Daniel Bard's first poor start with the Red Sox came roughly one year ago, in a May 2 effort against the Athletics. Sure, he gave up five runs in his first-ever big-league start, but part of that was on Bobby Valentine for not pulling him when he should have, and he also managed to flash high-quality stuff while striking out six against one walk. The first just outright bad start was this one, where he went 5-1/3, gave up four runs, eight hits, hit a batter, and struck out just one Athletics' hitter against a pair of walks.
Bard logged just five swinging strikes after averaging 14 in his first three starts. He couldn't locate his change-up for strikes, his slider didn't dominate the way it had to begin the year, and opponents didn't offer at his fastball nearly as often, knowing he was struggling with command of his secondary stuff. He made up for it and kept the damage to just four runs with ground outs, but even that could only last as long as batters were willing to swing at his fastball.
Since May 2 of last year, Bard has thrown just 41 innings in the majors. In that stretch, he's made seven starts and eight relief appearances, allowed eight homers, 35 walks, and a 7.46 ERA, and struck out just 20 batters, or 4.4 per nine. He hasn't been much better in the minors, either, where he posted a 7.03 ERA and 1.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32 innings in 2012, and has begun the 2013 season with six strikeouts and seven walks in 10 innings of work at Double-A Portland that also includes four wild pitches and eight runs allowed.
He briefly returned to the majors in late-April, getting through a clean inning with one hit, one strikeout, and two swinging strikes with 10 of his 18 pitches as strikes. He followed that up with the other side of Bard, though, the one that shows up far more often and is the reason he remains in the minors, by throwing exactly one strike in nine pitches to Astros hitters in his next and to-date only other big-league appearance. He was lifted despite Boston's lead, and promptly sent back to Double-A.
Photo credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE
His mechanics remain inconsistent, and his velocity, while back to where it was around this time last season, is still nowhere near what it was prior to his transition to starting. While the move to the rotation certainly didn't help him, it might have just sped up a process that was already underway: Bard struck out 11 hitters against nine walks in 11 innings in September of 2011 for an ERA of 10.64, and that doesn't include the two (of five) inherited runners he allowed to score. This might have been the moment where effectively wild became more the latter than the former, and, except for brief flashes, Bard has not yet been able to recover from that.
Bard was optioned to Portland to begin the season, meaning he now has one option remaining in his future. Considering that, he doesn't have to figure things out in 2013 like, say, Jose Iglesias, who is down to his final option already. Given Bard is using up a precious 40-man roster spot, many things will be easier if he does, both in-season and with regards to this winter's Rule 5 draft.
At this point, though, one year after it started to look like there might be problems in transitioning Bard to starting, we're even further from knowing what his future holds than we were then. The Red Sox don't know, either, and Bard absolutely does not know. He's gone from a pitcher who had enough leverage to get the rotation shot (and potential paycheck) he wanted to one who can't even stick in the majors, and has no ground to stand on as to why things should be different in that regard.
It's sad that one of the more positive things about Bard's season is that, were he designated for assignment, he might actually clear waivers. Now, that could be untrue: someone, from afar, might think they know how to get Bard back to where he was. The fact there could be even the slightest possibility of slipping through unclaimed, though, is disconcerting for both Bard's present and future, and further evidence of just how far he has fallen.
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