell, though, who used to be Bard's pitching coach, and was in the opposing dugout in the start that earned the hurler his ticket to Triple-A, has liked the progress he's seen from his right-hander this off-season. From Maureen Mullen:
"There's some changes you can identify there," Farrell said. "And in talking with Daniel the most encouraging thing in a situation like this is that he's aware of the changes that have taken place. Now unwinding those changes and getting him back to the basics, and when I say basics of what he's demonstrated previously and the strengths that he has, I think most importantly he's got a clear view of where that needs to settle in from, not only from a delivery standpoint but from an aggressive simplified approach.
"And I think as a starter last year he tried to manipulate the ball a little bit too much, maybe be a little bit too fine in ways where he was trying to induce a ground ball a lot rather than staying with that aggressive approach that has made him successful in Boston."
Bard hoped that, by putting the ball down for a while, and coming back to it in the winter, he would begin to do things more naturally, rather than with the layers of subtle mechanical changes that had helped to unravel him. Farrell feels that Bard's arm slot is coming along, and that it looks more like the natural slot he's had success with in relief. If that's the case, and spring training proves it, then Bard is very likely to be the seventh man in the Opening Day bullpen.
As a reliever, from 2009 through 2011, Bard threw 197 innings with a 154 ERA+, nearly three times as many punch outs as free passes, and just under 10 strikeouts per nine frames. Bard doesn't have to be that ridiculous in order to be valuable to the Sox in 2013, not with the deep bullpen they have assembled. But, as he's the reliever on the squad with the most service time left, it would be in both his and Boston's best long-term interests if he were to return to form fully by season's end. Whether that's in the cards is just something that we'll have to see, as Bard's 2012 still looms large at this point.