Yesterday's disastrous start in Toronto has forced the Sox to reevaluate Daniel Bard's position on the team.
After yesterday’s 1.2 inning, five earned run, six walk, two hit batter atrocity in Toronto, it has become clear that the experiment of moving Bard to the starting rotation is, at the very least, deeply flawed.
Having been at the game in Toronto, I can say with conviction that no matter how awful Bard looked on TV, it was worse in person. His fastball was so bad he stopped throwing it for a while, resorting to off-speed pitches even on the myriad 3-0 counts he found himself in. To make matters worse, this once-dominating fastball never exceeded 93 MPH on the stadium radar gun.
The angry chorus of boos heaped on Bard after he hit Edwin Encarnacion was actually kind of funny. While the Jays' fans believed Bard had plunked Encarnacion intentionally, had he actually tried to hit him there’s no way he would have been able to execute the pitch.
It has become increasingly evident that the decision to start Bard needs to be revisited. While it’s easy and convenient to just say “they never should have moved him in the first place,” the point is now moot. Hindsight would be a wasteful exercise.
Instead, Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine need to look ahead and figure out what is best for the young pitcher. At 26 years old, Bard has a lot of good years ahead of him.
This poor start should not derail his career.
Instead, it must be used as the flashpoint in bringing Bard into the next phase of his journey. It is the responsibility of his GM and manager to make that happen.
Cherington and Valentine have shown excellent judgment so far this season in terms of what roles players should be filling, so fans should trust them in this situation as well. Here are five possible outcomes they should be considering:
This is an easy and relatively safe choice, given Bard’s track record. His 2.87 ERA, 1.057 WHIP and 9.7 SO/9 innings numbers as a reliever easily surpass the marks he has put up as a starter (5.30-1.620-5.6).
The problem is that the Sox bullpen has suddenly become baseball’s best. They have established a clear pecking order, and any sort of disruption to this unit could have disastrous effects.
While Bard is certainly a premier setup man, Vicente Padilla and Franklin Morales have also been exemplary in that role. Moving them would be foolish.
Would the Sox really want to deploy Bard in the middle innings? For someone who has pitched in many intense moments, the relatively low-pressure innings Bard would log might be counterproductive.
Bard’s decrease in velocity has to be seriously troubling to both the Sox and their fans. Bard regularly hit 100 MPH last season as a reliever. This year, he can barely get over 93.
While Bard has insisted to the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo there is nothing physically wrong, it’s hard to believe that his issues are purely mechanical.
Even if his arm really is fine, though, the Sox need to give him some time off. As they have done in the past, the team should have Bard come down with some sort of nebulous injury like “shoulder fatigue” or “neck stiffness” so that they can put him on the DL and get him an extended break.
Not only would the DL stint give Bard a chance to mentally recover, but it would also allow the Sox coaches and trainers to take a long look at him and see if there is anything correctable going on with his pitching mechanics.
If the Sox really believe in Bard as a starter, then he needs to continue starting. The problem has been that he can’t get big league hitters out.
The natural decision, then, is to let him get himself right while not facing MLB hitters.
Bard is obviously a very talented pitcher who is now dealing with a lack of effectiveness and confidence. In a way, this description sounds a lot like Mark Melancon, whose demotion to Pawtucket has resulted in a huge bounceback for the maligned reliever (two earned runs in 19.2 innings).
Giving Bard some time to develop in Pawtucket might be the best thing for the struggling right-hander, who will get to work on his repertoire in a low-pressure situation without damaging the big league team’s chances of winning.
While yesterday’s outing was historically bad, it was just one game. Every pitcher has them. Being reactionary, then, might not be the wisest choice for the Sox.
While hasty, short-term decisions may be popular with fans (and writers), the team cannot afford to think that way. Bard is someone they have a lot of faith in, and to pull the plug this early could be considered foolish since he has made all of 10 career starts.
The Sox have a strong coaching staff, and this is a great opportunity to let them work on Bard’s mechanics and confidence. Bard is young and inexperienced as a starter, and developing an effective starter takes time and patience.
Even Jon Lester and Josh Beckett went through their struggles as they became MLB regulars, taking multiple seasons to perfect their craft. With only two months of work under his belt, Bard may be afforded a bit more time.
With the returns of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Cook on the horizon, the Sox will soon have to handle a logjam in their starting rotation. While having too much starting pitching is a wonderful problem to have, it will still need to be addressed.
Moving to a six man rotation could provide a huge benefit for the returning pitchers and Bard. It gives Bard more time to recover and make adjustments between starts while also allowing Cook or Matsuzaka to ease their way back into the regular rotation.
The downside of course is that not only will all the pitchers be working more infrequently, but either Cook or Matsuzaka would be left out entirely.
However, given the inconsistency of the entire Sox starting staff this year (with the notable exception of Felix Doubront), giving each pitcher an extra day of rest might be just the thing this rotation needs to get back on track.