In between his second start and his latest, Daniel Bard made one quick appearance out of the bullpen. While that started a whole kerfuffle about just what his role on this team is, it turns out that the rabble rabble of fans, analysts, and reporters was unnecessary, as Bard was just throwing to live batters to stay sharp while simultaneously keeping his innings low.
As a reliever converting to starting, Bard does need to have his workload monitored. After his second start, in which manager Bobby Valentine seemingly forgot this salient point in the right-hander's development, this emphasis on managing his innings and pitch counts was welcome. It didn't stop with the skipped start, though, nor did it end when Bard's wishes to avoid a second relief appearance were honored. Instead, it continued through start three, when Valentine -- who had let Bard walk himself into potential trouble (followed by realized trouble) just one start before, pulled Bard after 96 pitches and seven innings.
Part of that might have been the score -- this was a game the Red Sox won 10-3 -- but nevertheless, it's a good sign given the events of the previous week.
Speaking of positive harbingers, Bard walked just one batter total against Chicago and threw 66 percent of his 96 pitches for strikes. His strikeout rate for the year is just under nine per nine, and his K/BB is approaching two-to-one territory. If not for being left out against the Rays well past that start's expiration date, he'd be above that point.
With the way he's been pitching, though, there will be plenty of time to get to that promised peripheral land without having to resort to the realm of could have, should have. Opponents have swung at 109 of Bard's 310 pitches on the season, and they made contact with naught but air on over 40 percent of those. According to Brooks Baseball, his slider is nearly four standard deviations* better than your average slider at inducing swings-and-misses, and while his sinker hasn't succeeded in terms of creating grounders, it has used its movement to get batters to whiff.
*Standard deviations allow you to see just how far above-average a pitch is in terms of its ability to induce whiffs, grounders, etc. A standard deviation of one or more in either direction can be considered worth talking about, for good or bad.
Bard finished strong, with nine of his 12 pitches in the seventh going for strikes, following up on a five-pitch sixth that helped him erase the misdeeds of the third inning, in which a throwing error by Kevin Youkilis and a flyball that was deflected by Darnell McDonald helped extend the inning and allowed Alexei Ramirez to score. He stumbled a bit in this frame, with just 12 of his 22 pitches going for strikes, but it didn't cause significant damage to either Bard's outing or Boston's chances to win.
The Red Sox don't need Bard to live in the 90-pitch range all season long, but early on in the season, it's important he's built up slowly. Between skipping a start, taking him out after a strong seventh with just 96 pitches on the night, and the effectiveness he displayed in the first place, things are looking good for the Daniel Bard: Starting Pitcher Experiment.