Earlier this year the Boston Red Sox went all in gambling that Daniel Bard could be converted from one of the best setup men in the game to an effective starter. Nobody expected it to be a flawless transition, and while there have been some highs, there have also been many lows, particularly in recent games. Now that it is 10 starts into the experiment, the Red Sox and their fans are wondering if it was the right move to make and what the future now holds for Bard.
In 11 games (10 starts) this season Bard has gone 5-6 with a 5.24 ERA. Although he has only allowed 52 hits in 55 innings, he has struck out just 34, while walking an alarming 37 batters. At times his wildness has been so great that it appears he doesn’t know where the ball is going on any given pitch. This was most noticeable during his last start on June 3rd against the Blue Jays, when he walked 6 and hit 2 batters before departing after 1.2 innings in what turned out to be a 5-1 loss. It marked the 6th time in his 10 starts that he has walked at least 4 batters; a bad sign for a pitcher who struggled so much with control earlier in his career.
It will be interesting to see how the Red Sox handle Bard moving forward. For now, barring a complete meltdown, he is a near lock to remain in the starting rotation. Other than the impending return of Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has consistently been giving up home runs and experiencing setbacks in the high minors during his rehab, the Red Sox have precious few other options. The team would also like to see Bard succeed as a starter, given his top-flight talent, but he has yet to do anything to back up their faith. Somehow they must help him tame his wildness and instill a swagger needed by all successful starters.
Part of what made Bard such an effective reliever was how his stuff played up in shorter spurts. His fastball ran 96-99, which when combined with a breaking ball that occasionally flashes plus, and an average changeup, made him a terror in the late innings. As a starter his secondary stuff has remained the same, but his fastball now sits at 92-94, which is nothing to sneeze at, but can hardly be classified as special. For the first time in his major league career he needs to know how to pitch with his stuff, as opposed to being able to simply overwhelm hitters with natural ability.
Granted, 10 starts is a relatively small sample size, but there is no doubt that Bard is struggling; primarily with his control and confidence. Having to adjust and get better in the midst of an American League East race is tall task for any player, let alone one facing the challenges of Bard. What unfolds during the remainder of the season will not only be a testament to his competiveness and determination, but also the effectiveness of the Red Sox staff in helping the pitcher break through to the other side.
Fans may be clamoring for Bard to return to the bullpen, but that is no magical elixir. If anything, yo-yoing him between roles would only complicate his situation at this point. If he can get his head on straight, there is no reason he can’t become a solid starter for the long term. For that to happen, the Red Sox need to commit to being in the process for the long haul. It may not be popular right now, but since Boston decided to make Bard a starter, their mantra going forward has to be in for a penny, in for a pound.
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